Smile Politely

Spiraling through the Sunday paper

Well let’s back into the Gazoo this week, somewhat like reading Dante’s Inferno backwards. And given the end point of that little trip, there is no better place to start than with Cal Thomas, asshole par excellence. The peg is Helen Thomas’ stupid comment, from which Thomas unleashes a string of intoxicated rhetoric about the oppression of Israel by Palestinians and its similarity to the oppression of evangelicals, Catholics and Republicans at the hands of Bill Maher and Comedy Central. Well, we are walking backwards here.

Moving right along, we see a wistful editorial about Champaign getting rid of the liquor commission. Seems it did nothing, but its loss is no great loss, or maybe some loss, or maybe we should just evade the whole issue, and head on over to the Esquire and have a few pops with the cops. An editorial as weaselly as the liquor business in bubble city.

Speaking of Champaign cops, have you ever been annoyed by one of those telemarketing calls raising money for cops? It turns out two-thirds of the money raised for the local “Champaign Cops for Kids” goes to the telemarketing company. Last year they raised $77,000 of which only $23,000 was distributed. No big surprise there, even if it’s way out of line from any reasonable charity overhead. What do they spend the money on? Well, they gave 10 grand sponsoring speed skater Katherine Reutter, with the rest apparently going to the current equivalents of widows’ and orphans’ funds. OK, that last bit was just mean (although accurate). It seems to mostly go to a summer camp for kids and adults with disabilities. Easy feel good. Once the cops actually worked to raise funds. As one cop says, “In the past… you would have a room full of a gaggle of cops, their girlfriends or wives making calls… That’s not going to happen today. There’s just too much going on for us to get organized like that.” I suppose.

George Will, given his place in the right-wing punditocracy, is often a bellwether of what’s cooking in that cauldron. This week he takes on California’s recently passed Prop 14, which creates an open primary — everybody votes with the same ballot, and only the top two get on the general election ballot. There’s plenty wrong with it to be sure, and Will, fearing a weakening of the hard right in Republican politics, makes arguments that could be used by the Greens or what’s left of the left (virtually nothing) on the Democrat side. But this is what Californians democratically chose as the way to run their elections — so what to do? How about this bit of pretzel logic: “It infringes the First Amendment protection of freedom of association, which includes the right of parties to not associate with candidates they do not select.” That, my friends, looks like a phone call on the direct line to sophists Scalia, Roberts et al. Nip it in the bud.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is becoming impatient with BP. Obama wants more money for Medicare to prevent a 21 percent drop in doctor compensation, and thus doctors telling patients to go lump it. Mitch McConnell wants to pay for it by cuts elsewhere. I suggest he look at the largest parts of the budget, i.e. Medicare. Oh wait… Well, how about defense? And the Kabuki drama plays on. Europe sets standards for biofuels production that require producers to show at least a 35 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, as compared to oil. The calculation includes fertilizer inputs, the energy used in processing, and in transporting, and applies to domestic production and imports. The shrinking of the Himalayan glaciers will result in food shortages, but not as bad as once thought — if that’s any comfort. Pork producers are dropping “The other white meat” slogan for a yet to be determined new branding program.

An emeritus UI Geology professor, who occasionally shills fossil fuel industry positions, appears to note we simply must have Gulf of Mexico drilling if we are to have economic growth because we import so much from the Middle East and other far away places. I guess he means Canada and Mexico. Well the link to economic growth (currently defined as more shit) seems true enough, as does the increasing difficulty and cost in extracting more oil — a missing part of the equation here. Oh, bother.

A classy new bar and grill is opening in Urbana in the old Club 45 on North Cunningham. Called The Stop, it will have a construction theme, like road construction signs. Waitresses will wear denim shorts with suspenders and work boots. Their T-shirts will have sayings like “Slippery when wet” and “Caution — Bumps ahead.” Call and raise, Hooters. Hope they don’t serve salmon.

Local politics this week: GOP apparatchnik and county clerk Mark Shelden rips Dem Sen Mike Frerichs over the student voting bill recently passed and which the latter defended last week. Seems this bill passed by the Democratic legislature just might favor Democratic areas, like university towns, and Frerichs did it just to benefit himself. Well! Meanwhile, the editorialists, decrying partisan bullying, take a slap at the GOP poobahs who slapped down local favorite Bill Black (R-Danville) for breaking ranks on a recent vote. Black was stripped of his leadership position by the House Republican Leader, who, curiously enough, was the one who wrote last week’s article demanding bold action for ethics reform etc… And so it goes on the local kabuki stage.

Several stories touch on education-related matters this week. In infrastructure, the floors in part of the Natural History Building are sagging because the contractors in 1908 put in only a third of the rebar they were supposed to. This is what we call tradition in Illinois. The U is looking at giving Altgeld Hall a makeover — removing the years of tobacco smoke from the gold paint — that will make it the state of the art building a top math department deserves, according to the department head. Not enough computer outlets apparently, and the blackboards are too small. There’s a story on bilingual education in the local schools which is worth reading — increasing Latino population needing more services, and how the local systems are doing providing it.

There’s also a story on the CU Scholars Program — some sort of enhancement program for the high schools that draws on UI and Parkland resources and local businesses. The article is confusing as hell, which probably partly derives from the program looking like a confusing mish-mash. Frankly, I don’t get it. The required coursework for this enhanced status is listed, but it looks exactly like what I took in regular old unenhanced high school. Much of the thrust of it all, as in so much of education discussion these days, is training for the workforce — skills for jobs, economic competiveness, etc. etc.

In a very similar vein, Gene Budig writes about the need to better fund community colleges — where better workers need to be trained. The only segment missing is a Tom Friedman piece on the need for unleashing all the brilliant innovators in the corporate and high academic worlds so that we might yet be saved from the Chinese and Indians. In its stead, Publisher John Foreman has a piece on saving the Air Museum at the old Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul. He writes, “History is a great teacher, and, to my mind, there’s no better textbook than the artifacts of generations past.” Well, for an antiquarian maybe. That might explain his comment that Chanute rivals the U of I for its impact on the region. Ridiculous. OK, that’s enough — we’re at the end point again. Take your $1.50 and go buy a good used history book, any one will do. I guarantee you will learn more from it than from a collection of old military shoulder patches.

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