Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dozin with the Dinosaurs -- at the expensive Field Museum but on fun Cub Scout budget

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There's no doubt that the Museums in Chicago are expensive. Add the high entry fees and the astronomical costs for parking in Chicago -- the new rob-your-wallets parking rates set by the company that hoodwinked Mayor Daley for a lease on our parking meters set the ball rolling for parking fees across the board, including at public entities like the museum -- and you can burn through a chunk of change fast.

Costs are extraordinary but painfully more so for those entities that receive public funding and support from our tax dollars. That's a constant theme I write about on this blog and in my columns, too.

But all that aside, I managed to find a great way to enjoy the Field Museum of Natural History this past weekend without the huge costs and, in fact, on a very affordable budget that was hugely entertaining and fun for families

The Field Museum has this great program, spun off I believe from the hit Movie "Night at the Museum" where you can bring your duffle bags and flashlights and get locked in the museum overnight and explore most of the exhibits in the light and best yet, in the dark until 1 in the morning. It's called "Dozin with the Dinos."

My son and I participated in the overnight program through his Cub Scout Pack 372 in Orland Park. What a fun experience.

When I was a kid, one of the most phenomenal exhibits was the Section with the mummies and ancient Egypt. But walking around the museum, each of the glass-encased window displays came to real life and I don't think I could ever have enjoyed it more than my son did who literally walked through the museum and practically read every information box at every display -- although he was a little shy about the mummies. (Who wouldn't be.)

Orland Park 372 organized the trip for the Cub Scouts (and if your son is not a Cub Scout you should join the pack. There is always room. There are costs, but once you join the costs for events are go-as-you-choose. You don't have to do everything. The Pack, which consists of a dozen or so dens, meets once each month and the Dens meet once each month also.

It cost only $53 per person to spend the night at the museum through the Cub Scouts. That included the cost of overnight parking which came out to be and unbelievable and outrageous $38 (again, the costs was waived for the participants.)

But you don't have to go as a group, although you can if you organize one. It might be more fun for the children. The group rate is only $51 per person, and the individual rate is only $63 per person. That means you can take the children and have one of the most exciting family nights possible. And it all includes the outrageous cost for parking, which is waived. Oe of the many employees who spend the night at the museum offering craft tables with things for the kids to do and learn provide paid parking tickets.

You can also opt for a special Premium Package which means you sleep in certain premium sections of the museum. We slept in the Mammals of Asia section on the main floor with our Pack 372 Cub Scouts. Others were spread out in other sections. The premium sections include the actual room where the dinosaur exhibit is -- Sue, the only completely restored T-Rex in the world, is on the main floor foyer, right down the hall from where we slept. But you can, for the few extra bucks, take your family and sleep also in the Evolving Planet exhibit. (And for slightly more, you can sleep in the Evolving Planet section and get a tour from one of the museum scientists.)

Hey, Aaron and I enjoyed partnering with one of the other Pack families and letting the kids explore the museum on their own.

Okay, it was the first overnight since I was a Cub Scout in 1962 and a Boy Scout in 1968 -- (I still have the Hiawatha Trail Medal I earned trekking the trail downtown around the tracks). We brought two sleeping bags (for 20 degree weather). I also bought two cots that easily open and close but that weigh a ton. Other purchased air mattresses that have air pumps to fill and even remove the air when done. (They're still bulky, too and I like the cots the best.) I'll bring a dolly next time -- no, not a female sherpa, Alison will get upset. And we had flashlights and some snacks you can eat in the cafeteria in the lower level.

The museum also provides a night time snack (eat a good meal before you go). And, they provided a morning breakfast of cereal, rolls, fruit, milk, coffee and more.

Of course, my son started to get a little fever during the night so having a brilliant wife who is always prepared, I brought some off-the-shelf medicine which helped. Although he crying for 20 minutes in the middle of the night didn't help the others sleep. Well, of course, his crying was nothing like the snoring. Actually, the snoring added ambiance to the exhibits, sounding like a water buffalo in heat roaming through your dreams.

We unpacked right in front of the one of the deer exhibit windows. It was phenomenal.

Museum staff provided neat things for the kids to do like learning about ancient crafts involving games and music. They were even able to make some things as they also wandered around to earn their badges. (And you can purchase the "Dozin with the Dinos" Badge if you are a Scout, too.

The Ernst & Young 3D Dinosaur movie (for an extra $5 -- and everything is commercialized at the museum) was breathtaking. We sat in the front row. I learned through the past year of taking my son to the new 3D movie craze that the best seats in 3D are not in the back but up close in a 3 D theater). The dinosaurs jumped out at us like they were right there.

Here's the link to the museum web site where you can get more information on the unbelievably fun "Dozin with the Dinos" overnight. Click here to view web page. They do about two overnights each month, one during the summer months. So check it out and register for one fast.

Or, better yet, check out you local Cub Scouts and enroll your son for an adventure of a life time.

-- Ray Hanania

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Can't Secretary of State Jesse White count?

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I just got the mail this morning and received a notice for the renewal of my license plate for 2010. It comes from Jesse White, of course, the secretary of state. And it shows an increase in the license fee, now $99. White was careful to make sure the letter pointed out that it was the fault of the "Illinois Legislature" for the increase in the fee. The note, on the upper flap of the convenient return payment envelope reads:

"Public Act 96-34, approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor, established a $20 fee increase for license plate registration/renewal and applies to registrations expiring in January 2010 and later."

That's me, of course. My license plate expires March 31, 2010.

I'm also not surprised that White would pass the buck and that the legislature made sure that the increase didn't get announced until AFTER the February 2 primary elections, so that people like White would be unopposed. Because if the voters knew White was planning to raise the fee on license plates and pass the buck on the legislature, maybe someone would have run against him.

I like Jesse White, but I wonder about how much he likes me. He spends more time leading the Jesse White tumblers on tours throughout the state to promote his re-election candidacy than he does spending time worrying about me.

Can you blame him, though? Every elected official cares about themselves before they care about us.

But I am perturbed that no one in White's office can count. Well, they were able to count the days on the calendar to make sure the timing of the increase came AFTER White won his Democratic Party nomination, unchallenged. he knew enough to count those days to make sure I didn't get my notice until after the election.

I am more perturbed though by the error on the billing. Yes, an error from the Secretary of State's office. Imagine that. The last time I renewed my license, it cost me $78. This time, White says, it will cost me $99. Yes, $99.

So, if they increased the fee $20, shouldn't my bill be $98 not $99. But who cares about an extra dollar theft from some government agency that rips off the taxpayers everyday routinely and without any accountability, caring or explanation.

The math is wrong, Jesse. But with how many millions of vehicles in Illinois, that $1 mistake could reap even more money.

I'll pay it, of course, But I will also be praying that one day we get an honest politician to hold public office, instead of the sneaky little slippery people who claim to be our elected officials today.

$1 is nothing to jesse White and his tumblers and his patronage workers, but it means something symbolic to me about the inherent corruption and failings of our unaccountable government in Illinois.

-- Ray Hanania

Friday, February 5, 2010

Scott Lee Cohen should not step down but should fight for the voters who nominated him

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Leave it to the chorus of hypocrites in Illinois' media and politics to be caroling the lyrics demanding that  Scott Lee Cohen withdraw from the November 2 General Election Ballot. Why not? Why not attack an outsider who has been accused of some much, but never convicted or indicted or even charged. I mean, isn't that the way in Illinois politics and law?

Illinois has distinguished itself as the place where you don't need facts to convict someone. All you need are a bunch of high profile lynch mobs, some salacious accusations trumped up in 102 Point Type on the front pages of their economically depressed pages and a handful of political insiders who are determined to control Illinois not for the benefit of the state's citizens, but for their own.

I mean, let's face it, if the Illinois political elite who runt his state can force a sitting governor who was elected by the people out of office because of unproven accusations trumped up by a politically-motivated U.S. Attorney who went far beyond the boundaries of the Rule of Law, then why can't that same lynch mob bully some unknown politician from taking his place on an election ballot, a candidate who surprised everyone by winning the confidence of the state's voters despite the objections of the politicians who make it a practice to ignore the will of the citizens and abuse our taxes, rights and their responsibilities.

Scott Lee Cohen is accused, not convicted of anything. Why should he step down/ Well, because he wasn't the choice of the Democratic Party insiders who basically decide elections even before most voters are even aware an election will be taking place. Cohen is an outsider who used his own money, rather than the PAC dollars and sweet heart deal contract cash that usually trades hands quietly in the shadows of Springfield and Chicago's City Hall.

Here's the case against Cohen: He allegedly beat and threatened his wife, a long time ago in a domestic squabble. Today, though, that ex-wife is now standing at his side saying that the issues that separated them have been resolved. The bitter divorce happened in 2005 and the court records surfaced this week after Cohen surprised everyone and won the lieutenant governor's Democratic primary election.

Doesn't matter to the politicians who want to take the feeble Gov. Pat Quinn and guarantee his chances of winning re-election.

It's not that they care about Cohen's past. What they care about is how that past will be used to bring down Quinn. Although candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary, the winners of the primary run together as one team. Voters vote for them together, or the Republican alternative team -- and we don't even know who that team will be because Republican voters couldn't decide decisively between downstate legislator Bill Brady and DuPage County State Senator Kirk Dillard.

The other charge facing Cohen makes for saucy reading and sandcastle soapboxes for political hypocrites decrying his alleged problems, involve a former girlfriend who the media is calling a "prostitute." If the former girlfriend was arrested for prostitution as the media alleges, Cohen said he knew nothing about it. Scott denies his ex-girlfriend's claims that he threatened her with a knife.

Oh, it makes great screaming headlines. But they are not facts.

What happened to the presumption of innocence in this state and country? What happened to the rule of law? More importantly, what happened to the concept that the will of the majority of voters is greater than the whims of the insiders whose ranks have produced more federal criminals, convicts and con men than the popular HBO series The Sopranos?

Scott Lee Cohen can certainly make up his own mind. But I think the voters of Illinois know they are being played by the politicians and the cash-starved mainstream news media desperate for scandals to sell their weakened journalism products.

I say stay in the race and let the people of Illinois, for once, be the judge of our own future, rather than let the career politicians who can't even balance a state budget, manage government agencies, provide fundamental services or provide basic health care to their citizens.

I say let the voters by the choice and give Scott Lee Cohen the right to present his case in the court of public opinion, before he is lynched in the smoke-filled back rooms of Illinois' seedy political brothals.

-- Ray Hanania

Scott Lee Cohen is accused of everything these days, and suddenly so. Why? Why didn't the media do its job and bring these issues up BEFORE the election? Well, the media is so desperate in today's depressed economy they allow themselves to be led by their noses by the politicians and the Bosses

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pat Maher candidacy in 17th District may have helped chip away at cousin Hynes' victory

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Many people were surprised that Patrick Maher did so well in the Democratic Primary for the 17th Cook County District, but Maher was always the 800 pound gorilla in the election. He won the right to face-off with  Republican Elizabeth "Liz" Doody Gorman, the two term incumbent who has built a very strong record during the past two years fighting to reduce taxes for taxpayers.

Maher's win should not have been surprising, though. He is the first cousin of outgoing Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, who waged a powerful fight against lame incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn. Pat Maher's father, Orland Park Village Clerk David Maher, is the brother of Dan Hyne's mother, Judy Maher Hynes. (I have to say the Hynes' family is one of the best. I voted for Dan, despite trepidation over the 19th Ward headlock of Orland Township.)

The 19th Ward controls Orland Park like a Russian satellite republic, and Orland Park and Orland Township are the heart of the bowling alley 17th District which stretches northward from Orland up to Wheeling Township  and north of Orland Township where Maher's chief challenger Dr. Victor Forys and Donna Sanders. Sanders and Forys split the Democratic opposition vote enough to leave Maher, from the south, with the edge. Sanders is from Orland Hills and her vote totals reflect Maher's weakness going in to the November elections. her supporters will most likely not support Maher and will back Gorman.

But the real key to Maher's success was the Dan Hyne's candidacy for Governor. The Hyne's campaign tied Maher to their hip in the 17th District and 19th Ward precinct captains focused on the district while Hyne's Democratic allies throughout the state worked the rest. In fact, some believe that Hynes, who lost the race against Quinn -- hard to believe but it happened -- lost that race specifically because so many resources were diverted from the one cousin's race to the other.

If Pat Maher wasn't in the race last Tuesday, Dan Hynes might have better apportioned his resources, and funds that were diverted into Maher's coffers would have gone to help Hynes.

The anti-Maher forces in the 17th District siphoned off 11,495 votes that were clearly pushed to the Quinn camp. Hynes only lost to Quinn by about 7,000 votes statewide. Half of that loss, I think, comes from the 17th Cook County District. if Maher had not been in the race, Quinn's allies would not have focused on that district behind Forys and Hynes would have won more votes, narrowing the margin to be "re-countable."

As obnoxious as Quinn is -- declaring victory without having all of the votes counter, Hynes is out for the count. Quinn's future rests not on whether Hynes decides to challenge the results but on who wins the Republican party nomination. if Kirk Dillard comes up from behind to defeat Bill Brady, Dillard would be the strongest candidate to beat Quinn. Brady, being from downstate, might not be able to use that to his advantage the way he did in the primary with all of his rivals coming from DuPage county or Northern Illinois.

Forys had the endorsements of most of the high profile candidates around Quinn, including Quinn himself specifically because of the Hyne's battle. but Quinn has not coattails, only the muscle of Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who is the real governor of Illinois and who would want either a Republican to occupy the executive mansion or a weak Democrat like the showboating PR savvy Quinn.

Another factor in the race was the role of Gorman rival Tony Peraica, whose district will be wiped off the map by fellow commissioners next year after the election. Peraica is the least liked on the board, but he doesn't care about that. Peraica was one of Thompson's strongest allies and helped divide Republicans on the premise they would rather lose a Republican district than come together behind a good incumbent.

Isn't that the sorry state of the Illinois Republican Party overall.

Gorman will have a tough fight on her hands with Maher, but everyone who stands up against higher taxes the way Gorman did against the Stroger tax Machine, always has a tough fight.

Here's some notes below on election results from Cook County Clerk David Orr's office, and financial disclosure totals filed for the last half of 2009, plus A1 donations during the 30 days before the primary election.

17th District Cook County Board race votes

RACE                                                VOTES CAST                Committeeman Race/Orland

County Bd. Commissioner 17th Dist. Republican     21,221 total votes    6,438 votes
278 of 278 Precincts Reported
%                     Votes               Elizabeth ''Liz'' Doody Gorman (REP)
56.22%             11,930
%                     Votes               Mark Thompson (REP)
43.78%               9,291

County Bd. Commissioner 17th Dist. Democratic     24,004 total votes    3,767 votes
278 of 278 Precincts Reported
%                     Votes               Patrick Maher (DEM)
52.11%             12,509
%                     Votes               Victor Forys (DEM)
26.35%               6,326
%                     Votes               Donna Sanders (DEM)
21.53%               5,169

County Bd. Commissioner 17th Dist. Green Party  108 votes
278 of 278 Precincts Reported
%                     Votes               Richard Dalka (GRN)
47.22%             51
%                     Votes               Matthew J. Ogean (GRN)
52.78%               57



Funds available at the beginning of the reporting period

Total Receipts
Total Expenditures
Funds available at the close of the reporting period
Plus $2,000 in 30 days before election


Funds available at the beginning of the reporting period

Total Receipts
Total Expenditures
Funds available at the close of the reporting period
$3,800 raised in 30 days before primary and $15,000 loan to himself


Funds available at the beginning of the reporting period

Total Receipts
Total Expenditures
Funds available at the close of the reporting period
Plus a $20,000 loan

Funds available at the beginning of the reporting period

Total Receipts
Total Expenditures
Funds available at the close of the reporting period

Also $1,000 raised in 30 days before primary

-        -- Ray Hanania

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Will someone please hit the Control-Alt-Delete buttons on this system that is giving us the stupid iPad?

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Computer technicians are the real war criminals in this world. They are real robber barons. But most of all, they are the Kings with no clothing. And its the public that acts like drugged up lemmings. Every time some stupid Geek throws out another stupid do nothing technology "advancement," the public goes Lazy Ga Ga and jumps with joy to unload another chunk of massive change to purchase the equipment.


Why are we as Americans so stupid and wasteful? Why do we allow the computer geeks to run our lives so they can line their pockets with billions? 

Sure the Apple iPad sounds like a great idea. But so does the iPhone and so did the laptop and so did the PC and so did the lightbulb that Thomas Edison invented.

But the drive to create new technologies is missing a lot: Human compassion. Human need. Human respect. Morality. Principle.

Over the last quarter century, I have been on the cutting edge of spending on high tech crap. I would buy a computer and literally within months it would be outdated. I'd have to buy another. It's been like that since I purchased my first computer, the Coleco Adam and then the IBM PC Junior, and then the IBM XT and on and on until today's sequence of modernday rip-offs has been invented.

None of these brilliant technologies are created with the needs of humanity in mind. It's all about the billions that robber baron thieves like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who came up with their criminal enterprises in their stupid garages like Geek Gang members.

They are making billions for a reason. They produce worthless junk that only lives up to 30 percent of the promised services. Part of the reason is that they produce new junk so fast because they know how stupid people are. They know the secret of Western civilization is that we like to spend money. Spend money on what? Who cares? Just spend the money. It's not about who has the best car or the best home any more in today's race for the elusive American Dream that is more dream than reality. It is about who can spend more money faster. And the place to spend is on worthless, shortlived computer junk. Junk that not only fails to deliver a full load but also fails to last.

Computers are behind the new industry promise to consumers: We make and sell this junk and you buy it at your own risk. We no longer warranty our work because we know it is worthless. So we will sell you a warranty for $250 in order to insure that the high priced crap you just bought from us will work.

The iPad is the icon of idiocy. Here is a mobile Laptop that doesn't open with a touch screen TV. Can you use it to make a phone call, no, but they are telling you it will be better than the iPhone they sold you last year to watch TV on a tiny screen -- maybe they have a deal with the eye industry which last year jacked up their prices of glasses and contact lenses because so many people are going blind from looking at these tiny screens to watch worthless crap on YouTube that would look better on a big screen TV if the worthless crap had any social redeeming value. But very little on YouTube has any social redeeming value. Except that it helps to ruin your eyesight and drive up the eye doctor industry.

The iPad is supposed to help you read a book. Why? I like the way we read books now. Instead of improving the publishing industry we've turned to smoke, mirrors and magician tricks to convince the brain dead public consumer that it's better to spend $1,000 on an iPad rather than $35 to buy a book. You can download the book. Who cares?

Has anyone not noticed how unreliable the Internet has become these days. 

I am waiting for a computer genius -- an oxymoron -- to invent a computer that someone buys that can be upgraded to the latest standards and technology for a few pennies, rather than throwing it out and having to buy a new computer every year. Literally every year folks if you haven't noticed in your blindness caused by the new advertising PR spin doctors who are riding on the hips of the computer geeks out there like Gates and Jobs.

I'm waiting for the computer genius who builds a computer that REALLY WORKS and that can be expanded at little cost to keep up with the new gadgets.

But that would mean a computer genius who has set aside the fast buck industry to provide a real service to humanity. A Gandhi for Geeks, maybe. Someone willing to fight for the rights of us poor schmucks who have been convinced by hi-tech television graphics to believe in something that is just a fantasy to make money for someone else.

Will some one please hit the Control-Alt-Delete buttons on this system? It's a Twilight Zone of nightmarish computer failures, internet disconnects and busy signals without the signal any more.

-- Ray Hanania