The Barbershop has re-located
You'll still be able to post comments with the same ease as in this location. The proprietor also will keep this web site alive if you wish to review old posts.
Monday, December 31, 2007
'I've long said that the Iowa caucuses are the gift to Midwestern agriculture.'
-- John Doggett, vice president of public policy for the National Corn Growers Association, as reported by the Associated Press
Gift, you say? Yeah, I suppose you could call a multibillion dollar government handout to special interests a gift. But the word gift just doesn't seem accurate or vast enough to describe the massive plundering that's in store for taxpayers and consumers at the hands of ethanol addicts.
That's thanks to the unrealistically important role that Iowa plays as the first state up in the presidential sweepstakes. Iowa is the nation's biggest corn-producing state (Illinois comes in second), and ethanol's biggest feedstock is corn. So, a veritable parade of presidential candidates from both parties must prostrate themselves in Temple Ethanol.
Take Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York who opposed a hike in ethanol subsidies a couple of years ago, but now that she's stumping Iowa fairgrounds and parlors, she's for them. "Iowa is way ahead of the rest of the country," she said. "What you've done with ethanol ... you're setting the pace."
Yes, Iowa could give lessons to the Texas oil industry when it comes to "setting the pace" in the subsidy Preakness. The Iowa Corn Growers Association keeps close track: Six of the top eight Democratic candidates support or lean toward supporting a 51-cent "blenders credit" for every gallon of pure ethanol mixed into gasoline to help keep the price lower than gasoline.
(Wait a minute, you say. If we have to subsidize ethanol to compete or beat the price of gasoline to the tune of 51 cents a gallon, why don't we just use gasoline? Good question.)
Our beloved Sen. Barack Obama goes further; he would give motorists a 35-cent-per-gallon tax credit for using E85 -- a fuel blend that uses only 15 percent gasoline. Only Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware outright opposes the subsidy. The group apparently couldn't fathom where Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut stand on the 51-cent subsidy, but Dodd is for a big hike in the federally mandated use of ethanol (another form of subsidy).
Republicans are little better. Of the leading GOP candidates, only Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas outright oppose the 51-cent subsidy. Then again, Paul opposes everything, except, I guess, freedom. McCain also "leans towards" opposing a 54-cent per gallon tariff on imported ethanol, made from sugar cane much more efficiently than from corn. No other candidate (except, of course, Paul) in either party appears to oppose the tariff.
I can think of no other major issue garnering such bipartisan agreement and, in this, bipartisanship is not a virtue but a sell-out.
Despite its canonization by "greens," researchers on the grant dole, processors like Decatur-based ADM, ethanol is more promise than reality and possibly a swindle of national proportion.
It may cost more energy to make ethanol than it saves. Its demand for corn puts upward pressure on food prices. It's more costly and difficult than oil and gasoline to transport. The industry's protectionist trade policies anger allies and make a mockery of our argument for free or fair trade.
Gallon for gallon, ethanol provides less energy than gasoline. Even its environmental value is questioned.
The ethanol industry disputes this, but what is not in dispute is that ethanol has made farmers, investors and others in agribusiness rich. As if they were not made rich enough by a lavish aid bill enacted two years ago, President Bush has signed an energy bill that vouchsafes significantly greater cash and benefits to the industry.
Everyone understands the need for stability in the nation's agriculture sector, but the anti-technology, unscientific and ideologically inspired promises being seeded all through Iowa by the candidates go beyond reasonable.
And it will continue for as long as some unwritten rule requires that Iowa kick off the presidential campaign, giving its winners a head start to be president. Maybe it's time for a constitutional amendment that would make the contest for the presidency a truly national election, instead of this silliness now thrust upon us by the farmers of Iowa.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Chicago Daily Observer
"Newspapers are dead. They didn’t have to be, but their window of opportunity closed long ago."— Steve Rhodes, Beachwood Reporter, a blog.
“I’m sick and tired of listening to everybody talk about and commiserate over the end of newspapers. They ain’t ended, they’re not going to end and I think they have a great future.” – Sam Zell, new Tribune Co. boss.
My money is on Sam. And my apologies to Zell for mentioning Rhodes in the same breathe.
Rhodes apparently doesn’t catch the irony of pronouncing newspapers DOA, while he fuels his blog with daily rants about…newspapers. If Rhodes is right that the papers already are dead, I guess that means he’s living off a cadaver.But Rhodes isn’t alone....
Read more at the Chicago Daily Observer
Cheer up; the kids haven't forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.
I should say that at least my grandchildren haven't; I can't speak about all the rest. But then, the kids have time to contemplate the true meaning of Christmas, not having to lug in a Christmas tree and decorate it, shop for everyone who deserves or expects a present, figure out where all the money will be coming from, write Christmas cards, cook Christmas Eve and Christmas meals for the entire extended family and then clean up the whole mess.
So, if you can take a moment this Christmas Eve, take a deep sigh. And listen to the children.
What is Christmas, I ask Leia, 5, who is innocently ignorant of Black Friday and other corruptions. "Jesus' birthday." Who's Jesus? "God."
For days now, Lisa, 6, and Leia have been reviewing the material. Jesus lives in heaven. Heaven is "up there." Jesus is very old. They know the roles of the Angel Gabriel and the Magi. They know they were bringing baby Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, although they didn't know what the latter two were and I had to look it up myself to know that they were fragrant resin -- dry tree sap, in other words.
Of course, any kid can memorize this stuff, but with Lisa and Leia, there's something different about it. They also can memorize the plot of a "SpongeBob SquarePants" episode. They can become excited about hearing a new story, seeing a new movie and discovering the sights of a far-away vacation. Except, says their mother, Kati, their interest in Christmas is somehow deeper. So is their curiosity. Somehow, it feels built-in, emerging from something innate. They needed no special prompting to kindle their interest in the Almighty. Having heard the story, they latched on to it, and one question led to contemplation and to another question, and on and on.
This is not to suggest that Lisa and Leia are somehow special. But it is to suggest that they may be representative of the childlike innocence that brings us all to contemplate the meaning of things almighty and our own existence. Someone once said that if God didn't exist, man would have to invent him, in response to that inner drive that seeks to explain the who, what, why and how we are.
That drive emerges early and the questions pop up often, one right after another, as children experience the delicious taste of something altogether new. Those universal questions, I'm certain, appear whatever the faith of the children's fathers and mothers. That they do is a tribute to the deeper, inquisitive and better sides of our nature.
Which is why this natural curiosity needs to be nourished, in the public sphere as in the private. No, this is not a pitch for prayer in public schools; I'm against it. But I'm for teaching children about all the religions and the eternal questions. Call it social studies, comparative religions, philosophy or metaphysics even. Teach them first, before their fascination is dampened by adult cynicism. Teach children about all the world's religions and alternative (secular) explanations to the deep and enduring questions. Even if I'm wrong about these questions naturally bubbling up into the consciousness of all children, the instruction will at least bring these questions to the fore.
And this is why I find that all current scrubbing of the meaning of Christmas from the public sphere to be so disappointing and damaging. You know how it goes: "We can't sing Christmas carols in school because they are religious." We're taking a "holiday break," not a "Christmas vacation." I even heard of one principal who justified the banning of Christmas carols but permitted the singing of the Dreidel song, because the latter celebrated what he called a "secular" holiday. The principal himself could stand a course in comparative religions.
It's not just the gross commercialization and secularization that warps the meaning of Christmas. The festivities and rituals and nostalgia and good feelings, as welcome, positive and comforting as they are, also are slightly off the mark. For Christians, Christmas is the beginning of our redemption, carried out in the Easter rising. It's why Christmas is a time of hope and love. That's not a bad thing to know.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer
If it’s a good idea, it shouldn’t take all that long to get it going.
By many accounts, Chicago took only four years to rebuild and obliterate just about all signs of the 1871 fire that destroyed downtown and most of the city.
Reversing the flow of the Chicago River—an engineering marvel of its time—took 13 years from conception until its 1900 finish. Literally raising the city a half dozen feet out its swampy bottom took six years in the mid-1850s, a mere 30 years after the city’s founding.
Then there’s block 37.
Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer
Monday, December 17, 2007
By Dennis Byrne
Sometimes important news eludes us because it all sounds so technical. Take the fight over BP's plans to allegedly pollute Lake Michigan. The news that we missed from an independent analysis is that the company's plan for a $3.6 billion upgrade of its northwest Indiana refinery will not muck up the lake, as the plan's critics assert and as the public has been led to believe.
Perhaps the analysis was missed, at least in Illinois, because the 33-page report, released Dec. 6, was requested by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and done by A. James Barnes, professor of public and environmental affairs and adjunct law professor at Indiana University. Undoubtedly, this means it will be attacked as biased, unreliable, unscientific and blah, blah because Indiana -- which benefits economically from the expansion -- had a hand in it. Never mind that such a claim impugns the reputation of a respected scientist and fails to meet any test of substantive argumentation.
Anyway, to oversimplify the professor's conclusions, he found that the expansion plans complied with state and federal permitting requirements and that the discharges will not violate Lake Michigan water-quality standards. "The question of the extent to which any increase in TSS [total suspended solids] or ammonia should be allowed is a fair one and at the heart of this controversy," Barnes wrote. "However, the concentration of TSS permitted per liter of water (the equivalent of 10 grains of sand suspended in a pint of pure water) illustrates how far the description of it in several newspaper reports as sludge is from reality. In fact, industrial sludge -- such as the material that accumulates at the bottom of wastewater treatment tanks -- cannot legally be dumped into Lake Michigan or disposed of in a manner where it will reach Lake Michigan.
"Similarly, the permitted ammonia concentration is the equivalent of one eyedropper drop of household ammonia solution in a pint of water. Thus, some public perceptions/reactions were not based on an accurate understanding of the true facts." If the discharges are controlled as planned, he said, they "would not be expected to cause a violation of water quality standards or interfere with designated uses in Lake Michigan (including full body contact recreation such as swimming), and maintaining the aquatic community and drinking water supply." In fact, the limitations placed on the discharge "are demanding, and in several instances, much more restrictive than, those issued by adjoining states to refineries."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed, he said, that Indiana's regulations aimed at preventing "degradation" of lake waters conforms with the federal Great Lakes Water Quality Initiative Anti-degradation Policy -- a kind of clean-water gold standard. In fact, he said, "Indiana is more protective of the lake than the adjoining states."
Still, the controversy has illuminated a problem created by some vagueness in Indiana's rules, he said. That lack of clarity created uncertainty about what information BP had to submit to win approval, and that, in turn, led to an incomplete public record justifying the approval. And that, in turn, led to the public perception that the process was opaque. Barnes recommended that Indiana make a number of improvements (beyond the usual practice of burying legal notices in newspapers) to make the process more transparent. Among his other recommendations, Barnes urged the U.S. EPA to update its petroleum refining regulations, now some 20 years old, to reflect new and enhanced techniques for treating wastewater. That is particularly important, he said, because a number of refineries, like BP's, are planning to switch from the light, sweet crude to the heavier Canadian crude whose refining creates increased pollutants.
But even if the permits were entirely legal and appropriate, that still leaves the issue that defines the opposition: There should be no degradation of the lake waters, no matter how slight or inconsequential. Barnes discusses how degradation means different things to regulators, the regulated and the public and how that adds to the confusion surrounding the permitting process, but that still leaves unanswered whether the prohibition of even the slightest degradation is good public policy. Good public policy, in my view, is: no degradation unless the benefits outweigh its costs. So, we're back to the original question: Do the tiny, if nonexistent, environmental costs of the expansion outweigh the benefits of this $3.6 billion construction project in our midst that will reduce our dependence on crude oil from unfriendly sources? You don't need an expert to give you that answer; common sense provides it.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Spare us another “debate” like the Republicans had Tuesday in Iowa.
Actually, I should say like the sham put on by the Des Moines Register and its editor, Carolyn Washburn. Sadly, it shed virtually no new light on any of the candidates (except for Alan Keyes, whose appearance surprised the multitudes who didn’t realize he was running for public office, again).
Washburn failed miserably to achieve her own stated purpose: a face-off to provide “some clarity” about the differences among the candidates. The major problem, of course, was the format in which Washburn laid down the rule that no one could take more than 30 seconds to answer her questions on such complex topics as economy and national security.
I can’t imagine what reason Washburn had for imposing this counter-productive rule. Repeatedly, she tried to enforce this dictate, cutting candidates off precisely at the moment when they could have plumbed their differences. Did she really think that the candidates would be more thoughtful with less time? Did she really think that such an absurd decree would inspire candidates, in a compressed amount of time, to abandon their canned answers? When it was over, the illumination of the candidates’ differences was faint, indeed.The high point came when former Sen. Fred Thompson had enough...
Read more at Political Mavens
Monday, December 10, 2007
Oh, and did you happen to notice that Chicago's new police superintendent is white?
Of all the things noticed about Jody Weis, his race may have been the least. Not that you couldn't see that he was white, but his nomination as the city's new top cop drew far less attention than the other notables:
He's an outsider and an FBI guy, making him the ultimate no one who nobody sent. He's to be paid more than $300,000, making him the city's highest-paid employee. But hardly anyone is making a big deal out of Mayor Richard M. Daley's failure to pick someone with darker skin pigment.
Well, almost no one.
"I don't think this is a good message sent to our community," said Rev. Steve Greer Jr. of Christian Valley Baptist Church in North Lawndale. "We needed a representative sensitive to the issues that African-Americans face and understand why we do what we do."
Weis could make up for being white, I suppose, by following Greer's suggestion that the new superintendent choose an African-American for his second in command.
But that's about it. No marches on City Hall. No huffing and puffing about the city's minorities being disrespected and snubbed. No pundits spewing the usual racist crud about how you can't understand the black man's problems with the Police Department unless you're a black man or woman. Not a dissenting voice among the aldermen, although that's not new.
Maybe the anger was there, but perhaps the city's reporters, editors and producers just didn't bother going out to look for it, which would be a welcome relief from the usual knee-jerk story line that's so popular in the city's newsrooms.
Or maybe the usual carpers are just keeping their powder dry for later when they're planning a really big protest.
Not to make too much out of something that didn't happen, but could this sudden colorblindness in a city of stark contrasts be a sea change? Could a person's color no longer matter? Could it be a welcome sign of maturity in our civil matters?
If so, that's good news.
Perhaps it means that the town's black leadership and black communities are so fed up with the gangs and crime, police misconduct and brutality that they don't give a fig what color the new chief is as long as he is able do something about it.
Just four years ago, Rev. Jesse Jackson was railing about the failure of the Chicago Police Board to pick a black finalist to replace Terry Hillard, an African-American selected by Daley five years earlier. Jackson appointed himself to appoint a committee to submit a black finalist.
A black chief is needed, he said back then, because the black community is the one most victimized. "We're the most profiled, the most arrested, the most jailed, the most brutalized and, therefore, we expect to have in the highest places people whose credentials and track record earn trust in our community," he said. By "credentials" I take it he meant African-American.
With Weis' appointment, the same sentiment showed up on Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Web site. In a statement, Jackson said he was "astonished" that interim Police Supt. Dana Starks, an African-American, was passed over.
"But this is not just about the placement of a new police superintendent," he said. "The state's attorney [an elected office], the fire chief -- all of these key positions are held by whites and not minorities. This is a matter not just of ethnicity but of sensitivity."
You could have pulled the rhetoric right out of the 1960s playbook, a far different world in the history of race relations. The "color barrier" long ago was broken here, and the idea of a black superintendent for the sake of his color is regressive, not progressive. Sure, Jackson has tried to redefine the argument in terms of sensitivity, but the racial undertones remain: a white person is incapable of being sensitive because of -- what? -- inbred racism?
Still, Jackson's response seems muted, hopefully demonstrating a certain degree of acquiescence to today's reality, the reality being that most folks have come to recognize the racism in suggesting that you need black skin to build trust. Now we can allow Weis to do the job that really matters -- get rid of the bad apples, both in the department and in the neighborhoods.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Oh, just shut up about Mitt Romney's faith. He doesn't have to explain it to anyone.
This isn't just directed at separation-of-church-and-state radicals who take offense that a president might be a practicing person of faith. It's also directed at evangelicals and others who are weighing such questions as, "Are the Church of the Latter Days Saints" and its adherents Christian enough?
Even after Romney's speech on Thursday, in which he tried to straddle the wide gulf between the practice of his religion and the president's oath of office to faithfully enforce the nation's laws, the discussion rolled along on the same, tired theme. Would Romney's speech satisfy Iowa evangelicals who "own" the Iowa Republican caucuses? Would it please those who demand to know whether Romney's church is "truly Christian." "Did the speech," post-speech commentators wondered, "ease voters' concerns about Mormonism?"
Read more at RealClearPolitics
Chicago Daily Observer
Everyone who wrote an essay in kindergarten, raise your hand.
Well, Barack Obama has, but I didn’t see his hand go up because maybe he isn’t in the audience. In fact, an essay he wrote in kindergarten in which he declared his desire to become president has briefly appeared as a central issue in the Illinois Democratic senator’s presidential campaign.
The issue here, as couched by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, is just how truthful is Obama’s finely honed image as someone who never really thought of running for president until the masses demanded it?
More fascinating, though, is the idea a kindergartener—Obama or anyone else—wrote an essay when he was five or six. Especially when so many Americans today can’t write a paragraph or even a complete sentence.An essay, for the love of mike, is defined as a literary composition, often reflecting an author’s personal view. When did ...Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer
Monday, December 03, 2007
Not wanting to become known as the town quack, I am reluctant to write another politically incorrect column about breast cancer.
Four weeks ago, when I reported a study that found a statistical link between abortion and breast cancer, the hate e-mail poured in, denouncing me for being an ignorant, stupid, anti-science, anti-choice and anti-woman lunatic. But it also brought a message alerting me to yet another study, suggesting that premenopausal women (younger than 50) who used oral contraceptives prior to having their first child faced a higher risk of breast cancer. Yes, I know, this debate has been going on for years, if not decades, and judging by the last studies given wide exposure a few years ago by the media, the issue seems settled: Oral contraception does not significantly increase the risk of breast cancer.
There's just one problem. According to an analysis in one of the most credible peer-reviewed journals in the country, the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the risk is real. The study employed an often-used medical research technique called "meta-analysis" that allows researchers to combine data from other studies on the risk to get a larger picture. The result: Premenopausal women who used oral contraceptives prior to having their first child have a 44 percent higher chance of getting cancer than women who didn't use the pill. If they used the pill for more than four years prior to their first full-term pregnancy, the risk increased 52 percent. Chris Kahlenborn, an internist at the Altoona (Pa.) Hospital and the study's lead author, suggests one additional woman in 200 could get breast cancer. Extrapolated throughout the population, that could mean thousands more cases every year. I'd say that's an important story.
The reaction? Nearly total silence. Since it was published more than a year ago, I couldn't find a single reference to it in the archives of the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times or this paper. The Associated Press appears not to have covered it. I couldn't find a single mainstream media article about it in a Google search. But stories about other breast cancer risks were plentiful, including one about how sleeping with a night light on can increase your chances of getting breast cancer. The National Institute of Cancer doesn't mention the study on its Web site, but it did detail a 5-year-old study claiming to find no higher risk to pill use. The American Cancer Society also doesn't mention the study and concedes only that "it is still not clear what part" the pill plays in breast cancer. Such guidance, if not deceptive, is certainly incomplete.
"The last word seems to be that the pill is safe," Kahlenborn told me, as he called me with his frustration with being unable to get this important information out to women. "The word basically in the medical community before the study, and it continues to be, is that the pill is quite safe." But the results of his study are disquieting enough that if the pill were just coming out today, the findings would be enough for the Food and Drug Administration to keep it off the market, he said.
Why so little attention? My guess is that the pill has been so widely accepted, that it has become such a key part of feminist ideology and that the pharmaceutical companies make so much from it, that few folks are willing at this stage to talk about its dangers. It's no small irony that those who habitually are quick to criticize big business and government for failing to "do enough" to protect consumers are mostly silent when it comes to talking about this particular risk.
Here, I also should clarify some things to all the folks who are itching to hit the "post comment" button: Kahlenborn is pro-life, but what has that to do with his research? As for me, I am not opposed to contraception, oral or otherwise. I am not plotting to get the pill banned. I am not writing this column for hidden religious reasons. I am not saying that the Kahlenborn study is the last word; I'm not a scientist, so I can't vouch for its methodology or conclusions. Just like the abortion/breast cancer study, I'm writing about it because people have a right to know about the existence of health information, even if it is contradictory to the given wisdom.
The truth is that I'd just as soon not write about it, for all the heat it generates. I just wish that someone else would.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Even in my adolescence during 1950s, the idea of a “chastity ball,” at which girls pledged to their fathers to remain virgins until marriage, would have been considered, well…. Let’s put it this way: To my knowledge, no one thought about it. And, perhaps, no one would have gone.
Of course, back then lots of folks thought chastity was a worthwhile goal for all kinds of reasons—not just religious. For better or for worse, it was part of the culture. But as unlikely as such a lavish dance would have been even then, I doubt that it would have stirred up the kind of scorn and hatred that this one did in the Chicago Tribune’s on-line Forum. For me, the response was as creepy as the posters thought the dance was.
(To see the responses go to the bottom of the on-line story; this you’ve got to read.)
For a bunch of these folks, it conjured up images of incest. Others said the whole thing was evidence that right-wing Christian screwballs still thought of girls/women as property. Others unleashed intensely personal attacks (e.g., “I would like to add that the people in the article are really sad and CREEPY!” On the ridicule and insults went: Icky, weird, nonsense, patriarchical, daddy’s little girl fantasy, depraved, sickening, gross, disturbing, disgusting, 18th century, perverse, pornographic, yucky, a bunch of crap, scary and, worst of all, offensive.
Phew, you’d think that they had been plucking out each other’s eyes, beating their grandmas or using cattle prods on puppies.
On display was the kind of bigotry that the left constantly reminds us that the right is guilty of, but as long as it’s the left’s bigotry, it’s all right. Laced through the scores of posts are vile displays of hatred of Christians, Catholics and people of faith. Hatred of people living their own lives as they choose to. For all the times that I receive mail from similar folks telling me to stay out of their private lives, I wish many of these posters had exercised the same restraint.
You can be sure, a number of posters said, that these are precisely the kinds of suppressed and controlled girls who go wild once they have discovered the joys of sex (the Catholic high school girl stereotype still persists). Others said, quite to the contrary, but in equally condemnatory language, that these are the kinds of girls who become afraid of having sex. Perhaps the most “icky” (and least demonstrable thing) said in all the posts came from Bobby Brown, from Germany: “Eventually these young girls will drift into S & M, visit the Tower of Power and take Golden Showers.”
I didn’t count, but it appeared that well over 90 percent of the posters had something bad to say about the dance. Some had good points: Why should all the responsibility be heaped on the girls? Why don’t the boys have the same kind of dance, mother-son perhaps?
Maybe they should have boyfriend-girlfriend chastity dances instead, because, after all, those are the people who are most in need of the message. If anyone would attend. I have a feeling that not a few posters would object to that too because what really has them upset is the idea of chastity itself. So ‘50s. So useless. So destructive.
Here’s what I think the story is behind the purity dance: The whole idea of virginity has gone in to such disrepute and has been attacked so viciously is some quarters, that it has spawned a backlash. It always happens when an extreme idea creeps into the culture, in this case the idea being that chastity is actually bad. Not a few people want to say they’ve had enough, and this dance is their way of showing it.
Maybe the best thing that has been said so far was posted by Mark from Elk Grove Village:
Purity is important to those who consider it important; we all live by differing values. Some young men and women consider it important to wait until marriage, others don't. Some young men and women consider their parent's council important in understanding relationships with the opposite sex. If these values are important to them, there's no fault in helping them to understand and enjoy the value of purity.