The Barbershop has re-located

The proprietor has moved the shop to ChicagoNow, a Chicago Tribune site that showcases some of the best bloggers in the Chicago area. You can logo on to the Barbershop home page here. The ChicagoNow home page is here.

You'll still be able to post comments with the same ease as in this location. The proprietor also will keep this web site alive if you wish to review old posts.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Catholics can open priesthood, gain souls

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

My guess is that the American Catholic Church would see a resurgence beyond imagining if it welcomed women and the married into the priesthood. No one expected that Pope Benedict XVI on his recent visit to the United States would announce that he was overturning the centuries-long church tradition that closed the Catholic priesthood to women and married men. But some of the faithful can't be blamed for hoping that the change will come in their lifetimes.

I hope that the pope has returned to the Vatican with some lasting impressions of the American Catholic Church: its tremendous vitality despite the disturbing loss of clergy over the last several decades, and the yearning of the laity for an even more invigorated church that an upsurge in the number of priests would bring to it.

There are reasons against a change in the policy. One invokes Christ's intent, which he demonstrated by his own chaste and single life and the inclusion of men only among his apostles and at the Last Supper. We have to rely on interpreting his intent because it is not recorded, as far as I know, that he said with encyclical-like clarity that only men and single people could serve as priests.

The fact that he gathered mostly men around him as his disciples might have had something to do with the culture of his times: Men ran just about everything.

So, does Christ intend to carry on that system because it was the custom 2,000 years ago? Consider: If he and his disciples customarily traveled only by donkey and fishing boat, would it be right to assume that he meant that priests today could only travel by donkeys and fishing boats? Are we to assume that Christ intended that the chemical makeup of chromosomes would determine who was qualified enough to bring more souls to him through the priesthood?

On its face, it seems ludicrous. Why should he limit the spread of the faith and redemption in such a superficial way? Why should he leave more than half of the faithful out of this glorious and blessed work? Some might argue that (1) priests are special and therefore (2) they must be men. The logical connection between the two statements leads one through tangled thickets of illogic.

Before Benedict became pope he was quoted as saying about expanding the priesthood by accepting women and married priests: "The first question . . . is: Are there true believers? And then comes the second question: Are priests coming from them?"

Quality over quantity, as it were. Except for two problems. The first is shocking in its assumption: If the test for priesthood is "true belief," how can it be said that male true believers outnumber female true believers? If anything, from my observations, the reverse is the case. Second, as the priest who gave the homily in my parish said last week (while making a different point), sometimes numbers do count. The more priests, the more people coming to know Christ. How can gender differences be more important than that?

Ministering to the faithful is a high calling, and you cannot so easily dismiss the argument that you get better priests if they are not diverted by concerns of family and flesh. Chastity is a great virtue, testing one's discipline and elevating one's holiness. What greater surrender is there than devoting yourself wholly and completely to the priestly vocation? But, those virtues are as equally available to women as they are to men. Women, even married couples, can choose to be chaste. Those who wish to achieve this special higher level of holiness flowing from the chaste and single life are free to do so, voluntarily. Their holiness or their effectiveness is in no way diminished by opening the priesthood to those who have been joined in the sacrament of marriage and whose oneness has been celebrated in the blessed act of sexuality.

It is hard for me to imagine a God who would say it is more important to limit who will be priests based on genetic makeup than it is to bring as many souls as possible to eternal salvation. Why would he do so?

Some would argue that opening the door to women and the married would send the priesthood down a slippery slope. But that slope is not more slippery than the one the single, male priesthood has brought us.

Monday, April 21, 2008

$100 million for museum?

Think what that cash could do for schools

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Maybe we're asking the wrong question when we debate whether the $100 million Chicago Children's Museum should be built in Grant Park.

A better question is: Why is anyone spending $100 million on a children's museum in the first place?

When the civic good hearts go about raising the $100 million in private money for the controversial museum in Grant Park, they should ask themselves: Isn't there a better way to help the children? The answer is: Yes there is. Especially when Chicago's children have a crying need for better schools. Think of what $100 million could do by duplicating the demonstrable successes of, say, Marva Collins Preparatory School on the South Side.

The assumption that a children's museum is a good way to spend $100 million shouldn't go unchallenged. Yet, whether it is wise to pour all that money into a children's museum has been completely overshadowed by whether it should go into Grant Park or elsewhere. As far as I'm concerned it should go elsewhere; the proponents haven't made the case for plunking it into a lakefront park, since it has nothing to do with the lakefront or a park.

When it comes to which is the superior benefit—superb schools for hundreds more Chicago kids that $100 million could buy, or a fancy place where kids occasionally can go to turn knobs, mold clay and have an "educational experience"—the schools win hands down. Not that there's anything wrong with turning knobs and molding clay. However, there are things called priorities. Putting scarce resources where they will do the most good. Cost effectiveness. The greater good. You get the idea. I wish the museum backers would too. Take the $100 million and create some alternative, private schools. Or help support those that already are changing the lives of poor kids, kids from broken homes, kids afflicted with bad teachers or victimized by unmotivated and violent classmates. The kids that Mayor Richard M. Daley keeps talking about when he declares that the museum must go into Grant Park.

If we had more schools, such as L.E.A.R.N. Charter School, maybe we would have fewer shootings and killings, including one that started with a shove in the hallway of one of city's scary public schools. Or, maybe more high school graduates. One reason that we're not getting such schools is that parents are denied the publicly funded vouchers that they can use to choose where to send their children. Why? Because the interests of public school workers and their unions, the political system and the established order of things forbid it. What could a school such as Chicago Jesuit Academy do with $100 million? The West Side school has made life better for young men of "modest means" with its small classes, longer class day and longer school year. Its "wish list" includes library books, baseball mitts and even a three-hole paper punch for the office. L.E.A.R.N. Charter School, formerly the Lawndale Community School, is so successful at educating the disadvantaged that it gets 1,000 applications for a couple of hundred slots from parents hungry to give their children a better opportunity. San Miguel independent middle schools are in the Back of the Yards neighborhood and in the Austin neighborhood. Cristo Rey Jesuit High School serves Pilsen. The list goes on, and I'm sorry that I'm leaving a bunch off. There are others employing both innovative and traditional methods to change lives. The schools are the city's bread upon the water, whose benefits are returned to our community in many and unexpected ways.

For the sake of discussion, let's assume that $100 million, wisely invested, earns a 10 percent return, or $10 million annually. Chicago Jesuit Academy says it takes about $12,000 to educate one student for a year. That $100 million could create an endowment that would educate 833 students a year.

True, that doesn't sound like much when we're talking about hundreds of thousands of kids caught in the school system. But that's 833 more every year saved from the depredations of the city's school system. And if 833 isn't enough, then the civic-minded should raise another $100 million. Unfortunately, that kind of cash isn't fungible. It's harder to raise $100 million when donors know it would quietly disappear into desperate inner-city schools, instead of being on display in Chicago's front yard as a concrete and steel monument to their egos.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Illinois’ Surrender to the Herd

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Proving that you can never glance away from Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the Illinois Legislature and remain safe from a sneak attack, they have just passed a law requiring Illinois to turn its presidential electoral votes over to the rest of the country.

That’s not how supporters of the National Popular Vote bill would describe the new law, but that’s precisely what they’ve done. Under it, Illinois promises to award its 21 Electoral College votes in the presidential election to the candidate that wins the popular vote nationwide. So, if the voters of Illinois choose a Democrat to be president, but the nation’s popular vote goes to the Republican candidate (perish the thought), the state’s electoral votes will go to the Republican.

Perhaps that scenario seems too remote to Democrats who run the state; but the fact is that it could turn Illinois into a red state from blue.

If this isn’t the most harebrained scheme to ooze out of the governor’s office and the Legislature....

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Same old China

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Wow, when was the last time the people of San Francisco—"the gentle people with flowers in their hair"—turned out to protest in such numbers the actions of a commie country?


I don't keep track, but there they were last week, thousands fussing over how Red (as it used to be called) China is oppressing Tibet and adding to the miseries of Darfur. Even in Chicago there were protests.

Protests of communist dictatorships are, like the Cold War, gone but not forgotten. The flame of anti-communism burns brightly only in isolated spots, such as in south Miami, where expatriate (and free) Cubans keep hope alive for democracy and liberty in their country.

China, we're repeatedly told, wants to showcase itself to the world during this summer's Olympics, but the protesters are wounding the country's pride, and we'll be sorry for that. To which democratic nations can rightfully respond: Tough. You want to emerge from the shadows as a member of the civilized world, then become more democratic, as many of us are doing.

My only gripe with the protesters is that they are mostly focused on the suffering that China causes outside, not inside, its borders: the suppression of Tibet and its Sudan dealings that contribute to the genocide in Darfur. Those are big, bad things, but let's not overlook the tyrannical rule that the communist regime imposes on the more than 1 billion of its own people. Human Rights Watch points to abuses that are just the result of its hosting of the Olympics: media and Internet censorship, extrajudicial house arrests and sentences of government critics for the "subversive" crime of criticizing the government, abuses of migrant construction workers and forced evictions of homeowners and tenants.Recently, the group said, "leading human rights advocate Hu Jia was given a 3½-year sentence for criticizing the Chinese government in the context of the Games. Previously, Yang Chunlin received a 5-year sentence for having begun a petition titled, 'We want human rights, not the Olympics.' "

This isn't the progress that the International Olympic Committee had in mind when it awarded the Games to China. By exposing China to the currents of freedom brought to its shores by the international community, the IOC hoped Beijing would moderate its behavior. Nice try.

By blessing China with the Games, the IOC ignored a long history of suppression of religion, association, protest and other rights. "Ordinary citizens face immense obstacles to accessing justice, in particular over issues such as illegal land seizures, forced evictions, environmental pollution, unpaid wages, corruption and abuse of power by local officials, a situation that fuels rising social unrest across the country," Human Rights Watch said. The result has been growing citizen protests and their suppression across the landscape.

But large protests, some involving as many as 10,000 people, were reported last year in almost all of China's 34 provinces. "In speeches and articles top security officials acknowledged the heightening of social conflicts but remained defiant toward greater independence of the judiciary, blaming 'hostile' or 'enemy forces' for trying to use the nation's legal system to undermine and westernize China. A string of lawyers defending human rights cases [has] been suspended or disbarred under a yearly licensing system that acts as a general deterrent to taking cases viewed as 'sensitive' by the authorities."

And we are not even getting into the deadly quashing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests or forced abortions.

The IOC's awarding of the Games to China is itself a violation of the second of the six "fundamental principles of Olympism," which is "to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."

In light of China's abysmal failure to honor that principle, the IOC should be honor-bound to withdraw its sponsorship of the Games. Of course, that would be incredibly naive, considering all the billions of dollars at stake; about as naive as hoping that a grossly commercialized athletic event would convince China to change its ways.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Children’s (Museum) Crusade

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Lois Wille looked like a deer caught in a car’s headlights.

Wille, an icon in the lakefront preservation community, had just announced at a press conference her support of the proposed controversial move of the Chicago Children’s Museum to Grant Park.

Rich Samuels, a reporter for WTTW Channel 11’s Chicago Tonight, had asked if she was “selling out.” Pause. “Selling out?” Wille asked. I’m trying to remember her exact response, as I was taken aback as much as she appeared to be. Her answer, as I recall, was calm and reasonable, even persuasive for someone (me) who has opposed the move. Certainly reasonable enough to wonder where the “sell out” question came from.

Wille’s credentials are unrivaled:

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Recall them all

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Who woulda thought anyone would have taken me seriously last October when I suggested that Illinois voters should be enabled to dump incompetent, dishonest and otherwise dreadful public officials by a “recall” referendum?

The idea was so, well, California-like, where voters in 2003 recalled the bumbling Gov. Gray Davis. And it so unlike Chicago and Illinois, where such a reform would be regarded as just another useless goo-goo (good-government) gesture.

But here comes the Illinois House, advancing with remarkable ease legislation that would allow voters to dispose unceremoniously of the governor, members of the General Assembly and executive branch officers elected statewide, such as the attorney general and secretary of state.

Last week, the House voted 80–25 (!) to tack onto the legislation an amendment that would exempt circuit, appellate and supreme court judges from recall. Such a wide margin of approval signals, according to the conventional wisdom, that the House will approve the legislation and pass it on to the Senate, where it has a less certain future.

But as one of the earliest advocates of the Illinois recall, I suspect political gamesmanship. If the House, and its Speaker, Rep. Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) was really serious, it would have added one other amendment:

Include local and county officials in the recall.


Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Monday, April 07, 2008

It's time to let Wright go

By Denniis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

When will it end?

It has been about a month since Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.'s rant against whites and America jarred our consciousness, but some people still can't resist using it for their own purposes. We've heard just about enough from politicians, commentators and others of all sides who are trying to squeeze every opportunity for self-promotion from the controversy.

Even calls for calm and "sacred conversations" seem to add to racial animosities. The latest came in Wright's own church, Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side.

There, leaders of the National Council of Churches gathered Thursday to "affirm this denomination and this congregation," said Rev. Michael Kinnamon, the group's general secretary. It's time, the leaders said, to leave the church alone and to stand up to the threats that some of its members say they have received. Well and good.

Rev. John H. Thomas, national president of the United Church of Christ, said of the sacred conversation about race that the group urged, "That does not mean that our language is always going to be gentle and quiet and graceful, because racism is not gentle and quiet and graceful." Thomas apparently didn't catch the irony that Wright's rant was rough, loud and graceless and could be subject to charges of racism.

Can't we all just shut up?

Apparently not, so here's my two cents: This isn't about Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democratic presidential candidate who was a regular congregant at Trinity and an admirer of Wright. Obama's Philadelphia speech disowning Wright's abhorrent words, but not the man or the congregation, was brilliant, perhaps reminiscent of some of King's best. Obama put into context how Wright reflected an older generation who grew up in an age of Jim Crow and whose outrage at the injustices still boils over. And unlike the many who keep throwing stones at each other across the racial divide so they can continue to leach whatever opportunities they can for themselves from inflaming racial animosities, Obama did something powerful and useful: He declared that we have made significant progress in race relations, and that we can continue to do so. And for progress to continue, Obama himself said, the kind of rhetoric that Wright wallowed in must stop. That's what I call audacious hope.

Just what did Wright do? It's impossible for me to judge the entire "context" in which Wright's comments were made, but Obama is in a position to do so, and he found Wright's comments abhorrent. My own thought was amazement that a man of God would use the pulpit to call on God to assign a nation (or at least the white portion of it) to eternal damnation. Simply put, it was a curse, and in some denominations, a curse still is a sin.

Using a pulpit to curse a group of people is the heaviest kind of stuff, even when "taken out of context." I'll resort to a cliche to illustrate: Suppose Cardinal Francis George had similarly used his pulpit, shouting "God damn America," as Wright did? Suppose George, from the pulpit, accused black America of, well, whatever? There would be little discussion about the context of his statements. The debate would be about the appropriateness of using a sacred space to spit out such odious thoughts. Well, the explanation goes, Wright was carrying on King's tradition of "translating faith into action," of preaching the social gospel. That's weak gruel, but if you want to persist in the deception that Wright is some kind of prophet whose role is to discomfort and anger, so be it.

But, to me, Wright's remarks haven't been as bothersome as the reaction to them—the endless justification and rationalization for words meant to inflame anti-white and anti-American passions. No matter what you say about context, the words themselves were "hateful." At least those are my thoughts, which I admit will themselves cause offense, and, unfortunately, keep the debate going.

But it's time to let it go. All of us. It's time to end the accusations that whites or blacks don't "get it." It's time to end the imputations that deep within us all lurks dark shadows of racism. This won't be the last time that America will scratch the scab of its racist history and draw blood. But it is time to give it a chance to heal.

It

By Denniis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

When will it end?

It has been about a month since Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.'s rant against whites and America jarred our consciousness, but some people still can't resist using it for their own purposes. We've heard just about enough from politicians, commentators and others of all sides who are trying to squeeze every opportunity for self-promotion from the controversy.

Even calls for calm and "sacred conversations" seem to add to racial animosities. The latest came in Wright's own church, Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side.

There, leaders of the National Council of Churches gathered Thursday to "affirm this denomination and this congregation," said Rev. Michael Kinnamon, the group's general secretary. It's time, the leaders said, to leave the church alone and to stand up to the threats that some of its members say they have received. Well and good.

Rev. John H. Thomas, national president of the United Church of Christ, said of the sacred conversation about race that the group urged, "That does not mean that our language is always going to be gentle and quiet and graceful, because racism is not gentle and quiet and graceful." Thomas apparently didn't catch the irony that Wright's rant was rough, loud and graceless and could be subject to charges of racism.

Can't we all just shut up?

Apparently not, so here's my two cents: This isn't about Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democratic presidential candidate who was a regular congregant at Trinity and an admirer of Wright. Obama's Philadelphia speech disowning Wright's abhorrent words, but not the man or the congregation, was brilliant, perhaps reminiscent of some of King's best. Obama put into context how Wright reflected an older generation who grew up in an age of Jim Crow and whose outrage at the injustices still boils over. And unlike the many who keep throwing stones at each other across the racial divide so they can continue to leach whatever opportunities they can for themselves from inflaming racial animosities, Obama did something powerful and useful: He declared that we have made significant progress in race relations, and that we can continue to do so. And for progress to continue, Obama himself said, the kind of rhetoric that Wright wallowed in must stop. That's what I call audacious hope.

Just what did Wright do? It's impossible for me to judge the entire "context" in which Wright's comments were made, but Obama is in a position to do so, and he found Wright's comments abhorrent. My own thought was amazement that a man of God would use the pulpit to call on God to assign a nation (or at least the white portion of it) to eternal damnation. Simply put, it was a curse, and in some denominations, a curse still is a sin.

Using a pulpit to curse a group of people is the heaviest kind of stuff, even when "taken out of context." I'll resort to a cliche to illustrate: Suppose Cardinal Francis George had similarly used his pulpit, shouting "God damn America," as Wright did? Suppose George, from the pulpit, accused black America of, well, whatever? There would be little discussion about the context of his statements. The debate would be about the appropriateness of using a sacred space to spit out such odious thoughts. Well, the explanation goes, Wright was carrying on King's tradition of "translating faith into action," of preaching the social gospel. That's weak gruel, but if you want to persist in the deception that Wright is some kind of prophet whose role is to discomfort and anger, so be it.

But, to me, Wright's remarks haven't been as bothersome as the reaction to them—the endless justification and rationalization for words meant to inflame anti-white and anti-American passions. No matter what you say about context, the words themselves were "hateful." At least those are my thoughts, which I admit will themselves cause offense, and, unfortunately, keep the debate going.

But it's time to let it go. All of us. It's time to end the accusations that whites or blacks don't "get it." It's time to end the imputations that deep within us all lurks dark shadows of racism. This won't be the last time that America will scratch the scab of its racist history and draw blood. But it is time to give it a chance to heal.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Plumbing Gasoline Prices

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Perfectly reasonable people can’t be blamed if they suspect that Big Oil is jazzing gasoline prices.

Gasoline inventories are reportedly at a 15-year high, which, according to the laws of supply and demand, should mean that prices ought to be sinking. Instead, the national average retail price of regular gasoline has risen to a record $3.29 a gallon, which is 23 percent higher than last year, the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report said last week.

On an anecdotal level, it’s hard to imagine that someone isn’t taking advantage of the situation when, as I saw on the Indiana Toll Road last week, one oasis was selling regular grade gas for $3.70 a gallon when other stations along the highway were selling it for a more modest (?!) $3.35.

And so, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming last week called top oil company executives to account. Explain to us, again, why prices are...

Read more at the Chicago Daily Observer

Secede from Cook County

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Why didn't someone tell us sooner that we could free ourselves from the clutches of Cook County?

Yes, it's legally possible, but practically impossible, for suburban townships to secede from the county and its oppressive taxes, bloated payrolls, insider dealings and pathetic leadership. Still, it might be worth the effort. After all, if you can't beat them, leave them.

Several Palatine government officials, pushed to the limit by the county's recent sales tax increase, which may send shoppers scooting across the county line into adjacent Lake County, are discussing secession as something more than a stunt. Lost business and lost sales tax revenues are the price that the village and its businesses may pay for Cook County's budgetary dereliction and other mischief.

State Sen. Matt Murphy and state Rep. Suzanne Bassi, both Palatine Republicans, have introduced legislation that would make it easier for townships to liberate themselves from the chokehold of Cook County President Todd Stroger and his County Board toadies. Under the legislation, the signatures of 10 percent of the voters in a township would force the township government to hold a secession referendum. If a majority of voters agree, it's bye-bye Todd. Other townships could follow.

But under current law, voters throughout Cook County would have to approve the disconnection, which is about as likely as the fresh scent of virtue wafting down Chicago City Hall corridors.

Indeed, chances aren't much better for the General Assembly passing this legislation. It has been consigned to the rules committees of both houses, the usual resting places for orphaned bills. Even if it came to a vote, you won't find many lawmakers around the state who would be prepared to upset the established political order by making it easier for indignant voters to carve up the existing government infrastructure.

But as dismal as the outlook for this legislation is, it's even more remote that Stroger and the County Board will reform themselves. Or that the county electorate—content to be lambs shepherded by scoundrels—will actually force reform.

In his splendid book "Grafters and Goo Goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago, 1833-2003," veteran political observer James L. Merriner shed some light on the likelihood of such an earthshaking event. It was as far back as 1877, when a do-gooder group called the Citizens Association wondered what its role should be after it achieved the seemingly impossible—the reform of the city's fire protection program. (Astonishingly, just six years after Chicago's Great Fire, City Hall graft, corruption, indifference and incompetence threatened to leave the city vulnerable to another great fire, a thought so horrifying that even the foes of reform couldn't stop it.) So, basking in the warmth of fire protection reform, association President Murray Nelson suggested, "Should an honest board of the commissioners be elected, then possibly the association would be of no more service to the city."

The association, like other reformers, is long gone, but the County Board survives as it was, its insider members laughing up their sleeves at the futility of suckers who think everything should be on the legit. Steeled by such invulnerability, they hardly pause to pass outta-sight budgets and taxes.

Believing that he can throw any insult at taxpayers without consequence, Stroger commits one outrage after another—a big raise for a relative here, a job for a pal there.

With great prescience, reformer Nelson noted, "Reformers won't stay mad for more than six months," a truth that gives Stroger and his cronies every benefit of time. I've never been one to believe that tinkering with the form of government will ensure reform. So, I'm not convinced that a bunch of disgruntled townships dropping out of Cook County will ensure good government. But there comes a point—America's founding fathers once arrived at that place—when the imperative of restructuring existing governmental institutions becomes manifest. Without trying, we'll never know what a secession movement can accomplish. And even if all a secession movement accomplishes is to cause a few rashes at the County Building, it's worth the effort.