Wednesday, November 26, 2014

R.I.P. Jon Mendelson

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For much of my life, I've remembered November 22 as the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. From this day forward, that event is dwarfed by a more recent loss--the day the world lost Jon Mendelson.

I just learned of his passing. I am profoundly saddened for his family, especially his wife Judy who was in every way his soul mate. This is such a loss not only to Jon and Judy's friends, and everyone who knew him but to those who hadn't yet had the pleasure. 

Jon Mendelson was a retired biology professor at Governors State University, University Park, IL. He was a teacher who embodied the true meaning of the word--as both the noun and the verb. Everyone, with whom he came in contact, was better for it. He exuded knowledge like no one else I've ever met. He easily shared what he knew. Moreover, he not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk. 

Jon was a driving force, not just for education, but for conservation, preservation, and the very connection of man to nature, obvious in the nearly 1,000 acres of Thorn Creek Woods in Park Forest. Jon was personally acquainted with the trees, bushes, ponds, streams, native wildflowers and wildlife within the now-preserved forest. Jon and Judy followed in the footsteps of the late Jim and Mary Lou Marzuki, who were instrumental in the early protection of this unique urban sanctuary. Jon was not just knowledgeable about the gullies, ridges, and waterways created thousands of years ago; he was the expert.

I first met Jon when I was studying the environmental effects of the proposed airport development near Peotone. Though we were just acquaintances, I felt a profound connection to him and all he stood for. Jon was inspiring. He made me want to know more about the environment. He was a good man who cared about all the right things. He was humble, brilliant, and hard-working. Nature was his passion. In my view, he represented the very best of the human race. 

I specifically remember one year in the mid-90's. It was Earth Day. I had recently been awakened to global environmental issues such as destruction of habitat, oil spills, and potential nuclear calamity, to name a few. I felt a need to renew my own connection with nature, so I decided to go for one of the many walks/tours Jon conducted through Thorn Creek Woods. I was so impressed by his knowledge and mesmerized by the way he communicated with the mid-sized group on the tour, especially the children. He changed my own focus of individual destructive acts by mankind toward the larger, more serene picture of the earth and its life cycle. He pointed out rocks that have stood for centuries, since the glaciers dropped them right where they stood. He spoke of oak and hickory trees planted in the 1800's. He spoke of the flora and fauna as if they were his dear, old friends. I left that day feeling exhilarated and anxious to learn more about the world around me. 

I no longer live in the area. I haven't seen Jon in years, but I will always remember the sound of his voice, the way he laughed. I will forever be touched by the fact that I knew him, a fact that makes me proud. 

It is with great sadness that I recognize his passing. Rest in peace Jon. We are all better for having known you.
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Sunday, November 23, 2014

We need to hear from Bill Cosby

061003-N-0000K-001 Dr. William H. "Bill&q...
Bill Cosby, now under scrutiny from alleged past deeds
Allegations in recent days have been leveled against Bill Cosby by a long line of women. These allegations are disturbing for so many reasons, but the biggest danger is to try to paint this picture in black and white, without the predominantly gray areas that must be examined. 

Understanding what really happened all those years ago is not going to be easy, especially when only one side--the side of the alleged victims--of the story is being told. Media can't be expected to paint a complete picture when all the facts aren't available. 

What has been written will likely result in so much regurgitation from all who have an appetite for every morsel of information about this seemingly scandalous story. The danger to the truth comes when seasoning is added to those morsels in the form of sensationalism and misinformation added by both media sources and the consuming public.

It is for that reason that I think Cosby owes it to the millions of people who have admired him for years, to at least explain his side of the story.

Like all others, I am trying to understand this story. 

I admit I rarely watched the Bill Cosby show. I doubt I ever watched a half dozen episodes. I don't recall ever watching I Spy. So, the only thing I really knew about Bill Cosby was the comedian that I saw on variety shows. I considered him to be a very funny guy, in a real world view kind of way. 

He wasn't really even on my radar, until he began talking to black youth about their behavioral issues. That impressed me. Someone had to do it. Someone had to take a stand that might affect the uptick in black on black crime in the inner cities. Someone with standing had to be heard. 

The first thing I have to say is that we must not judge what happened 30, 40, 50 years ago by the standards and attitudes which have evolved since that time, particularly in regard to feminist issues. Times have indeed changed. Woman have come a long way since those days and see things through a completely different lens. We must not use that lens to judge the past.

As a society, we need to define and discuss rape. This one word covers everything from the violent, horrific physical act that includes beating, bruising, and death or near-death experiences that happen to include sexual intercourse, to the more psychologically-harming drug-induced sex act and everything in between. I believe there are very many variants of what we now call rape. 

The way rape is viewed by law enforcement varies from state to state as well as in judicial remedies. But probably the biggest road block in the understanding of rape may be in the interpretative differences between men and women. As much as we are equal, we are also different. We need to better understand our differences.

One thing that has changed drastically, and with good reason, is the tendency to blame the victim when it comes to sex crimes, whether it be a woman or a man. The catch all seems to have been provocative clothing. While this is of course no reason to rape someone, nor should any woman dressing in sexy clothes be targeted or blamed, we need to understand why clothing may be a contributing factor to why someone rapes. Instead of casually dismissing it, its context must be understood. 

Our society is to blame for much of how this story has seemingly unfolded, at least from what is known. Why do we treat celebrities as though they are god-like? Why would a 19-year old girl accept drinks and especially drugs offered to her during a seemingly casual encounter? Is Bill Cosby a rapist or is he suffering from a sexual addiction? What was his motive? Why would anyone think it is OK to drug someone and then have sex with them without their consenting participation? 

There are so many more questions about this story, but the bottom line is, I'd like to hear from Cosby. Is he sick? Is he still sick? Does he want to live the rest of his life with this cloud of certain speculation over him? Is his attempt to counsel inner city youth his way of apologizing for his own indiscretions? What do the women he allegedly violated hope to get from telling their stories? 

Until those questions are answered, it is impossible to draw conclusions.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Society has run amok with violence

United States flag with peace sign canton
United States flag with peace sign canton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It seems that every day, headlines across the country scream about violence erupting in some small town, village, or hamlet. Without even mentioning the violence in major cities, or on foreign shores, our society must do something about the increasing abundance of violence that threatens to turn a peaceful life into chaos with ramifications beyond imagination. 

I've long been concerned about increasing violence throughout our society. It fills our televisions, movies, news, and satire. Graphic images, perfected through technology, make me cringe. I am increasingly concerned over what all this is doing to us, in the recesses of our brains. 

While I don't have any scientific evidence to back up theories about violence, it just seems logical that pounding gut-wrenching pictures and ideas into our brains will have some kind of effect, if not now, at some point in the future. 

As a more than middle-aged woman, I have seen the escalation of violent tendencies overall, complicated by a sense of immunity to it by young people. They not only accept violence, but they value it in their entertainment. 

The statistics about violence, are to me, staggering.

"The 20th century was one of the most violent periods in human history. An estimated 191 million people lost their lives directly or indirectly as a result of conflict, and well over half of them were civilians," according to the Peace Alliance, a non-profit that promotes peace. Some of the other statistics the group cites are as follows:
  •   In 2001, almost 21,000 homicides and 31,000 suicides occurred; and almost 1.8 million people were assaulted, while about 323,000 harmed themselves and were treated in hospital emergency departments. (Surveillance for Fatal and Nonfatal Injuries – 2001, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Vital Statistics System)
  •   Worldwide, an estimated 1.6 million people lost their lives to violence in 2000. About half were suicides, one-third were homicides, and one-fifth were casualties of armed conflict. [World Report on Violence and Health, World Health Organization, 2002]
  •   Homicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 in 2001. Suicide was the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 in 2002. [Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System – 2002, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
  •   The health-related costs of rape, physical assault, stalking and homicide committed by intimate partners exceed $5.8 billion each year. Of that amount, nearly $4.1 billion are for direct medical and mental health care services, and nearly $1.8 billion are for the indirect costs of lost productivity or wages. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States, April 2003.)
  •   A 1992 study in the United States put the annual cost of treating gunshot wounds at $126 billion. Cutting and stab wounds cost an additional $51 billion. (Miller TR, Cohen MA.,. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1997, 29:329–341.)
I believe that as we age, we are an accumulation of all that has occurred in our lifetimes. We are like a computer whose hard drive runs continuously soaking up bytes of information to be stored for later use. The bytes consist of all that we have experienced in our lives. The longer we live, the more we store. Every image, thought, or memory remains filed away. It isn't always easy to retrieve. I believe our dreams are like defragmenting that hard drive. Haven't we all had violent dreams often times based on something we've seen or heard?

Recently, I experienced a picture on Facebook where Hannibal Lechter was digging a spoon into somebody's brain. I do not want to see such an image. I'm appalled by it because cannibalizing people is real and horrible. A picture like that doesn't belong among pictures of cute cats and babies.

Another one that got to me was a promotion for the television show, "The Walking Dead." A supposed human corpse, complete with hanging skin, bloody scalp, and tattered clothing advertised the series. Will we start seeing a rash of grave robberies now as people try to find a zombie they can call their own? Why does anyone watch this stuff?

A rest in peace sign.
A rest in peace sign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Murder is the #1 attraction at the box office and in television shows and video games. How many different ways can a person be snuffed out? And how often are these dramas played out in real life? Which came first, the attempt at a perfect murder or the TV show that portrayed it? 

Violence seems to be a never ending cycle. Where is the value of human life? I used to think it was obsessive to try to ban violent video games, and I still believe more strongly in the first amendment than any form of censorship, but where is the hue and cry that says enough is enough. Can't we see that we are harming human beings, especially our youth? Doesn't all this exposure to violence simply guarantee a screwed up, Xanax-riddled society? 

Then there is the gun issue
There seems to be a real romanticism about guns. We all want to be John Wayne or Marshall Dillon or the Rifleman, where justice was settled quickly and easily. That isn't the world in which we live today. It wasn't even the world of yesterday. It was all fiction. The whole ugly story of the violence that occurred when the west was settled wasn't shown on weekly TV shows. 

We are all capable of violence. Our hair-trigger emotions in today's overly-complicated society where induced anger is so often the result, do we really want to make it easier to kill people? An increasing number of people experience mental health issues. Their emotions are less stable, so it follows that they would be more likely to act upon their anger. Yet, our societal laws equally encourage them too, to own firearms. We have seen the hideous results. There can be no greater horror than sending your child to school one day only to learn they have been gunned down by a disturbed young man turned depraved killer. The horror of Sandy Hook Elementary has changed so many people, yet not enough apparently. How many more tragic events in the workplace, on college campuses, in public restaurants, or in a private residence are we going to allow before we decide to do something? Politically, we don't even talk about it. That's inexcusable! Must the violence reach inside our own individual homes and families before we wake up and realize the gravity of this situation? 

I don't have answers. No one person does, but it seems to me we need to start to change our thinking. Instead of the bottom line being about dollars and sense, perhaps the bottom line ought to be about common sense. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Time to ask more questions about Peotone before it's too late!

In the past, CHBlog has been a source of information about the proposed Peotone Airport, a project that has been talked about for nearly a half century.

In recent times though, I've been avoiding the topic. I no longer live in Illinois, and have had little to do with the proposed airport for the past several years. However, I still maintain friendships with people there who remain deeply affected.

I admit that it surprises me that hearing about a resurgence in activity about the proposed Peotone Airport is still jarring. When I lived in Illinois, I was an active participant in the study process. My position--that an airport wasn't needed 40 miles south of the City of Chicago, didn't fit among the farm fields of eastern Will County, and is a project that has never stood on its own merit--has been well known and widely documented.

While there have been developments, they are virtually meaningless rhetoric from  a governor facing a tough re-election, if and until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) actually approves the project for construction. That hasn't happened yet!

English: Illinois Governor Pat Quinn addresses...
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the first of many resurrections of this project took place in 1985. I didn't personally become involved until 1987. It took that long for the private talk among legislative leaders to eke out into the public arena. I suspect Illinois leaders would have liked to keep things quiet a little longer, just so they continue getting all their ducks in a row. They like nothing better than control over the message that ultimately makes it to the public. So sorry that we learned before you were ready.

Controlling the message! That is how Illinois leaders in Springfield do things. In their zeal to control what the public perceives, elected officials rarely pay attention to public input. In the case of the Peotone Airport, they have long stifled public input whenever possible.

I am reminded of this practice by recent activity in the Chicago Tribune. An editorial was written to send the message that the next governor of Illinois is on notice. Forty-seven years is long enough to keep a project on the back burner. Whether the next governor is Pat Quinn or Bruce Rauner, it is time to put up or shut up. Either get on with building it or kill it once and for all. This message too is a repeated incantation spoken throughout the years. It is difficult though for anything to be new about this project since it has been around so long.

In response to the Chicago Tribune, my long-time friend Bob Heuer, reiterates the paper's call for a decision by the next Illinois governor. He also drives home my point about local input when he says, "The Springfield bureaucracy's heavy-handed tactics combines deep pockets, fuzzy math and an arrogant disregard for on-the-ground reality." He goes on to point out that a resolution passed by local governments and organizations to study reasonable alternatives to the airport has gone virtually unnoticed.

I concur with Heuer's call to the next Governor of Illinois to stop simply taking IDOT's word for it that thousands of jobs and economic potential lies just around the corner. IDOT should be scrutinized just like a con artist waiting for his next victim.

Heuer has given permission to print his letter. It follows:

Making an informed decision about an airport at Peotone

In “Knock-knock. It’s Peotone again,” (Aug. 26) the Tribune editorial board encourages the winner of November’s gubernatorial election to either go full throttle” on building a new airport in the eastern Will County countryside “or ground the issue once and for all.”

Our next governor can be sure of one thing: He won’t be able to make an informed decision based on analysis from the Illinois Department of Transportation. In recent decades, IDOT has spent tens of millions of dollars to engineer a consensus for the so-called “third” commercial airport in a tri-state region that isn’t fully utilizing the five we already have.

The Springfield bureaucracy’s heavy-handed tactics combines deep pockets, fuzzy math and an arrogant disregard for on-the-ground reality.

One example is a 2005 resolution adopted by a half dozen units of local government, the Will County Farm Bureau, and community group Shut This Airport Nightmare Down. Nine years ago, IDOT ignored the Peotone community's reasonable demand for an “independent study” of all viable alternatives.

IDOT never wavers from its agenda, which includes pummeling anybody obstructing Springfield's goal of seizing all of the land in the so-called airport “footprint.” Next month, IDOT will choreograph a Peotone forum which the Tribune recognizes as Gov. Quinn's attempt to “create a pre-election sense of inevitability for the airport development, as he has tried to do for the Illiana” toll road.

Our next governor owes the people of Illinois what the people of eastern Will County asked for in 2005. Is it too much to expect our governor to demand a legitimate analysis of “airport-related costs and benefits based on various scenarios, including an assumption that a Peotone airport would attract no daily commercial passenger service for many years, if ever?”

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

'All About Ann' - the beginning of the end

I love a good movie, especially if it has a good story behind it. I'm all about the story. This morning I watched "All about Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State.

Those were the days!
CHBlog: Ann Richards
Texas Governor Ann Richards-Wikipedia
I remember Ann Richards very well, as her tenure in the Texas mansion, occurred during what was the dawn of my own political interest. I was in the thick of it--fighting Illinois Republicans' effort to build a new airport in Illinois--where even today, its only success has been on paper.
I admired Richards. She was spunky, unafraid, and really quick-witted, but with a caring side steeped in a love of the people she represented. It was easy to relate to her. All the cards seemed stacked against her, yet she continued to work hard, driven by what she believed in. She would not be bullied by the good ole' boys; those traditionalists we know today as the gods and guns crowd. She fought the good fight to become the first woman to be elected governor in the State of Texas. Texans were better for it too. She was a popular governor, accomplishing much of what she set out to do. She was a champion for women, minorities, and generally, all the people in her state. She established alcohol and drug abuse programs for prisoner inmates. She knew from where she spoke, as as admitted alcoholic. Such honesty and high achievements didn't sit well with the state's elite, who was used to doing it only one way; their way. They suffered through one term by the liberal governor, but were not about to deal with another. Thus began in my opinion,  America's darkest days, days for which we have yet to emerge.

Just a one-term governor, Ann Richards' tenure came to an abrupt halt in 1994 when she was defeated by George W. Bush.

I remember watching the election returns. Her defeat was a blow to me personally and to the country as a whole. Hers was one of the most important races in the country, because if she fell, others would too. And they did. 

As I watched the movie this morning, I could recall the moment I heard she was defeated. It was like a stake in the heart of everything I believed politics to be. After all, my own personal cynicism had not yet taken hold by that time.

I admit I was more interested in local politics then; I was just beginning to learn the players on the national stage. I hadn't watched the Texas governors' race closely, but I knew enough to know that defeating Ann Richards was big in 1994, and not in a good way. 

Looking back, I think that moment in time was the beginning of the end of our democracy. That one race made a difference that set in motion a destructive turn of events.

If only Richards had won re-election, Bush would not have been governor of Texas. That would likely have precluded his moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I can only dream of how great that would have been. Imagine: no Iraq war, no Supreme Court nominees, no September 11, 2001, no homeland security, no Dick Cheney, no Rumsfeld's war machine, no NSA spying,... Al Gore would likely have been allowed to serve after being elected. The problems we are now facing with climate change would have been minimized rather than exacerbated. The things connected to Bush's presidency are mind-boggling and to me, represent everything I abhor in politics.

The movie portrayed Bush's campaign against Richards as a whisper campaign, orchestrated by the brilliantly devious Karl Rove. The campaign quietly, but effectively painted a false picture and used television ads and lies and innuendos on campaign fliers about Ann Richards. They called her a lesbian because she employed people who happened to be gay or lesbian. The National Rifle Association (NRA) opposed her, even though she had her own firearms and knew how to use them. Rove was relentless. These are people who want to win at all cost and don't have the ethics not to cheat to do it. Think hanging chads, a biased Supreme Court decisions, gerrymandered congressional districts, voter registration purges, Citizens United, and the latest campaign finance free-for-all. It all started with Karl Rove and George W. Bush. It continues with no end in sight.
Whisper campaigns are nothing new; these types of campaigns have gone on for as long as the country has held elections. But today, whisper campaigns are on steroids with the advent of unlimited spending, unscrupulous media sources, and completely unethical behavior. The whispers are now deafening. Efforts to persuade voters has become commonplace, because potential voters are becoming less interested and less engaged in politics. 

People don't like politics. It is a dirty word. Admittedly so, but participation of an informed electorate is the only hope for a working democracy. With a constant assault on the Middle Class and women's rights, worker's rights, and the ever-widening chasm between the have's and have-not's, it is more important than ever that potential voters be informed.

In fact, that is the only way to once again elect decent representatives that will work for the good of all the people and not just their pals. Potential voters have to be able to see through the tactics and know enough to differentiate fact from fiction. They need to take issue with falsehoods and those who tell them. Truth needs to be defended with honor again. There need to be more candidates like Ann Richards. 

Ann Richards died seven years ago, but she left behind a legacy and an example. We should settle for no less.

In November, there is an opportunity for voters to do the right thing for today and tomorrow. We must vote for candidates that can see farther than the nose on their faces; candidates that emphasize what is good for all and that which will better our world community as a whole. Candidates stuck in the 1950's will not solve the problems of the 21st Century. We must all get informed and to whatever extent, get involved.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

'Everglades of the North' inspires hope

"All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes." - Winston

CHBlog: my trip to the marsh
One of many trips to the marsh
When it comes to man's relationship with nature, it seems the same mistakes are often repeated. There has been too little interest in protecting natural areas and making sure that development does the least amount of harm to the environment. That may be changing as awareness grows about the myriad environmental degradation that occurs on almost a daily basis. Isn't it time we begin to learn from our mistakes, to exhibit the kind of wisdom of which Churchill referred? 

Awareness has to begin with simply telling the story. That was done well by the award-winning documentary, "Everglades of the North - The story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh," (see excerpt below:)

This story reveals a detailed view of man versus nature strictly for man's benefit as he gives little or no thought to the potential harm caused by his actions. It is a tale of how a once spectacular natural phenomenon--the Grand Kankakee Marsh--could have sustained a population with its vast diversity of species and unique benefits in the thousands of acres of wetlands it contained. Left intact, it would have held such an advantage to the region, not the least of which include flooding prevention, cleansing and filtering water, and providing a habitat for plants and animals, now extinct.

Yet the marsh was nearly decimated. Its natural benefits and potential to provide for a healthy, sustainable future were squandered for reasons as petty as political advantage and personal fortune. Those who understood the value of the marsh and lived in kinship with this spectacular natural spectacle, were simply disposed of.

As I watched the story of the marsh, I was saddened by the realty of what mankind has done to nature. These stories are too common as headlines every day reveal a new environmental horror at the hand of man.

Not only was I saddened by the big picture this film provided, but for me, this is a much more personal story. 

I know the Kankakee River and its marsh lands. I've traveled on the Kankakee in a boat; I've swam in its water. I know several of the people associated with and shown in this film. 

I once considered the area along the Kankakee as my own personal respite, a place I could go for solitude and to be one with nature. I believe that to be a necessity for us all. Unfortunately some don't realize the peace that can come over you as you gaze out over a marsh teeming with life. I can only imagine what it must have been like in those early days when wildlife was so abundant. For me, it was a thrill when any animal revealed itself in the woods, air, or water. I loved the beauty of the area, the sounds of birds' whistles and calls to one another, the splash of a fish jumping, the ripple of a breeze playing on the surface of the water, or a boat motor humming in the distance. I reveled in the peace it held for me personally. Naively, I was fond of the area, unaware of how grand it once was. It angers me that this place had not been cherished and protected.

I no longer live in Illinois, but the scenes depicted in the film were as familiar as my own reflection in the mirror. I now live in a beautiful area of the Ozarks, where it is easy to appreciate nature just outside my own back door. But I miss the grasslands, the wildflowers, the gentle flow of the waters of the Kankakee. As sad as it was to learn the fate of this magnificent place, I'm grateful to have learned some of its history.

As the film points out, there is so much more known today about the importance of wetlands. This film does an excellent job of reconciling what has been done in the past with what can be done in the future. While there is no turning back the damage, there is a potential for the future as nature does her best to reclaim the marsh. This film left me with hope.

Copies of this excellent film are available for purchase at:

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Understanding where we came from is key to how we feel about guns

English: First page of Constitution of the Uni...
Constitution of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've been doing plenty of thinking lately about guns: I was profoundly affected by the slaughter of 26 people including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary by a mentally unstable kid who had access to his mother's weapons. He used them to kill her too. Murder is unthinkable, but to me, this incident was among the ultimate horrors.

Since that occurred on Dec. 14, 2012, I have watched the various gun debates take place.

One of the most troubling aspects to me, is the cavalier attitude some folks have about what amounts to these tools of murder. I urge all who think about this issue to examine all of the angles, all of the possibilities, and just what could happen to them or their loved ones if guns, even their own guns, get into the wrong hands.

I live in the south, where guns are seemingly a necessary part of life.

Here, there is a long tradition of hunting, often times to fill the freezer with venison or other game. It is also not uncommon for the Springtime to bring hungry bear cubs looking for food after their mother sent them out on their own to forage. A careful shot in close proximity generally is enough to scare him right out of next week's trash. Forests are plentiful here, and are filled with animals unafraid of humans. Scaring them away is easy with one pop of a rifle. There are poisonous snakes around that are not afraid to strike when startled.

Guns, especially long guns have a tradition in the south.

They are like trophies befitting a young man's coming of age; some guns have been passed down with pride for generations. Others enjoy collecting them. I am the first to admit there is some beautiful workmanship that has gone into making guns. And, the south is just a little romantic when it comes to the old west, where shootouts in the streets were a way to settle a score, or the Civil War, which still harbors some bitterness.

Where I live, there is a real effort afoot to push carrying guns openly and in all venues. Just today there was a march by 70 people intent on showing their support for the Second Amendment. They were allowed to march through the streets of our town. Thankfully, there were no incidents.

I wasn't born in the south. I'm a little sad not to have roots here, a place that remains unencumbered by too much population and thoughtless economic growth. Instead, I was born on the south side of Chicago, in a neighborhood I'd be a little afraid of going back to. When I lived there, our little ethnic neighborhood, consisted largely of Polish/Bohemian descendents of immigrants. In those days, the neighborhoods were each like small towns of their own, sustainable by its own markets and dime stores, doctor and dentists, parks and playgrounds. 

I didn't grow up with guns. My father, who was raised an outdoorsman in rural Michigan, was an avid hunter and fisherman. I remember the last time he went hunting though. It wasn't a big hit in our family. He brought home rabbits which he cleaned and cooked for dinner. I was pretty young at the time, but I remember not wanting to eat what was on my plate. Neither did my brother or my mother. My father tried to convince us, but we didn't much like the idea of eating bunnies.

It wasn't long before he too lost his appetite for killing little animals. I have memories of his doing some target shooting at his father's place farm. But those were my only memories of guns as a child. I wasn't afraid of them, but as I got older, I admit, I never liked them. When I had a son of my own, I wouldn't allow anyone to buy him a gun. I just didn't like what they stood for. In my mind, the only thing guns were used for was hurting and killing. I didn't like either.

When my father changed jobs, we moved to the Chicago suburbs. Guns were not in my consciousness, unless something horrible happened that I'd seen on the news, like President Kennedy being assassinated. I was still pretty young when that happened. But the killing didn't stop. Bobby Kennedy was killed; Martin Luther King was assassinated. There was the Viet Nam war, where guns killed so many. The world seemed poised to change. More guns; more killing. I've been personally touched by suicide by a gun, twice. One victim was a relative; the other a friend.

I remember lying in bed at night troubled whenever I heard the news about someone randomly shooting from a clock tower, at a McDonald's restaurant, at a K-Mart, the day Laurie Dann broke into an elementary school in a posh Chicago suburb killing one student and wounding two others. The list goes on and on. The senseless violence that has taken place at the end of the barrel of a gun is hideous. There have been so many needless deaths and tragic events that survivors had to try to cope with. When a murder rate become a statistic on the evening news, there is definitely a problem.

I was so taken aback one of the pastors in town came to a family garage sale several years ago. One of the first questions he asked, was if we had guns for sale.

I understand that the gun debate is as varied as the north and the south, city and country, often times encouraging opinions depending on where you grew up and what your priorities are. But the results of so many guns on the street are the same--people die. Life is too precious for that.

But it isn't just crime in the city. It happens everywhere. Who can forget the tragic school shootings that took place in Jonesboro, AR on March 24, 1998. The news video from that day is really hard to watch. Since then there have been countless more shootings of young children. No child should ever have to face the kind of lifelong trauma or worse, that those kids experienced.

The supporters of guns, those who want them openly carried into public buildings, and into private businesses are becoming more brazen, as they claim they are supporting their Second Amendment rights. The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was written with ambiguity, yet many a scholar would argue against everyone having the right to do whatever they choose with a gun on their hip.

While it is clear that a division in the interpretation of the Second Amendment is as vigorous as the debate about gun ownership, gun control, and gun protections, those of us who have not studied the law will gain nothing by attempting to debate the complex legal arguments that have spanned the ages.

In my view, there is simply no way authors of the amendment could have foreseen the kind of technology that modern firearms have undergone, so their intent is moot. Guns are simply not the same as they were then. Because I can't go back through history and know definitively what the founding fathers were thinking, nor can I argue case law, I can only speak on behalf of what I've seen, what I've felt, and what I know to be true.

The idea that someone could bring a semi-automatic weapon into a school or church or shopping mall or restaurant is insanity. The notion that anyone can wield a weapon of mass destruction for no apparent reason is craziness. I watched with horror when former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in 2011 at a campaign rally in a grocer store parking lot forever changing her life. But at least she has her life. People were killed that day by a lunatic wielding a weapon. It was preventable. It shouldn't have happened.Yet it did happen. And it continues to happen. The insanity must end. Humanity is so fragile. A sensible, non-partisan, logical debate needs to be held, but not for debate's sake. Solutions must come about. Loopholes need to be closed. Laws must be written, sooner rather than later.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Nearly a half-century of waste continues with Illinois' Peotone Airport

When I began CHBlog several years ago, my sole focus was the proposed airport project in Illinois commonly known as the Peotone Airport. I've moved on, but sadly, the effort to build this unnecessary airport has not. 

South Suburban Airport sentiment
Sentiment of the majority of residents of Eastern Will County, Illinois

The Peotone Airport or South Suburban Airport, or whatever its name de jour, is slated to be built just north and east of the small rural town of Peotone. I once had a very active role there, as not only a longtime vocal opponent of the project, but as a reporter/editor for the local paper. Even though I've moved on, this project is still being propelled forward. The sick irony is that those elected to serve the public are the ones that continue to do the promoting, petting, and prodding of this project. It is at the people's expense. There are many less people fighting now--the last holdouts that refuse to give in to the years of bad ideas and bullying tactics by their own state government. 

This project is just one more that continues to plague the population so the politicos in Illinois can continue to play games as they scramble to secure their own political fortunes.

Make no mistake, this is not a necessary project. It fulfills no transportation need whatsoever. It has been a twinkle in the eyes of politicians, first Republicans in the state legislature, and later, the Democrats, thanks to imprisoned former congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. who tried to adopt it like a long lost child.

This airport has been on the drawing board for nearly 50 years, first written about in the local paper in 1968. Each push always fabricated a purpose, citing why it is needed, always with the hope that one day, one of them would stick. None have. This has been an economic development project, a jobs creator, a replacement and/or supplement to O'Hare International Airport, a replacement for Midway Airport, a freight facility, an answer for the poverty and illiteracy in the south suburbs, and a better airport than Indiana's Gary/Chicago International Airport. It would be none of those. Though never proven, its need has been stated so many times, that it has now been simply assumed. The implied need for this airport is the magic bullet of our time. 

In its tenure, there has been a huge expenditure of time, effort, and money, yet the project remains void of the long-hoped for list of supporters that failed to materialize. There are a few--the same ones who have been pushing it all along. Of course there are the Illinois politicians that envisioned making a name for themselves, though for some, the name they made was not quite what they intended. There are those that have traded their given names for numbers as they serve time in the prison system; some have died; others have moved on to the next project at some other place.
Nice house destroyed by the government for no good reason
State officials destroyed this home for no good reason!

The before and after picture of a lovely rural homestead.

Sadly, the new faces that have inherited the Peotone Airport torch have done so without the knowledge of the complex history that came before. They are unaware of the games that were played out in three states, or the deeds of their predecessors. 

Only the loudest noise has stood the test of time. Oh, and then there is the paper trail, as carefully laid as crumbs by Hansel and Gretel, with all those reams of paper containing written words in executive summaries by paid consultants who wrote what they were told, or so many headlines throughout the years. Few told the real story. 

The newbies now serving in government are unaware and don't care all that much that the loudest claims--what they think they know--have little basis in fact, but are inaccurate conclusions stated over and over until they were merely assumed to be true. Perhaps that was the intention all along. I can attest to being told early on that one of the goals was to wear down the opposition. Who knew it would be five decades?

The thing is, there is no new support. No one has managed to convince anyone in the aviation industry that the Chicago area needs another airport. The same voices speak out. They could get points for consistency if they didn't have an obvious vested interest. Politicians who have seen how big projects, that have 'made' their predecessors, have stars in their eyes and want money in their war chests to guarantee a long and lucrative political career. Developers salivate over paving the planet. Real estate speculators have long believed they were betting on a sure thing and hoped to bank their winnings. Of course construction workers wanted job security for life as they have already learned the benefit of converting farmland to urban sprawl. 

Despite all logic, common sense, and good will, the politicians of Illinois continue to use and abuse condemnation laws they write that allow them to take private property for public use, even though there is no guarantee that a new airport will be used by anyone. After all, they have done it before downstate near the little town of Mascoutah, with the unused Mid-America Airport.

It is almost unconscionable that the state would continue to spend millions of dollars to take people to court, where the cards are most always stacked in their favor, to legally rob people of their homes, land, and livelihoods. It is a disgrace of the highest magnitude. And I'm so sorry to say, it continues.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Looking up at the sky isn't always about god

Religion is not for me! I have never been a fan of organized religion. Nor have I ever practiced it.

That said, I see nothing wrong with what anyone else believes. Spirituality, in whatever form is vital to our well being as humans. Just because my beliefs have nothing to do with a supreme being or a book written by men several thousand years ago that has been over-studied, over-marketed, over-translated, and cherry-picked by whoever is reading it at the time, shouldn't matter to anyone but me. That is what freedom of religion, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution is all about. We are all free to believe what we choose.

All this came to a head for me recently when I shared a meme on Facebook that all of my friends seemed to take the wrong way--or at least not the way I intended.
Go on, then
Source: The Hunger Site

I meant it as humorous, since weather forecasters were issuing dire warnings about an upcoming winter storm in our area. I included the comment, "P.S. Don't do this if it is sleeting or freezing raining."

I was a bit surprised when many of my friends took it to be a statement, religious in nature, as if looking up at the sky meant looking toward god.

Honestly, I didn't even think that. Only after I saw the comments, did it occur to me that this could be mistaken for a religious statement, despite its origin. It came from The Hunger Site, a site that is about online activism in the fight to end world hunger and which provides support for animals, people, and the environment, causes in which I have long believed.

I finally had to explain myself to my friends, by stating the following:

Funny how this is being interpreted from a religious perspective. That isn't how I meant it, but that's OK. Actually, I meant it with humor, thus the first comment. But to explain--when I look up at the sky, I don't see god because I'm an agnostic. I see the universe, the enormity of life forms here and potentially elsewhere. I see the stars, the clouds, and try to imagine all the possibilities beyond what we know. of course, these are all things that can be interpreted as god to those who believe in that. I just don't.

This brings to light the very uncomplicated notion that my friends and I may have similar imaginings; we may share similar ideals, behavioral guidelines, and means to get us through the rough spots life deals us. In short, we aren't that different at all.

This is the realization that I live by. Our similarities are more apparent than our differences until others are interjected through organized religion. 

Religion complicates things unnecessarily in my view. While there can be like-mindedness in groups, such as in a place of worship, there is also a loss of individuality and the kind of thinking that is uniquely our own. It is easy to be a follower, but not so easy to stand alone.

Churches for example are largely run by ministers. How often have you heard, "I go to church because I like the pastor?" I have had many friends in my life that were ministers. Our respect and our friendships were mutual. They understood and honored my beliefs. If they didn't, they wouldn't have been my friends. They didn't try to persuade me to come around to their way of thinking, or push their brand of religion on me.

Sometimes when we have a problem, it is nice to have a third party to talk to. A minister can certainly fill that role, but so can a good friend or family member, neighbor, or doctor.

What I abhor is that other kind of pastor--one that is little more than a con-man, a scam artist--who preys on people for his own benefit. I would hate to think of anyone I care about falling for one of those. We all have periods of need in our lives. It is unconscionable to think that anyone would take advantage at one of those times, but it happens so often. The vulnerable among us need to be protected, not exploited.

Wars have been and continue to be fought over religion. To me, it is crazy to want to kill someone because they have a different belief. It is the extreme consequence of like-minded groups being led by a charismatic but evil-minded person who can lead a group of people to do things they would never do on their own. It is mob mentality and it is dangerous and very often ugly.

Religion is big business. It is more about the money that can be amassed than the souls that are saved. It just so happens that saving souls is the excuse as churches have found the way to acquire huge riches at the expense of not just their congregations, but the states, counties, and locales where they exist. They pay no property taxes on huge tracts of land. Pastors reap huge tax benefits from affiliations with the church. Some are legitimate; some may not be.

So much more can be said on this topic, but my only point is to clarify how I see us all as human beings who are very much more similar than we are different, including our core beliefs.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Politics does not have to be a dirty word

US Constitution
US Constitution (Photo credit: kjd)
Say the word "politics;" people react negatively. Why is that?

There are many definitions of politics in Miriam-Webster, but my favorite is nearly the last definition: "The total complex of relations between people living in society."That is how I see it.

Yet most people think of politics, as it is defined in the first definition: "Activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in a government."

That definition made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It would rile anyone. There is no hint of cooperation when the words "influence and power" are used. Politics doesn't have to be that way. It shouldn't be about influence and power. It should be about thoughtfulness and insight, intellect and understanding. And to use a different definition, it is up to us.

I've long been and remain a student of politics. I see it in the interaction among family members, on the school playground, i our communities, and all other places where a group of people are expected to peacefully interact.

I can't help but think that if we cared more about all of the people in a society rather than one political party over another, our government would be more inclusive, thus, run more efficiently.

But even party politics isn't a bad thing. In fact, it is necessary. I see it almost as a team sport with cheerleaders and the ability to win a game played by individual players. But where the rub comes in is after an election, when partisanship continues. It should not. Once an election is over, it is time to govern on behalf of all the people, not just those who voted for one person over another. And politics certainly isn't all about fundraising. Money does nothing for politics except act as a lopsided and corrupting influence.

While it is clear to me that we need to change the way our government responds to the critical issues that affect our society, any change has to be up to the people being governed.

We need to step it up when we select the people to represent us. We must step take personal responsibility with the way things are. If you are happy with that, read no further, but if you are not, it is time to get serious about changing the way we do things.

We need to start thinking, and thinking hard, about public positions and policies that affect our own futures. We must ask questions and demand answers from our leaders. It isn't enough to assume they will do right by us because they won't. They must be held accountable to those of us they represent, not just those who subsidize their decision making. When it comes down to it, corporations can throw millions of dollars at a politician, but it is the votes that count. The responsibility is ours. When we vote, we must know who we are voting for and why. Uninformed voters do a disservice to the rest of us.

Clean air and water, assurance of a healthy food supply, and protection of the health and welfare of all living species on earth are perfect examples of how our government is failing.  

We get the government we deserve. We deserve better. But that won't happen until we change our ways. If we want government to work on behalf of all the people, we need to think of all the people when we make our own decisions about how we feel about issues.

It isn't enough that we draw upon our life experiences to make decisions about how we feel about the ways of the world, our collective problems, and how to solve them. We must have empathy and understanding of those who are not walking in our shoes, the less fortunate, the downtrodden, the under-privileged. While our own life experiences are vital to our decision-making processes, there has to be more. We must look beyond ourselves when we decide about a myriad complexities such as social issues, like religion and abortion, as well as our natural resources, energy, and the environment to name a few. In many cases, we must look past even our locale to think of how the world is affected. We are after all an entire species of human beings and other living things that occupy a finite space. We have to learn to live together for the benefit of us all.

It is no longer enough to look to tradition to guide our principles. Our parents and grandparents did not have all the answers. And some of the answers they had were just plain wrong. Some of them were right, and need to be revisited.

We don't have to like where we are right now. We always have the ability to change, to move forward to a better place. What is our life good for anyway, if it is not to continually try to better ourselves, to learn more, to be more.

So, while no one likes to talk about politics, it is all about politics--the laws we live by, the happenings that affect our lives every day, the things that make us comfortable and happy or conversely, irritated and miserable.

But think for a moment about the men and too few women that make decisions for the rest of us. Right now, we are in a culture where our government leaders are making decisions for their own benefit and that of their friends. They don't consider us, yet, if we didn't supply the money, they couldn't afford to even take the field to play their games. It is our money that gives them the ability to do their job and our votes that put them there. Don't we have the right and responsibility to demand better?

But in order to demand better, we have to be better. Our public policy needs more thought, more insight, more intellect. Knee-jerk reactions to social ills is not the way to govern a complex society. It is not acceptable to step on the people hovering at the bottom--those who lack the money, education, youthfulness, or good health--in order to reach those with privilege at the top. Everyone has something to contribute in order to be successful. But to contribute, ideas must be well thought out. And everyone needs to participate. The time for change is now. We owe it to our children to make proper decisions, based on as much information as we can glean. We need to demand better and with this being an election year, there is no better time to start than now.
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