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.