Monday, October 31, 2011

Long past days of Halloween old

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I don't recall my father ever walking with me or driving me around for Halloween when I was young. And, unless my memory is really slipping, Halloween didn't seem as cold back then as it has been in recent years.

We had only one rule when I was a kid. Be home when the street lights went on, or, thereabouts. Sometimes, we'd be out until 9 or 10 pm knocking on doors. Back then, there was a greater sense of safety. Maybe it was false, but the worst we feared was someone putting a razor blade in the apples. It was more of an urban legend, but nonetheless, we always sliced the apples before we started to eat them.

Although we had store-bought costumes, many of the costumes were home made. It looks like that hasn't changed much in the past half century, but the store-bought costumes seem more elaborate. Or maybe not.

I drive my son around in the car, mainly to be able to warm up between half block trick-or-treat runs. In Chicago, the homes were so close together, you could hit 20 homes on one block. In the suburbs, the homes are spread out so far, it's a real haul to do 10. Long walking between doorbells. And it seems as if there are fewer kids on the street.

There's an old wives tale that many of the Muslim families don't celebrate Halloween, but we knocked on a lot of doors where many Muslims lived and they were extremely generous and welcoming. It was part of the fun we had talking to some of the courteous homeowners who welcomed the Halloween holiday.

The variety of candy has changed. In the old days, the big prize was one of the large chocolate bars. Mars. Snickers. Buetterfingers. Now, everything is made for convenience and cost. The chocolate bars are still the prize but they are distributed in "mini-bite" sizes.In other words, pretty small.

Nothing makes me think of change more, though, when we're done trick-or-treating and we're home in front of the TV set and it's early evening. Still no later than 7 pm. And we turn on the prime time sitcoms and the characters are talking about "vaginas," sex, "getting laid," and even worse. I won't repeat the jokes. It used to be that most of the forward humor was based on double entendres (adianoetas). Now, they are double-packed with adult humor. And it's not even 8 pm yet. (2 Broke Girls -- Two and a half Men, and more). Two and a Half Men isn't as funny with  Ashton Kutcher as it was with Charlie Sheen, but the "double entendres" have been quadrupled in meaning.

Can't we go back a little bit in time to the old days when sex was really secretive and children were more interested in exploring than getting achievement badges for it at a young age?

Fortunately, my son hear's the words on TV as we sort through the candy, and when something nasty is spoken on TV, he blurts out "Inappropriate language dad."

I used to hate the candy corns when I was a kid because they were so cheap compared to the giant candy bars. But now that the candy bars are so small and cheap, the candy corns don't look so bad any more.

Well, it wasn't the same as it was when I was a child running amok painted up as a pirate, wondering about sex and spending my evenings watching Batman, Robin and Roy Rogers. We worried about less. Of course the population on the planet wasn't at 7 billion and the cost of a gallon of gasoline didn't cost more than a burger.

Somehow, it all has changed. A little too dramatically. A little too shockingly. A little too fast.

I wish my son could have experienced the simple pleasures of a world without computer, where a telephone was a luxury and not a necessity of human communications, and a byte was a bite. Horror films were cheesy and not so hi-tech they are so realistic.

Long gone.

-- Ray Hanania
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Friday, October 28, 2011

Not sure which is more disturbing about the Loren-Maltese/Water Reclamation District controversy

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Federal agents discovered a fully loaded automatic weapon, a Glock, in the confiscated former Las Vegas home of convicted felon Betty Loren-Maltese.

I don't know which is worse, that Loren-Maltese had the Glock in her possession at the home where she stayed following her release from prison, or worse, that the gun belonged to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, an agency that spends billions to do a poor job of managing flooding caused by heavy rains.

It's one of the typically bizarre stories that surrounds Loren-Maltese, a former dancer turned politician and wife to a former mobster.

It's not surprising that Loren-Maltese, now on parole after she was released from prison for her role in an insurance scam that stole more than $12 million from Cicero taxpayers over a three year period while she was the Town President in the early 1990s. (It was the discovery of that crime that prompted me to break with her as her political consultant and media spokesperson, and then spend my time helping the FBI put her away.)

Loren-Maltese never accepts blame for anything and she always blames everything on everyone else. So who is surprised that the former convicted felon is now saying that she was "set up" by someone, that someone planted the weapon in her home.

It was wrapped up in a pair of her old jeans. Making the story more bizarre -- everything about Loren-Maltese is bizarre, believe me -- is the fact that this occurred sometime back in 2010 while she was cleaning out the home and was being "assisted" by federal agents in Las Vegas.

I didn't know that federal agents in Las Vegas also worked as furniture movers for convicts. That's strange.

Loren-Maltese was convicted in 2002 and released on February 26, 2010, about the same time she went to the home hoping to keep it. The feds took the home and she spent the next many months in a Las Vegas halfway house before moving to a Chicago suburb where she now spends most of her time bashing and lying about her crimes and her "enemies" on her very entertaining Facebook page.

Why did the story come out now?

But it even gets more peculiar. The gun was traced back to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, an agency that spends billions to do basically nothing but blame everyone else for their failure to confront area wide flooding. The MWRD built this giant "deep tunnel" to take flood waters away from communities, but the deep tunnel is often filled to near maximum and when it rains, the rain waters have no place to go.

Even more shocking to me and it should be shocking to the public and the taxfpayers who fund the high-flying, high priced life of the board's do-nothing commissioners is that the MWRD carries an aresenal of automatic weapons and Glocks.

WGN TV reported on the story:

"That automatic glock was fully loaded and unregistered-- but the manufacturer traced the sale back to Illinois and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. It's an agency with 66 sworn police officers charged with watching and protecting Chicago’s water assets-- and yes, they are assigned weapons-- glocks."

Are you kidding me? What does the MWRD need automatic weapons and Glocks for? To protect their failed flood water strategy from being stolen by terrorists like al-Qaeda?

The idea that one of the 66 "sworn" police who work for the MWRD (let's call them expensive security personnel, not police) may have moved the gun to Las Vegas or to someone who knows Loren-Maltese or who had access to the federally managed home while she was in the hoosegow should be even more disturbing to the public.

But don't expect answers. We can't expect services from the MWRD. Flooding continues to plague all of the suburbs of Chicagoland across the board. We can't expect any truth from Betty Loren-Maltese who is notorious for many things but is a pathological liar. Loren-Maltese will lie to gain any kind of sympathy as she lives her remaining life in a purgatory of shame. And we can't expect a better reported story -- this was one of the most incomplete reportings I have seen in 35 years of journalism.

What we can't expect is exactly what we should expect when a news story like this scratches it's way to our online Google alert in boxes.

-- Ray Hanania

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The MicRib sandwich at McDonald's: A case of heavy media spin and poor American eating habits

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The first thing you should know about the new McDonald's McRib sandwich is that it is not made out of ribs at all. It is pork, meat like a lot of the scraps that are gathered together to create unhealthy "foods" that help the corporations make huge profits. And there is nothing wrong with pork -- lots of religious people who once put pork on their Sin Lists have since changed because pork today comes from pigs that are better cared for and raised in better environments. In fact, the whole ban on pork by religious groups, Christians, Muslims and Jews, was all about public perception than reality.

Which is one reason why corporations like McDonalds, which make huge profits from huge sales numbers, use a lot of pork. Most people just don't care any more.

But while the McRib sandwich is pork, it is not a rib at all. It is made from scraps from the shoulder of a pig. So, in truth, McDonalds should call it the McShoulder Sandwich, but for some reason that doesn't sound as appealing as a rib. There are many rib joints all over -- in the Southwest suburbs they include Portillos, Patio and the Pit Rib House.

People love ribs. No one has a restaurant that specializes in shoulders.

But even though it is called a McRib made from pig shoulder scrapes, it's not even a rib in form. There is no rib bone, which is the true essence of a rib. A rib bone. According to Genesis in the Bible, God took a rib bone from Adam and created Eve with it. Well, that's if you are religious of course, but it never hurt to study the Bible or go to Bible school as a child. Many people believe that women have more ribs then men. I always believed it. They taught that in Sunday School.

It's an urban legend, of course. Humans have 24 ribs, unless there is some other cause for an oddity in the number. And it's an urban legend that the McDonald's Rib sandwich, the McRib, has any ribs in it at all.

The thing that bothers me about the McRib sandwich is that it is made to "look" like a rib section. There are little stripes of what looks like bones. But the sandwich reportedly is just smashed pork scraps from the pig's shoulder, pressed together so tightly they look like a flat piece of grisly meat. Wow. So appetizing already.

I am not sure I want to know how that get that "rib" appearance. But I don how McDonalds made the McRib so popular.

It's a lot like the children's Disney movies and the invention of the VHS tape and later the CD, then DVD and now Blue Ray. In the video industry, which I know something about having been part owner of several Orland Videos later renamed VideoShark Video in the late 1980s and 1990s, Disney would limit the release of selected movies. You always hear about how Disney kept certain movies in the "Vault" away from public access and then suddenly they would release it to the public with the caution, "Better buy it now. It's only out of the vault for a limited time and then it's going back in." You won't be able to buy Snow White, or Bambi once that window evaporates. And the videos sell like hot cakes. Which is a good seque. People eat pork with hot cakes all the time. I think it started when the pioneers were pillaging their way across Native American lands beginning in the 15th Century through the 19th Century. Pigs and cows were corralled together in those wagon trains across the American Indian plains but the pigs did not give milk and they were surly. Cows provided milk and were very accommodating to the end.

Well, it's that time again, America. McDonalds has opened the vault. The "McRib" sandwich is now available in their franchises all across the world today, not just in America.

It debuted in 1981 as a means to off-set the huge demand for Chicken McNuggets. I don't even want to get into what part of a chicken makes a McNugget, but it's not very healthy, though very popular. The McNugget was selling fast so the guy who invented the McNugget for McDonalds came up with the rectangular meat patty and the rectangular bun to help fill the void. It didn't take off right away. And they pulled it from the market, maybe figuring the Chicken McNugget scarcity problem had been solved and now consumers were swimming in chicken scraps, too, and didn't need to confuse them with pig shoulder scraps.

So it has left the market and been brought back out of the McDonald's vault, to much success.

Americans will eat almost anything. Just look at our obese children and our obese parents. We are among the least healthiest people on the planet and yet we are the wealthiest and very well fed. Over fed, some might argue. We throw away so much food, wasting so much in food resources. But isn't that what being American wealthy is all about?

I can just them in the plains as the rickety wheels wobbled over the bumpy plains and rocks, and the kids dragged along as the father's pushed ahead with their rifles drawn shooting and killing animals and Indians as if there were no difference.


"What Ottis?"

"I'm hungry."

"Don't worry son. We're on our way to Calee-forn-ya and we'll be able to eat everything we want, including the McDonald's McRib sandwich."


"What Ottis?"

"Is it really a rib?"

"That's the beauty of America, son. Nothing has to be real in the new World. Just what we want it to be."

-- Ray Hanania

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Starz Cable series more exciting than real Chicago Politics

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New Starz Cable series more exciting than real Chicago Politics
By Ray Hanania

Kelsey Grammer has become the mayor that chicago never had in the new Starz cable TV series “Boss”. Grammer, who plays a fictional Chicago mayor, is articulate, tough and corrupt with a style Chicago politicians have long forgotten and an excitement the city has long lost.

It’s clear from the start that this series is definitely not about our "beloved" former Mayor Richard M. Daley or about his father, the real Boss, Richard J. Daley.

They both shared as much a lifelong difficulty with the English language as they did a confrontational relationship with the Chicago media. The battle with English is over in this series.

Fortunately for viewers, I guess, Mayor Tom Kane is no Mayor Daley. The series is set in the today, not the past. It's not an historical look back at Chicago politics at all, but rather a look at what it could have been or might become. Thank God for that. Chicago City Hall during Daley’s 22 year reign was
far from exciting. It was bland, lame and the corruption made headline sbut not much excitement.

Chicago's rough and tumble politics came before his father and continued through the fall and resurrection of the Chicago Machine under Mayors Michael A. Bilandic, Jane M. Byrne, and Harold Washington, and then began its collapse under the weight of mediocrity under the kindly Eugene Sawyer before being managed under Daley.

The Starz series Boss is clearly about a future mayor, maybe even a version of Chicago’s new Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Emanuel is not just “new,” he is far different from any mayor we have ever had.)

There is enough reality in the show with Mayor Kane and Gov McCall Cullen swearing up a storm of F-words. Gov Cullen reminds me of the former and very tough Illinois Governor Jim Thompson. We haven't had a talented governor with a real political personality in years. But cussing up a storm, that's something that Emanuel can do but that Daley rarely did, being the Catholic alter boy he pretended to be. Mild Gov. Pat Quinn would probably blush watching the show. Though I am sure they all get mad each in their own way.

Thank goodness for viewers that the only tie to reality in this tv series is the setting, the rough and tough political playground of real Chicago. In fact, the show is compelling fiction at its best probably adopting from some of the political scandals that have tried hard but failed to rock Chicago but incorporating much of the city’s below radar racial strife, ethnic politics and its inherent greed.

Having covered Chicago City Hall and every mayor from Daley the Boss to Daley the loss, I could see the foundation of Chicago’s politics in the story. And that’s all that viewers really need.

Chicago is all there. But this isn't about a Chicago mayor past, but rather about a Chicago that can be. One giveaway is that the governor in his limo is using an iPad – I was the first to bring a computer to Chicago City Hall in 1979 in the windy Byrne administration. She created stories so fast you couldn’t keep up without one. I’m using an iPad to write this column. But there is a great scene where the governor's aide shows him a video of the mayor meeting with his challenger and then slams the iPad against the limo hurling it into a field in an act of violence most iPad users have considered often.

The Starz series Boss gives viewers a realistic basic primer on Chicago politics and government that Chicagoans will recognize and that non-Chicagoans will certainly enjoy. It’s presented in a way that has been lost under the former Mayor Daley. Too often, the reality of Chicago politics was never as good as it was presented by the newspaper scribes who especially today rely more on imagination and entertainment than hard work or facts.

For some reason, this series snubs the Chicago Tribune. When Mayor Kane recruits someone to run against Governor Cullen, the mayor tells the suicide candidate he can easily get support from “The Sentinel and the Sun-Times.” That’s a script writer’s stumble. Chicagoans love and know their media. The Sun-Times, where I worked, isn't half the newspaper it used to be with a meager circulation of only 200,000 and nothing near what the Chicago Tribune is, a powerhouse news generator with a huge circulation and media network.

Viewers will catch that right away and see it as evidence of the show’s lack of knowledge about Chicago.

But I love this series already. As a former City Hall reporter and columnist, this is exactly the kind of mayor Chicago has always wanted. Tough. Articulate. Clever. Conniving. This boss literally throws an Hispanic alderman out of his office in a torrent of F-words by his ear.

The series mayor is also one of the most eloquent speakers ever to hit Chicago politics, something that might take a while for Chicagoland viewers to get accustomed. Reporters wished to have had someone to quote as articulately and as meaningful as Mayor Kane who is better than President Barack Obama, the Great Talker.”

There is also a lot of Tom Cruise Mission Impossible intrigue in the series. The mayor and his wife are at odds, secretly separated living in a home that had to have been found in a north suburban neighborhood.

There's a lot of raw sex with the staff, more like a Chicago politics meets the Sopranos. Wait, Chicago politics made the mafia.

Maybe Kelsey Grammer is giving Chicagoans a peek at what our new Mayor Rahm Emanuel is. Maybe not. Regardless of the faux pas of political reality, this promises to be a phenomenal series.

You can watch a sneak peek on Starz cable now, but it premieres Friday nights at 9 pm.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist. He can be reached at

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chicago pillaging its suburban neighbors, again -- what's your solution?

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Chicago pillaging its suburban neighbors, again
By Ray Hanania

History is replete with instances where Chicago has dipped its corrupt government hand into the back pocket of suburbanites to pay for their own mismanagement and sweetheart deals.

In the 1980s, it was the CTA which needed cash. In fact, when has the CTA never been a “Cash Tapped Agency?” To help cover the CTA’s deficit, suburbanites were forced to pay through appropriates by the Illinois General Assembly.

Now, Chicago is demanding that suburbanites pay for the poor water service they receive from the polluted waters of Lake Michigan. Does anyone swim in that lake any more thanks to the pollution that spills in to its waters from city-based polluters?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel even wants to charge suburban drivers who come in to work in the city an extra parking fee.

Most suburbanites fled the corruption, racial strife and the increasingly unsafe neighborhoods. We moved to the suburbs to get better deals on homes, better deals on schools and better police protection. For the most part, suburban services far exceed Chicago services.

But Chicago is the heart of the powerful Democratic Machine that Daley built in the 1950s and was handed down to his son. And what Chicago wants, Chicago gets.

What can suburbanites do about it?

How about we find some leaders who have the courage to fight back.

The fact is there is more crime in Chicago than in all of the six county suburban communities combined. So why are suburbanites being forced to pay for the incarceration of these Chicago hoodlums?

No one keeps these statistics because if they don’t keep them, then you remain ignorant. That’s how dictators control the public. They prevent you from knowing the truth. And the Chicago media is complicit in these crimes of denying citizens the facts.

The media plays up Chicago news stories and ignores stories in the suburbs, only reporting on the most negative incidents, usually exaggerating them.

What can suburbanites do? Well, for one, as voters you to reject any politician who puts Chicago’s interests about the interests of the suburbs.

Why shouldn’t suburbanites put themselves first for a change?

We’ve talked about dividing Cook County in two to counties, Cook County and Liberty County. The fact is the suburbanites of Cook County pretty much pay the bulk of Cook County’s bills, which provide hospital care mainly for people living (and dying) in Chicago.

Why should the suburbs carry the Chicago healthcare and violence load?

That would be the easiest thing to do.

Breaking from Cook County would also mean ending all of the things we do in Chicago. When you go to a restaurant in Chicago, you are screwing the suburbs. When you go to a Cubs Game, a White Sox Games, a Bears game, you are screwing the suburbs.

For those of you who care about the financial imbalance that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is using to bail out the cash-strapped city, you have choices. Go to restaurants in the suburbs. Stay at hotels in the suburbs. Seek out entertainment in the suburbs.

Freedom comes from make the tough choices. And viewing Chicago as an addiction rather than as a necessity is one step in changing this unfair relationship, one in which the suburbs pour out the cash to bail out the always problematic City of Chicago.

If you have more ideas on how to fight back against the city, please share them and I will publish hem in future columns or on my blog at


Cub Scout Camp out: Under a bright moon with the coyotes howling all night

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Boy Scout Troop 318 invited the Cub Scouts of 372 to camp out with them over the weekend. Of course, the invite was made several months ago when the weather was great and I eagerly said yes. Let's do it!

Of course, I would have camped out anyway, but the idea of warm weather was very appealing.

The weather wasn't too bad this past weekend, though. It was sunny Saturday but chilly at night. Not arctic-like, which often is the case when camping out.

So, we went out and bought a new tent. The old "triangle" tent didn't seem to appealing. You know the kind where the front is a triangle, the top is a single bar and it's easy to set-up? I think the tent was from the 1960s and I may have used it once. (I can only imagine what it would have done in the rain.)

We bought the new tent at Dick's and bought a tent they said would accommodate four people. Four? I doubt it. Two for sure, three if we slept on top of each other. It was Field & Stream. The store had a miniature set-up on the shelf and it looked cool. And simple. But simple is never simple. Tents are always complicated.

It only cost $59 -- on sale. That should have been my first tip-off on the tight squeeze. But it was great looking. Round. A front canopy. About 8 feet wide and 6 feet long, with 4 more feet under the outside canopy. Why would anyone want an outside canopy? What were we going to do, sit there like we were on our stoops on Chicago's South Side back in the 1960s waiving to all the neighbors as they walked or drove by?

We were in a forest. We don't need a stoop on our tent. What was I thinking?

Oye ve!

Anyway, we got there Saturday morning around 9:30 and I immediately unpacked the tent. Have to get the tent up first. The wind was howling and gales were sweeping the tent parts like sails in the Mackinac boat races from the Chicago Yacht Club. Finally two other fathers who had come the night before, came by to help. You can't set up a tent with one person, anymore, I learned the hard way.

And they also had a suggestion. We were setting up with the large group of tents on the east side of the field against the tree line. The wind was blowing to the northeast right into those tents that flapped loudly all day and all night. They pointed to a few tents on the west side of the field along the other tree line that look solid as brick.

I'm thinking the whole time of the Three Little Pigs at this point. Because as the tent was gale-ing in the wind, the fiber glass rods were knocking me in the noggin.

So they helped me lift the mess up and we walked across the field to a smaller group of tents and set up there.  It did make a huge difference. No wind, I was almost able to do this myself. I spent an hour trying to set it up before we moved. Now, with their help, it only took about 45 minutes.

Lay the tent out. Stake in the corners. Put the fiber glass rods through the tent loops. Figure why I had about 15 remaining pieces with no place to go.

It worked. I was winded. Tired. And thinking about food. We missed breakfast but the Scouts prepared a phenomenal lunch as the Cub Scouts were returning from a hike through the forest with the Boy Scouts.

Once the tent was up, I was able to walk to my SUV and grab the rest of the junk. A bag of food. Two sleeping bags wrapped tight in their holders. Two very heavy sleeping cots. I figured if it were really cold, having the beds off the ground would help. Other people used air mattresses.

I even purchased a gas heater, but then was easily convinced in the tent, it wouldn't be very safe. So I left it in the car.

The adults spent most of the time reminiscing about Scouts when we were kids. I still have my Hiawatha Trail Copper Medal. That was from a 20 mile hike along the lake short near the old train  tracks back in the 1960s.

And most of us were baby boomers, so we talked a lot about how in the old days, the Dens and Packs were usually run by one or two scouts and our parents never came along to join the camp outs. At least where I was a Scout, the parents didn't join us. Television news has destroyed our sense of safety and security. We think a killer is around every corner, and a monster in every shadow.

We had a huge bonfire and the Boy Scouts did most of the work. They spent the day showing the Cub Scouts how to do things, qualifying them for more badges. They told stories, performed some skits, all funny. And we had a great meal.

When it was over, we all went to our tents. And by then, I was ready to collapse and go to sleep. Eventually, I went to the car and got the iPad2 and we watched a couple of Movies on Netflix.

It's amazing how the world has changed.

During the night, I woke up to the sound of coyotes howling to each other from different ends of the forest. It was pretty cool. It wasn't that cold at all. The sleeping bags were very warm. And once I realized that I should keep the tent door closed, there were no more bugs.

It even rained in the morning. That's what woke up up at 6 am. The tent held out with no problems.

I wanted to thank the scouts, the friends we made and all the people we met. Lots of moms and even sisters of the scouts joined in the fun so it was a real family affair.

That's the way it should be, I think.

-- Ray Hanania

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A gaggle of gapers block

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A Gapers Block is merely a bunch of bored drivers on the way to work or on the way home who just can't take their eyes off of a gruesome tragic accident off on the side of the road. Gapers slow down as they pass an accident to stare, usually when they are in heavy traffic. But even when they are speeding along at 60 MPH, drivers will slow down to see what's what.

Gapers Blocks are the biggest cause of traffic jams in Chicago.

In the suburbs, we have some Gapers Block traffic jams. But, more often than not, traffic jams are caused by a Gaggle Block.

Yes, a Gaggle Block is familiar to most people who live int he suburbs. It refers to a traffic jam caused when the Canadian Geese walk right in to traffic on a main street, without looking both ways, and slowly meander across the street.

It usually involves a Gaggle of Canadian Geese, too.

In many instances, the Canadian Geese eat their own poop. Yes, hard to believe except maybe in this economy, but that's what Geese do. Maybe that's what slows them down.

This morning a Gaggle of a Gaggle of Geese blocked traffic right near my house. Seriously. There were maybe 100 of them all munching on CGE (Canadian Geese excrement). And their muddied mouths made them look like beatniks as they bounced to some internal and strange bongo drum beat from the 1950s.

I always stop when the Geese go Gaggle Block. The idea of killing one of them is offensive. And there should be a law to put motorists away if they run them over intentionally. Some moron in a farmers pickup truck just couldn't wait and raced through the Geese Gaggle, gunning his engine.

I'm sure he thinks Geese are an annoyance in the suburbs, but frankly the real annoyance are people like him who go out and buy these pick-up truck monstrosities and drive them around burning up gasoline as if there were no tomorrow. Maybe no gasoline tomorrow, thanks to them. They're the ones who need a head check, not the excrement eating geese, even if they are from Canada, which mifght explain that nasty habit by the way.

Still, I can live with the Gaggle Blocks but not the pick-up truck drivers. Ten-four good buddy?

-- Ray Hanania

Sunday, October 9, 2011

"Real Steel" is the real deal -- a great movie

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It was late in 1973 and I had just returned from Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base and I remember listening to the the radio broadcast the heavy weight battle between Mohammed Ali and Ken Norton which Ali won. A few months later, Ali went on to fight his nemesis Joe Fraizer and winning. And then he went on to defeat George Foreman with his rope-a-dope strategy. It was a wild time and the boxing championships captivated the attention of the world.

It was a phenomenal and emotional time. The fight frenzy was wild. It was exciting. Everyone was in to the championship battles. It was exhilarating.

Watching the movie Real Steel brought back the same excitement. The film, starring Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo and Evangeline Lilly, is one of the best movies to come out in a long time. The film has everything from a great story about a fighter in the future who reconnects with his abandoned son after the boy's mother dies, and the passioned story of how they reconnect. Add to that fight scenes between futuristic robots and you have the Mohammed Ali thril-a-in-Manila all over again.

The film starts out with a bang and never slows down. It's PG-13 so my 10 year old son really enjoyed the movie, too. (PG-13 means there are some bad words but what in this world doesn't contain bad words anymore?)

I really recommend that you see this movie if you haven't already. It's that great.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Comet Elenin hangs in northern sky in early evening ...

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While everyone is talking about the Draconid Meteor Shower which is now at it's peak today (during the sun light hours) in the Constellation Draco (located in the northern sky just above the horizon), everyone is missing another major event just to the east of that in the northern sky and slightly to the east.

While my family was watching the 1982 John Carpenter film "The Thing" to prepare us for next week's release of yet a second remake on the big screen, my son noticed a bright object in the northern sky through the window that he said looked like a UFO.

Of course, being the skeptic and not wanting any more media attention than I already get from the biased, screwed up Chicago Sun-Times (which is fast going out of business -- but not fast enough), I'm not going to start screaming "The Sky is Falling. There is a UFO" out there. But it did look strange like it had a veil around the lower part of it.

I remember watching Halley's comet streak across the sky (well, streak would be an exaggeration because while it WAS streaking a millions of MPH, it was so far away that it appeared to just hang in the sky. That was back in 1986. To celebrate that famous comet which comes around once every 75-76 years, I bought a huge telescope (six feet tall) and very powerful (which I still have) and my daughter and I went in the backyard and really got a close up of Halley's comet with its long bright tail. It was spectacular. I remember writing about it for the Chicago Sun-Times when I was a columnist at the newspaper back then -- when it was a real newspaper and not the crap that it is today.

Hey, why not beat the crap out of a lousy newspaper like the Sun-Times in a column blog post about a comet? Who knows. Maybe those crazy people who took their lives when the comet Hale-Bopp passed through the sky in March of 1997. Remember that one, that they dubbed Heaven's Gate after a group of 39 people by that name committed suicide believing they would be scooped up and taken away to meet God. The only place the Sun-Times is going is to Hell. But then, I digress. With some enjoyment, though, I might add.

Anyway, Elenin has gotten no press at all in the mainstream news media. (I'll skip the opportunity digress on that topic which continues my other digressions.) But it is something to see. Check it out tonight. It is at the end of its cycle because apparently it has been getting too close to the sun (sun-times) and the sun's flares have been destroying it little by little.

It's worth a look. Far better to see that than to buy a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times. (Well, Hispanics, Blacks and now Arabs are boycotting the newspaper so maybe it won't need a sun flare to put it out of business.

Here's a link to the Elenin web site:  Click here.

And here is a link to the Draconid meteor shower that few will be able to see because of the timing of the shower (day time) and the nearing full moon at night: Click here.

And there's more on Hale-Bopp and the Heaven's Gate cult (just in case some of the Sun-Times maniacs have any cryptic thoughts.) Click here.

-- Ray Hanania

Friday, October 7, 2011

Movie remakes ... Whyyyyy?

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One of my favorite movies is John Carpenter's "The Thing" starring Kurt Russell. The movie came out in 1982 on the big screen. At the time, the graphics were phenomenal. Nowadays, the 1983 graphics would be considered mundane. Today's high tech graphics and animation are really phenomenal. (see how life destroys all that we once held sacred?)

The Thing was a remake of a previous original that came out in the 1950s, I think. It was good but not great. The "Thing" was actually an actor who lumbered around like a bad Frankenstein who came out of the Arctic chill. So the Kurt Russell version was a real treat. The monsters grew out of it victims in the 1982 version, although the ending was lacking. It was like the new movie traded in the originality of the first film for better graphicw. The original film not only had a great plot, but it had a better ending, too.

Well, the 2nd film was about 30 years ago. And about every 25 to 30 years, remakes arrive to entertain the new audience of younger generation filmgoers who probably saw the Russell film but not the first one. That's kind of a statement about out lifestyle and the length of a real lifetime. We who loved the first movie are no longer relevant. Those who love the Russell version are being deactivated culturally, though we struggle to keep up clinging to technology we can purchase with our babyboomer mentality of spend, spend, spend.

But there is a new generation out there today and they want more. More than we babyboomers had. More driven by a feeling of entitlement created by the power of technology. Steve Jobs didn't really teach us to expand our minds. Jobs really taught us to covet that which we could purchase. We don't buy a computer to mprove our lives. We buy computers to fill an insatiable hunger. We have a computer but it's not good enough. So we buy. Aother, better, faster and supposedly doing things we need. But we don't need anything. We want things.

And that's how we see entertainment. We don't need a new version of The Thing. We just want it, like a new computer. It's how we describe today's generation, what i call the "entitlement" generation.

The new version of "The Thing" comes to theaters this coming weekend. Same story. Same fright. Better graphics. And a new public hunger that can never be satisfied.

In fact, I am writing this from my iPad2, struggling to be as good as the laptop that already did everything.

And I will go see the new remake of The Thing because I've been conditioned to be that way, and for no other reason.

If Steve Jobs taught us anything, it might be something like this: "Why be happy with what you have when you could have something that might be better, but will probably just be mediocre? That's why the great inventions I just unveiled last year are no longer relevant and the one I am touting now is what you need to have ... Need! Need! Need!"

See anything similar with today's movies?

- Ray Hanania

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What is that exhaust from those school buses?

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Talk about heavy pollution. Why is it that our school buses are among the worst when it comes to spewing choking pollution into the environment? Is it because we don't care about the health of the environment? We don't care about the health of our students? Or, the bus companies are given a pass because they have some kind of political clout?

Here's a video I shot recently behind a school bus that was pouring out pollutants and choking exhaust. It is "whitish" in color but the fumes were horrible.

People familiar with school bus pollutions say that poor air quality is particularly hard on children, whose lungs are fragile and still developing. Many yellow school buses, because they are run on diesel fuel, are particularly lethal to their hundreds of thousands of riders. The exhaust may include "Particles" that can be filtered out using special filters on the exhaust systems. These particles from diesel exhaust are carcinogenic

The fact is truck and car emissions can lead to heart disease.

Air pollution aggravates allergies, asthma and other respiratory illness.

Major airborne pollutants such as lead, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, contribute to the city’s high incidence of asthma (double the New York State average, in some neighborhoods, and up to six times the national average) and other respiratory ailments.

So why are we not doing something about this? The school system receives probably 60 to 70 percent of the taxes we pay (high school and elementary school, just look at your tax bill if you live in District 230 or District 135. Mine was more than $3,600 out of a $5,000 tax bill.

What are we paying for?