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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New reason to hate Bush: FEMA "fakes" a press conference

By Dennis Byrne

For days, media vultures have been circling the California wildfires, eyes peeled for another Hurricane Katrina “blunder” by the Bush administration.

But in the absence of red meat, they had to settle for—horrors!—a “fake” news conference conducted by FEMA’s deputy administrator, Harvey E. Johnson Jr., as evidence of the administration’s ineptitude or, worse, deception.

Judging by the press reaction, you would have thought Johnson had set some of the fires himself. Hundreds of stories describing the supposed scandal popped up across the country, including this blast in the Los Angeles Times:

The “fake” press conference “…comes just more than two years after [FEMA’s] agonizingly slow-motion response to thousands of displaced New Orleans residents who waited for help in dreadful conditions at the Superdome. Michael D. Brown, the agency's head, resigned under fire after he became an embarrassment to President Bush, who appeared out of touch when he praised Brown with the memorable comment: ‘Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.’”

It also reminded me of the agonizingly slow response to Katrina by Democratic Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Democratic Mayor Ray Nagin, but why bring that up when taking a shot at Bush is so much more fun? I suppose we should be glad that the two weren’t responsible for putting out the California fires.

The stories dutifully reported that an incensed Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) demanded answers from the head of FEMA, and as chairman of the Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery, who, but her is better positioned to keep the heat on?

Other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who mindlessly blamed the wildfires on “global warming?”

FEMA and others in the Bush administration, frightened out of their skins by the possibility of a repeat of the Katrina public relations mess, hurriedly rushed forward with copious apologies, calling the press conference the worst thing imaginable—“offensive.”

Indeed, it didn’t take long after the California fires went out of control before the inevitable comparisons with Katrina were being raised. The only problem was that everyone seemed to perform well, which is what the “fake” press conference was supposed to be all about.

You can hardly blame FEMA for wanting to hold a press conference, both to blow its own horn and, more legitimately, to update the media on the progress of the fight against the catastrophic blazes. FEMA called a hurry-up news conference, with 15 minutes notice to reporters. The first mistake. Realizing that few reporters could make it, the agency provided an 800 number for reporters not on the scene to listen into the press conference, but no provision was made for them to ask questions—the second mistake. The only problem was that no reporters showed up for the actual press conference. Someone decided that it would be better to go ahead, with FEMA staff members asking questions reflective of ones that they had actually been fielding from reporters. Third mistake.

They might have avoided the problem if FEMA had just announced that no reporters were present, and in their absence FEMA was (A) canceling the press conference, or (B) forging ahead with Johnson’s prepared statement as planned, but frankly admitting that no questions could be asked. “Sorry we can’t do better at the moment, but call or e-mail us with your questions and we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible and try to set up a press conference later with better notice.”

I have no idea why none of this happened. The harshest critics will try to suggest that FEMA intentionally tried to fool the press into thinking that it was a legitimate press conference, and I can’t say that they didn’t. The critics also will recall that the administration already has been caught trying to “manufacture” the news, when it paid Armstrong Williams, a conservative commentator, $240,000 to promote Education Department programs.

But, having been in the news and PR businesses for almost a combined 40 years, I can’t imagine even the most idiotic publicist thinking that he could get away with faking a news conference. FEMA either needs better PR advice, or its top officials need to listen better to their PR experts if or when they give good advice.

Or, more pointedly, they shouldn’t be driven by the fear of what the partisan jerks will say. Such as Reid blaming Bush for the wildfires because his administration hadn’t provided enough funding for removing the dead tress and shrubs that fed the fire.

Maybe they’ll next accuse Bush of not “doing enough” to prevent the winds that stoked the wildfires.

Fan Dumb

By Dennis Byrne

Obviously, we mere fans aren’t privileged to read from the same secret playbook available only to team managers, coaches, general managers and owners.

How else can you explain why we don’t understand why, for example, starting Major League pitchers must be yanked automatically from the game after they’ve thrown 100 pitches?

How do you explain why throngs of Chicago Bears football fans failed to see that Bears quarterback Rex Grossman was obviously superior to Brian Griese?

Somewhere buried in those secret texts is an explanation for why the game-leading team—no matter in what the sport—must play “prevent defense” until the other team has had a chance to catch up.

In our ignorance, we fail to grasp the many reasons why such rules must be adhered to, come hell or high water, even if they fly in the face of common sense. Take manager Lou Piniella’s controversial decision to pull Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano out of the first game of the division series after six innings and not even 100 pitches, even though he was throwing a superb game. Got to save him for the fourth game of the series, was the explanation. The Cubs, of course, never got to the fourth game, having been swept in three by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It’s safe to say most fans would have left Zambrano in; it’s also safe to say that most managers—not just Piniella—would have taken him out. Not just because it’s the playoffs, but because of the precious 100-pitch rule. It’s hard to imagine that under such circumstances that baseball will see another Ed Walsh, the White Sox Hall of Fame pitcher, who in 1908 won 40 games, with 24 complete games in 49 starts, 464 innings pitched, 11 shutouts and 249 strikeouts. Imagine how delighted owners would be to have another house-packer like Walsh show up, but it’ll never happen again, thanks to the 100-pitch mentality.

Speaking of owners, they can be just as mystifying. For years, Chicago Blackhawk fans couldn’t fathom why the family ownership forbad full television coverage of this legendary hockey franchise. If the Wirtz family had nurtured, instead of restricted, the coverage, the fan based would have increased, providing the increased revenues harvested that might have prevented the disgraceful trashing of the franchise.

The tragedy is that the Wirtz family had one of the best examples of how the process works, right here in its backyard. The Chicago Cubs, despite being the most pathetic losers in MLB history, has a large and loyal following, here and nationally. Why? Because every game was televised, home and away, on commercial TV. On top of that, national exposure on Chicago’s WGN-TV’s superstation, produced a countrywide fan base. The Wirtz family also should have learned from the Chicago White Sox, whose descent into the city’s “second team” status began when the ownership restricted the team’s telecasts. The fans knew all this, but it sadly took the death of family patriarch, Bill Wirtz, for younger ownership to move to telecast the Blackhawks on a less limited basis.

Stubborn is the word for it, and perhaps stubbornness is the curse of the good fortune or riches needed to run or own a professional sports team. Stubborn, as in Bears head coach Lovie Smith’s unbending loyalty to Rex Grossman as the team’s starting quarterback, in spite of years of injuries and his demonstrated failure. The fans knew that a strong arm alone wouldn’t get the job done and demanded that Griese replace him. (Perhaps, you could say the fans got what they deserved, since they originally demanded Grossman in place of whoever at the time was the latest in a long string of quarterback failures.)

Not to rub Smith’s nose in it, but it became apparent from the first moment that Griese stepped on the field as starting quarterback that he would be more effective than Grossman. Each week he improved, until he was named the NFL’s offensive player of the week following his spectacular come-from-behind win last Sunday. The fans were right again.

Griese led the successful drive, virtually by himself, calling his own plays. We’re getting varying reports on just how many plays he called on his own during that drive, but it raises an interesting question about the practice of coaches and managers calling plays from the sidelines or the booth. Why not let the guy who’s in the middle of the action call the plays? Sending in plays from the sidelines has the same feel as generals who watch from a distance, sending in orders to the troops who actually are doing the fighting.

A last observation on football. Fans can see when a “game plan” is failing; why does it take so long for the coaches to see it? What is with the pig-headed determination to keep running the ball up the middle when it isn’t working? Why the insistence on “establishing the ground game first” before establishing the passing game? What makes the ground game so sanctified when all it produces is an endless series of three runs and a punt?

If these questions make fans scratch their heads in wonderment, the logic of some trades brings on hives. Take Aaron Rowand, the White Sox center fielder who was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies just a few months after winning the World Series. Many fans were appalled, even when the Sox got slugger Jim Thome (and $22 million) in return. Rowand was a fan-pleasing “fence crasher” and epitomized the team’s “grinder” image. It was like cutting out the team’s heart; the team was never the same.

Now there’s talk about the Chicago Bulls trading several front-liners to the Los Angeles Lakers for the perpetual pain-in-the-neck Kobe Bryant. The Lakers only want all-star Luol Deng, leading scorer Ben Gordon, the promising Tyrus Thomas and the exciting rookie Joakim Noah; in other words, gut the team for a “super-star” who will disrupt the locker room and, dare I say, anger the fans. By the time you read this, a variation of the trade may already have happened, and, for me, that’s it for the Bulls.

Here I’m making no claim to fan superiority when it comes to all things sporting. If teams took a plebiscite every time a trade came up or called a play, there’s no guarantee that things would be any better.

Nor, possibly, would things be any worse.

Monday, October 29, 2007

In public interest, name cop, accuser

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

You really had to worry about Rich Daley's health if you saw him last week answer reporters' questions about why the City Council shouldn't be given the names of cops who have racked up the most complaints for excessive force.

I thought Mayor Daley's head might explode when he kept saying, "They're [the complaints] only allegations!" Someone should have given him oxygen.

Still, the mayor was right: Complaints against the police officers are, indeed, only allegations. But Daley is wrong when he says that's a reason for keeping the names secret. When these same cops arrest people, it is only an allegation, but the names of the accused are a matter of public record.

So, if citizens are eligible to get their names in print when they're arrested, the public certainly has a right to know the names of cops alleged to be the most brutal. Why? To see if there's a pattern to the alleged brutalization, for one. To judge whether the city's mechanism for combating police brutality is working as it should, or if it is working at all, for another.

Notice that I'm saying that the right to the names belongs to the public, not the City Council. The Daley administration's presumption is that giving the names to the aldermen will mean that they inevitably will leak the names to the public. So what? The public has a right to know the names, leaked or not. That aldermen have big mouths is not a valid reason for the secrecy.

This gets complicated.

For example, concerns about public retaliation against the accused officers should be taken seriously. The police and their families do have a right to privacy for a good reason. Publishing the names with addresses and phone numbers -- which no one is suggesting -- would grievously jeopardize their safety. But if just knowing the cops' names was a bad idea, then cops shouldn't be wearing name tags.

Sure, the aldermen's reasons for demanding the names are suspect; everything they do is suspect. And here, Daley's got a good idea when he asked the reporters: "Could we have all the allegations against aldermen [published too], pffft?" Now that would be interesting reading. But their names lately haven't been appearing on lists of the indicted as often as the names of the mayor's pals. Right now, those lists make more interesting reading.

Daley makes a strong point, backed up by Interim Police Supt. Dana Starks, when he says complaints against the officers often come from offenders trying to discredit their arresting officers in order to "enhance their case in court." It is utterly naive to think that career criminals don't falsely accuse cops of brutality.

But ... Daley's handling of police brutality complaints during his terms as mayor and Cook County state's attorney has been, to put it charitably, flawed. It's thanks to Daley that the words "torture" and "former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge" will be forever linked as one of the city's worst injustices. That Daley has taken tighter control of the Office of Professional Standards, the agency that is supposed to investigate police brutality, provides no comfort.

Obviously, this is a complicated matter, requiring the kind of simple-minded answers usually provided by media commentators. So, here's mine: First, disclose, as some aldermen want, the names of officers with more than 10 complaints filed against them in the last five years. Oh, what the heck, in the interests of compromise, make it 20 complaints; that'll still flush out the worst ones.

But, here's my twist. In making the cops' names public, the city also should publicize the names and the criminal and arrest records of the complainants. Fair is fair.

Would that invite retaliation against the complainants? If that's a serious worry, then just publish the complainants' records without their names. That would provide sufficient information to help the public judge the credibility of the most frequent complainers.

But more to the point, who would retaliate, and why? The police? They already know who the worst complainers are; they don't need an engraved invitation to get even. That leaves the public, and here we are getting to a very interesting idea. Maybe there would be fewer 10-year-olds killed in gang crossfire if the public knew whom the cops were nailing most frequently and who was complaining the loudest about it.

Make sure the gang-bangers show up at the funeral, explain to the kid's family, friends and neighbors how it's always the cops' fault.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Recall (read: can) Blagojevich, Stroger and Daley

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Like most uprisings, the Illinois/Cook County/Chicago tax revolt has started without anyone sending out a press release or making a formal proclamation.

Not in memory—mine, at least—have so many taxpayers here been so riled. Not in memory, have so many taxpayers here been hit with such a flood of proposed tax increases. Not in memory, have the demands for higher taxes come from a gaggle of such incompetent, ineffective or corrupt politicians—namely Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Cook County President Todd Stroger and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (henceforth to be referred to here as BS&D

The signs of an impending march on the tyrants’ citadels surround us: Stroger’s office phone lines crammed with angry taxpayers. Liberal politicians and commentators jumping on the “we-re-taxed-out” bandwagon, without seeing the irony of their crabbing about the billion-dollar tax increases necessary to fund the government excesses that they have demanded.

They’re all asking: How much more money do they think they can wring out of us for their insider pals and contractors, for their padded payrolls, for their idiotic schemes? How stupid are they? How stupid do they think, that we are?

But this revolt will need more than a mob armed with pitchforks and muzzle-loading muskets charging City Hall, the County Building and the state Capital.

Read more at Chicago Daily Observer

Monday, October 22, 2007

Snubbing cancer study will only hurt women

Research showing link to abortion ignored by media

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is fitting and proper that women be informed about any newly discovered dangers, even as the public groans under the weight of all the warnings surrounding the mere act of living.

For example, a well-researched Chicago Tribune story last week disclosed that women who have just a couple of alcoholic drinks daily increase their breast cancer risk by 13 percent. Coincidentally, a new study reported that abortion is an important breast cancer risk factor, yet I couldn't find a word describing the research in mainstream media.

How to explain this disparity? I'll be vigorously advised that "most" studies disprove an abortion-breast cancer link. Or that the study in question appeared in a "conservative" scientific journal. Or that the study is bogus or unimportant. Or, more rudely, that the whole breast cancer argument has been concocted by anti-abortion rights advocates to make women afraid to have abortions. The issue is dead, I'll be notified. Kaput. Here I would remind critics that in science it's not who says it or how many say it that counts. What does count are the data and the rigor with which they are collected, analyzed and held up to a scientifically credible hypothesis.

So let's look at the science of this latest study, which appeared in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. Using statistical techniques and reliable national health data, the study of eight European countries found, to a statistically significant degree, that the incidence of breast cancer increases with the incidence of earlier abortions. The researcher, Patrick Carroll, used the same mathematical model employed in a 1997 study that predicted with extraordinary accuracy breast cancer increases in England and Wales from 1998 to 2004. Using that model, Carroll predicts that countries with higher abortion rates -- England and Wales -- could expect a troubling increase in breast cancer rates. The Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, where abortion rates are lower, should experience a smaller increase. And in Denmark and Finland, where abortion rates have declined, cancer rates should similarly decline. Some will object because the study is "only" epidemiological -- meaning that it relies on a statistically significant relationship between the incidence of breast cancer and abortion to infer that one causes the other. The standard, but simple-minded, objection to epidemiological studies is that a correlation does not necessarily prove causation. That's true, to some extent. But, epidemiologists use correlations in more complex ways, combining them with a range of medical, sociological, psychological and other information to lead their research in the right direction, to support or debunk hypotheses, and toward solutions for significant public health problems.

In the study of the abortion-breast cancer link, the working hypothesis is simple: For a woman who has not had a child before, an induced abortion is more likely to cause cancer because it interrupts the hormonal development of breast cells for later lactation, thus leaving the cells more vulnerable to uncontrolled and abnormal division, i.e. cancer.

The problem with dismissing the Carroll study because it is epidemiological is that you'll also have to dismiss a multitude of public health studies, including ones claiming a link between radon and lung cancer. These are the same epidemiological studies that alarmed millions of Americans, frightening them into buying radon detectors and creating a huge radon mitigation business. No study is perfect, and Carroll's shortcoming is that his data do not allow comparisons of individual women over time. But other major studies have, and according to one unchallenged compressive analysis of those studies, they show that a pregnant woman who has never had a child before and aborts in the first term increased her chance of breast cancer by 50 percent.

Science, by its nature, exists in an unsettled state. Evidence piles up on many sides. The public becomes unsettled. The media, as is their wont, avoid the complexities, especially when the complexities challenge preconceived or prevalent political notions. Instead of coming to grip with such concepts as epidemiology, they escape into silence. And ill-serve the public.

Speaking of media credibility, or lack of it, the conservative blogosphere is buzzing with the mainstream media's failure to report retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez' scathing criticism of the press in a recent speech. Yet, the media gave wide coverage when, in the same speech, he criticized America's conduct of the war. His criticism of the media would have resonated with millions who question the media's integrity and balance. Having been in this business for almost 40 years, I'm ashamed of and unable to understand my profession's utter dereliction when it comes to reporting its own failures.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Do they really think voters are that dumb?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Isn't there some way for fed-up citizens of Illinois, Cook County and Chicago to force their governments into receivership?

After all, when a corporation is as stunningly incompetent as are Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, legislative leaders, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and his toady City Council, creditors can force it into bankruptcy in which a court-appointed trustee straightens out the mess or, if necessary, shuts it down to preserve the remains.

If the city, county or state were corporations, their creditors long ago would have forced their operations out of the hands of the bunglers and turned it over to a court-appointed executive.

So, why shouldn't we citizens and taxpayers have the same right to protect our publicly held assets from Blagojevich, Daley, Stroger and the rest of the clinkers who have so miserably failed to govern in the interests of the governed?

I make this suggestion with tongue only slightly in cheek. Look at the shambles that our "leaders" have given us: A state run by a governor who thinks we should cough up our money for every cockamamie giveaway and tax-increase scheme he hatches. Legislative leaders whose personal animosities have turned the state capital into a preschool playpen. A Cook County government, so wildly mis-, mal- and non-managed by Stroger and his cronies that they want to hit us up with a huge sales tax increase to bail them out.

Now comes Daley with a $293 million bundle of tax, fee and fine increases, including the city's largest-ever property tax increase, to finance an operation stinking with corruption and looting. Daley says blame the aldermen knocking on his "side door" for the goodies. Well, blame whomever; Daley is giving it away to somebody.

His 2008 budget would increase expenditures by more than 5 percent, and over two years by $700 million or 12 percent. Daley laughably suggests that Chicagoans should be happy with the higher taxes because they'll get some new neighborhood libraries. More likely, the taxes will pay for such deplorable decisions as the 10-year labor contracts handed to 33 trade unions representing 8,000 city workers. Building-trade workers will continue to be paid the costly "prevailing wage," while others will get annual raises averaging as much as 4 percent. Just coincidentally, the contracts would guarantee labor peace through the 2016 Olympics, in effect, imposing a hidden Games tax.

This piano-load of new taxes lands on Chicagoans and their visitors as they already are paying some of the nation's highest taxes and fees. That's thanks to the current $5 billion budget that imposed increases of about $75 million in taxes and $11 million in fees. How tempting it is to observe that the people who have driven the city, county and state governments into their worst financial smashup in memory are Democrats, raising the question of whether Democrats are congenitally incapable of governing. Are they mathematically challenged, having been denied the basic adding and subtracting skills by the touchy-feely education they so love? Are they so insecure that they can't say no to anyone who wants a touch of our taxes, because they might be accused of lacking compassion?

Republicans, if they controlled everything, might not do any better (or worse), but that's moot isn't it, because the GOP has aced itself out of every important city, county and state office in sight.

John McCarron, one of the city's most insightful columnists, raised this issue in this space last summer, when things in Springfield looked like they couldn't get worse. Why, he wondered, when Democrats run it all, can't they win the war for their own agenda: "progressive taxation, for equal access to jobs and educational opportunities, for a semblance of social justice."

Good question, and I don't have the answer, having surrendered my liberal allegiances, as I did in my adolescence, years ago. Maybe it's a matter of greed: now that they control the pot of gold, too many hands want to dip into it. Or purity: every "program" or "service" on the agenda must be fully funded.

Or, maybe Daley himself provides the answer when he takes Chicagoans for dopes by saying they "know that if I propose raising taxes it's because we've exhausted every other option ..."

He could be right. Perhaps voters are dumb enough to knowingly elect incompetents. Maybe we don't need a trustee to fix things; maybe just smarter, more responsible voters.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A cheapened Nobel

By Dennis Byrne
Political Mavens

By now, the derision and laughter created by Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize is old news. But if you still don’t believe that it was politically inspired, you might want to consider from whence it sprang.

The five-person committee that awards the prize is a creature of the Norwegian parliament, the Storting. The body, controlled by the Labour Party, has, you might say, something of a leftist tilt. Here are some of its recent high jinks:

Firms face quota deadline

Norway's center-left government has issued a warning to 140 companies that still don't have enough women on their boards of directors: Appoint more, or be dissolved.

Government [Equality] minister Karita Bekkemellem intends to enforce Norway's law requiring that at least 40 percent of the boards of stocklisted companies be made up of female directors….
Read More at Political Mavens

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Katrina of Marathons

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Not surprisingly, the second-guessers have become unglued because the Chicago Marathon sponsors didn’t do—what?—enough about the blazing heat that laid many runners low. But, to compare what happened here over the weekend to the deadly disaster in New Orleans, isn’t that a bit much?

That’s what host Carol Marin did when she mentioned to her panel on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight that “some people” are calling the marathon, “the Katrina of Marathons.” The ridiculous analogy probably should have been expected considering how “some people” figure that someone (else) must be prepared on a moment’s notice to take care of every damn problem in sight.

You can bet if the marathon happened to have been run on a record-breaking cold day in a sleet storm, “someone” would have been blamed for not foreseeing the need to have an army of volunteers at the ready to chip the ice off the streets.

The Chicago Marathon is not a unique example of such starry-eyed expectations , but it sure is a shinning example of the prevalent Somebody-Do-Something mentality.


Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Monday, October 08, 2007

Parents' input--not book--gets banned

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Parents concerned about the quality of books their children must read in school don't deserve the ridicule and condemnation that rain down on them.

But, as surely as Columbus Day shows up every year, October brings with it Banned Books Week, the annual high-minded whacking of such parents for their supposed intolerance. Dare disagree or suggest that teachers and school administrators are making children read age-inappropriate material and you run the risk of being labeled reactionary, illiterate or worse, a conservative Christian.

Of this haughty nastiness, we have no finer example than John H. Kinzie Elementary School on the Southwest Side, where some parents objected to 7th graders being required to read Robert Cormier's "The Chocolate War."

It's a controversial book about Catholic high school students being terrorized by autocratic religious brothers and an unchecked secret society of physically and psychologically brutal students. In one chapter, a bully nearly beats another student to a pulp in front of the entire student body of 400 cheering, bloodthirsty boys, with the head brother's snickering approval.

Some parents don't care for the book's casual handling of sexual themes, such as masturbation, but that's the least of the book's problems. Worse, in this book, victimizing boys and girls is its own reward.

So, when several dozen parents protested that the book was on the required reading list, Kinzie Principal Sean Egan arrogantly told them, in effect, tough. "I don't tell you how to run your family," he said. There is a legitimate issue of who controls a school's curriculum: educators, parents or -- perish the thought -- a combination of both working together in a spirit of cooperation and caring. In many schools where this conflict erupts, parents are allowed to excuse their children from reading the offending text.

This doesn't mean that the book is removed from the school's reading list or library. Despite suggestions floated by the American Library Association -- sponsor of Banned Books Week and extremist advocate of the rule that "children should be able to read whatever they need or want" -- this isn't censorship.

But at Kinzie, even suggesting that your own children can be excused from the reading is verboten. In a letter, Egan warned parents not to. Doing so, he wrote, "could have a significant negative effect on the final course grade."

Elsewhere, this is called blackmail. Let's see, how often have we heard complaints about parental non-involvement? Especially, when student performance is low. "Where are the parents?" "Do they even care?" "We can't get them interested in what's going on in the classroom."

Apparently, parental involvement is appreciated only on the school's terms. Yes, I know, the book supposedly is a groundbreaking masterwork of young adult literature. (Even though Cormier wrote it for an adult audience; it wasn't until his agent informed him otherwise did he know he had actually written a book for adolescents.)

Contributing to the book's cache are attacks on it by "would-be censors" and its frequent appearance on the ALA's most "challenged" list, based on the reasoning that if the troglodytes are against it, it has to be good.

I'm not impressed. Cormier writes well, despite the confused point of view. But it's like "Catcher in the Rye"; when you grow up and reread it, it seems sophomoric. It makes you wonder: Is this the best that English teachers could find?

There's also the portrayal of the Catholic brothers who teach at the fictional high school. It takes more than a suspension of belief to think that such a sadistic, moronic faculty could be running this or any school. Or that they would sit by while letting a secret club of callous students victimize other students. Having graduated from a high school operated by the no-nonsense Christian Brothers, I see the book's portrayal of teaching brothers as hackneyed, cruel and unfair.

But the book does a fine job of making 7th grade boys worry about what supposedly awaits them in high school: sadism. Letting high school juniors and seniors read it is less troubling because they have real-world experience to judge the book for the laughable rubbish that it is. For 7th graders, the book just isn't age appropriate.

The book strives to teach the importance of thinking for yourself and standing on your own, the way the protagonist, Jerry, refused to sell chocolates for a school fundraiser. Too bad. Among the fawning education and ALA wisdom givers, is there not a single protagonist to do the same and say the book doesn't belong in 7th grade?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Abortion protesters file libel suit against Planned Parenthood

By James Kimberly
Tribune staff reporter

Abortion protesters sued Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area for libel Monday, contending advertisements and mailings from the organization falsely accused them of advocating violence and criminal activity.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Kane County Circuit Court lists 19 plaintiffs, Aurora residents who are opposed to the clinic that Planned Parenthood wants to open at New York Street and Oakhurst Drive on the city's east side.

On Sept. 6 and 10, Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area published a full-page advertisement in the Aurora Beacon News containing a photograph of an abortion clinic that had been destroyed by an arson fire. The ad said the Pro-Life Action League and its President Joe Scheidler "have a well-documented history of advocating violence against both persons and property, as well as other related criminal activity."

Eric Scheidler, Joe Scheidler's son and spokesman for the Pro-Life Action League, is one of the 19 plaintiffs. The lawsuit was filed against Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area, its president, Steve Trombley, and its subsidiary, Gemini Office Development LLC, which built a Planned Parenthood clinic at New York Street and Oakhurst Drive in Aurora. The lawsuit did not name the Aurora newspaper as a defendant.

"You cannot accuse the peaceful citizens of violent crimes and advocating violence simply because you disagree with their message," said Tom Brejcha, an attorney with Thomas More Society of Chicago.

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

A New 'Ground Zero' in the Abortion Wars

This is another take on the Aurora abortion clinic fight that appeared on RealClearPolitics

By Dennis Byrne

In a huge tactical blunder, Planned Parenthood has managed to turn a Chicago suburb into "ground zero" in the abortion wars.

Planned Parenthood's decision to try to secretly open an abortion clinic in Aurora, Illinois exploded in its face when pro-life organizations discovered the subterfuge only weeks before the clinic was scheduled to open its doors. The attempted deception now has rallied pro-life groups from around the country to the cause and helped energize 40-day abortion clinic vigils in 80 cities.

No small part in firing up pro-life forces was Planned Parenthood's unabashed excuse for deceiving Aurora officials about the purpose of the clinic: Disclosure would stir up opposition, create ugly protest and ignite violence. One pro-life group, infuriated at Planned Parenthood's accusations of criminality and violence has threatened to sue for libel.

Read more at RealClearPolitics

Planned Parenthood applies with lies

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Whatever you think about Planned Parenthood setting up an abortion clinic in Aurora, you have to be impressed by the group's mendacity.

That's not surprising because the abortion industry has demonstrated great skill in the arts of deception, invention and omission. Now, thanks to the lengths that Planned Parenthood went to disguise the fact that its new medical clinic in Aurora would perform abortions, and the breathtaking willingness of its supports to justify the deception, we have an even better understanding of the depths of the industry's dishonesty.

Planned Parenthood officials said the devil (pro-lifers) made them do it (lie). If they didn't, the group insists, the "anti-choice" crowd would protest, make life miserable for all involved and even become violent. Without shame, Planned Parenthood confessed to intentionally avoiding public disclosure and transparency because of its perceived fear of negative public reaction. Equally shameless was how facilely Planned Parenthood defenders excused this end-justifies-the-means strategy.

In other words, the clinic's cheerleaders believe the clinic can deny to a certain segment of the public information that it has a right to receive. The reason is Planned Parenthood doesn't like to face the tests of a democratic society -- meaning protests, public demonstrations and the constitutional right to petition government.

This is based on the assumption that clinic opponents are dangerous. Steve Trombley, head of Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area, in a Sept. 4 letter to Aurora officials, made the baseless claim that the "zealots" opposing the clinic "have a well-documented history of violence and criminal activity." This sweeping slander is based on unfair and inaccurate stereotypes and on claims found in an old lawsuit against a pro-life protester that was twice soundly trashed -- 8-0 and 8-1 -- by the U.S. Supreme Court, something he doesn't mention in his letter. (The suit tried to use RICO racketeering conspiracy laws to try to bankrupt pro-lifers into silence.)

Let's be clear, the opponents' protests are legal and constitutionally protected. If it comes to "civil disobedience," the protesters should and will be arrested. Such tactics would drive Planned Parenthood backers wild, but if they don't understand the use of civil disobedience against laws that are perceived as unjust or immoral, perhaps they should consult Rev. Jesse Jackson, recently arrested for blocking a gun shop door, for an explanation.

The abortion industry's whoppers go far beyond Aurora. For years, it denied that the grizzly partial-birth abortion procedure existed, and when called on it, the industry spread around some more lies, such as it's "rarely used," used only to preserve the mother's health or life, used only on severely ill unborn babies and so forth. Until Ron Fitzsimmons, head of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, his conscience hurting, admitted that he was "lying through his teeth." The procedure existed, he said, and was used frequently and for whatever reason the mother wanted. This was 10 years ago, but the abortion industry has never owned up to the lie.

Likewise, the industry clings to the lie that it has public support for its radical position of abortion at any time for any reason. It promotes this exaggeration by citing polls that (correctly) show that most Americans don't want to repeal Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. That might be significant if one were confident that most Americans fully understand, or have even read, the decision. Or the companion decision, Doe vs. Bolton, which effectively legalizes on-demand abortion. They apparently haven't because polls consistently show that most Americans do not support the actual substance of Roe. Rather, they show that most Americans believe that abortion in general should be legal, but most support placing more restrictions on it, such as banning late-term abortions.

Pro-choicers will respond that pro-lifers are devious when they operate "crisis pregnancy centers" that aren't upfront about how they're trying to talk pregnant women out of abortions. That's not true of all such centers; many Web sites operated by the centers clearly state that they offer "abortion alternatives." Those that are trying to pose as abortion providers should stop; they are as guilty of dishonesty as the abortion industry.

In Aurora, Planned Parenthood would deny protesters their constitutional rights based on the mere suspicion -- unproved -- of future violence and criminality. Such a priori conclusions are wrong and dangerous. Planned Parenthood does not have the self-appointed right to impose prior restraint on the free exercise of speech. When it comes to the fight in Aurora, this is what is truly scary.