Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Only in Israel

Jack Berger told this story:

He hails a taxicab in Israel and asks the driver to take him to the Jerusalem bus station.

The driver asks him, "Where are you going?"

"The Jerusalem bus station."

"I heard you. No, where are you taking the bus?"

"I don't think you want to take me."

"Try me."

"To Chevron (Hebron)."

"I'll take you."

"You're driving a new Mercedes. Are you sure?"

"Sure, I'll take you."

So they leave Jerusalem and take the highway to Chevron. They pick up a trio of teenage girls along the way who need a ride. When they arrive at the outskirts of Chevron, they run into a military roadblock, and the commander tells them they can't enter the city. (He probably says, "Eee efshar"--impossible--they love saying that.) At that point one of the girls hands the commander a card.

"What's this?" he asks.

"It's an invitation to my wedding," she tells him. "I'm getting married at Machpelah tonight."

He waves them through.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tired of saying tehillim for Gilad Shalit

In 1979, Iranian college students took over the U.S. embassy in Teheran and held 52 men hostage for 444 days.* As a final insult to the American president, Jimmy Carter, the students released the hostages on his successor's inauguration day.

A political cartoon from that period showed the American eagle locked in a birdcage.

I thought of that image when considering Israel's situation regarding its soldier Gilad Shalit held hostage by Hamas since June 25, 2006. Hamas is a secretive, shadowy terrorist organization. But Israel is a sovereign state with an international spy operation that has no rival in the world. When Israel decides to assassinate Hamas leaders, it does so. In fact, the professional execution of a terrorist operative in Dubai last week is widely attributed to Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, which refuses to confirm or deny its involvement. This is its standard plausible deniability tactic.

So what's the problem? Why is Gilad Shalit still being held hostage, after nearly four years?

At the conclusion of a service in many orthodox synagogues, the prayer leader will say a paragraph of tehillim (usually Psalm 130) "because of the ongoing situation in Israel," which refers to the conflict in general but specifically to Shalit. I'm tired of it, not just because it makes the service longer (which is selfish) but because the situation could most likely be easily solved. There's only one way to find out.

There is probably no diplomatic solution to the hostage situation. If Hamas were to release Shalit at all, it would demand a significant prisoner exchange involving dozens or hundreds of convicted murderers. Other than that, there is no good reason for Hamas to give up its one ace in the hole to its sworn enemy. It would lose considerable credibility and respect from the "Arab street" it claims to represent.

When China kept American servicemen hostage for a week or so in 2001, the U.S. president apologized (twice--embarrassing), and the People's Republic allowed the men to go home. When Iran captured British servicemen in 2007, there was intense international pressure on Iran to release the men. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saw a public relations opportunity and released them within two weeks, saying, "This pardon is a gift to the British people." Since the world's conscience doesn't lose any sleep over a captured Israeli, Israel is getting almost no help in securing Shalit's release, despite his French and (awarded since capture) Italian citizenship.

Could Israel please stop acting like a scared little kid and start acting like a regional military power?

Call up Hamas and demand Shalit's unconditional release within 48 hours. Then start hunting down Hamas' murderous operatives and assassinate them--one per day. Shalit would be home soon enough. What would be the world's reaction? The extreme Left would once again be in the uncomfortable position of defending homicide terrorism. Sure, it does that anyway, but when one weighs Shalit's plight against the lives of terrorists, most of world opinion would be on Shalit's side.

Your move, Israel. Do you want to see Shalit grow old in captivity? He turns 24 in August. He should celebrate at home.

*They released the women and children almost immediately after the raid.

Monday, February 22, 2010

SCOTUS says corps can advertise for campaigns

A friend and avid blog reader (my favorite kind) asked me to weigh in on the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States ruling in favor of corporations advertising in favor of or against federal election candidates. The case is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Corporate contributions to individual campaigns remain illegal. Now corporations, previously limited to campaign donations through their own political action committees (PAC's) or independent PAC's, may now advertise and "spend freely on political causes," as put it here.

You mean corporations have First Amendment rights too? Outrageous. As the Chicago Tribune pointed out, corporations have always been able to spend freely in state elections in Illinois. While Illinois is a terribly corrupt state, corporate donations are hardly the root of the problem. This is not the end of democracy as we know it. Contributions to candidates for federal office are not made in secret. Anyone can look up individual and PAC contributions at various websites. If a big greedy corporation makes a big splash in favor of or against a particular candidate or member of Congress, then that's public knowledge, and voters can take that into consideration when they go to the polls.

Our democracy--and federal elections--will be just fine.

Bounce an entrenched incumbent?

How does Jan Schakowsky, who has occupied her seat in the U.S. Congress since 1999, feel about bouncing entrenched incumbents?

Judging from an endorsement she made in 2007, she doesn't have a problem with it at all.

Three years ago, Ald. Bernard M. Stone (50th) was embroiled in a very close, hotly contested race to keep his City Council seat that he had held since 1973. Stone was 80 at the time, and his challenger, Naisy Dolar, was in her mid-30's. In the final two weeks of the runoff election race, Schakowsky threw her support and political capital behind the young challenger. Unfortunately for Dolar, it was too late, and she lost by six points in a race that had accusations of fraud on Stone's part. At his victory party, a triumphant Stone crowed, "Jan Schakowsky, you will never be boss of this ward!"

So Schakowsky thought Stone had been in office long enough. After 34 years (now 37), I would certainly concur. Is 12 years in the U.S. House long enough? Schakowsky turns 66 on May 26. She could retire and spend time with her grandchildren, but she soldiers on. When is long enough? For her predecessor, Rep. Sidney R. Yates, it was 50 years. I certainly hope we won't need to wait that long for Jan to head home. This election year features Jan's first serious opposition to her re-election, which is usually a formality for her. Joel Pollack is challenging her seat. At 66, is she up to the challenge? We'll see.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Shabbos terumah

A few notes about last shabbos. My friends I stayed with live in a neighborhood with one orthodox shul, which was where we went Friday afternoon, Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon.

The Saturday morning service was three hours long. I think that's inexcusable. Even a take-your-time shul can finish a shabbos service--with d'var torah--in 2:30 or less. I don't know if the filler is for people who don't go to shul during the week, but it doesn't matter. Who can sit for three hours? The chazzan really dragged out kedusha for mussaf. He has a beautiful voice, but it's too much. When I visit this shul, I'm going to daven all of pesukei d'zimrah (the introduction to the main service) on my own and show up half an hour late. I think that would make the service far more bearable and inspiring to me.

I attended a "learning lunch" at the shul sponsored by Jack Berger, featuring guest speaker Jack Berger. Jack is a Zionist with strong opinions. He frequently takes out ads in Chicago Jewish News to make sure many more people--Jews of all denominations and political views--are privy to his opinions. I mostly agree with him. His knowledge and grasp of Israeli-U.S. history is very impressive, as is his ability to respond to a Torah question with a direct quote. (His Chumash copy is more annotated than any I've seen.) I very much enjoyed his speech.

After Jack's speech, the young man sitting next to me asked Jack a question--supposedly. What he actually did was drone on for an extended period of time, finally getting around to a question he could have asked right away. This reminded me of the Spertus Museum Rules of Asking Questions:

1. You may take no longer than 30 seconds;
2. You must ask a question.

EXACTLY! Someone will stand up to ask a question, and he is shocked, shocked to learn we really didn't show up to listen to him tell his life story. We're just not interested. Ask your damn question or just sit down. Others believe this is their opportunity to offer their opinions on the speaker, his topic, or any number of other topics. No, again, if we want your opinion, we'll invite you for coffee. Until then, you're keeping other people in the audience from asking legitimate questions.

After the Sabbath ended, I went with a friend to the 2010 Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place. Note to self: the $10 parking is at Soldier Field (18th St. exit). The $19 parking is at the 31st St exit. Thieves, I tell you! I was fortunate to enter gratis as someone handed me his passes. I obviously haven't been to the Auto Show in quite some time--probably not since the 20th Century. News flash: the beautiful women are back. The automakers, famous and notorious for featuring models posing next to their new cars, are up to their old tricks again. They stopped for a while, partly because it was silly--women make the final decision regarding an automobile purchase more than half the time. Maybe these female decision-makers find the models persuasive as well. Most automaker pavilions featured models on the turntables next to the vehicles or walking around, talking to potential customers. I am still amazed at how much money the automakers spend on these shows. The displays appear to be in the mid-five figures. The automakers also need to pay for staff as well as vehicle and equipment transportation to truck everything to the next city. I admit it's helpful to see numerous new car models under one roof, especially if one is in the market for one. But shouldn't the automakers pay us for the privilege of checking out their vehicles? $11 admission is a bit harsh.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chicago, that college hoops desert

UIC played Loyola tonight. I don't know who won. It was a matchup of perennial Horizon League also-rans and frequent cellar-dwellers. I wanted to go. But it started at 7pm, not 7:30, so I wouldn't have been able to be on time for tipoff in Rogers Park.

Chicago has four schools with Division I men's basketball teams. Why are they all so bad?

The Big East Conference has 16 member schools. Nine of these schools are in major cities, and another two are in New Jersey, less than 30 miles from midtown Manhattan. Nearly all of them are competitive in basketball. How does Chicago have four basketball teams that are consistently mediocre or terrible? Forget a college football playoff, President Obama. This is the issue you should investigate!

The Big East's urban schools are: U of Cincinnati, DePaul U., Georgetown U., U of Louisville, Marquette U., U of Pittsburgh, St. John's U., U of South Florida, and Villanova U. I didn't count Providence College or Syracuse University because those are smaller cities. Rutgers U. and Seton Hall U. are in New Jersey.

New York has St. John's, Manhattan and Hofstra. Philadelphia has Villanova, Temple and Penn. Boston has Boston College and Harvard. Washington has Georgetown, George Washington U. and George Mason U. Los Angeles has UCLA. (USC is terrible.) San Francisco has Stanford and Cal. It's just a shame, I think, that for such a great sports town, the men's college basketball programs receive scant media attention and end up with very poor recruiting classes. The schools' athletic programs can't or won't commit the resources to compete with their conference rivals. Loyola's and UIC's Horizon League rivals are mostly small urban schools like themselves. How hard could it be to beat these mid-major or non-major squads? To Northwestern's credit, the Wildcats seem to be on the road to improvement. Still mediocre this year, but they did sweep Michigan and split with Illinois.

When was the last time any of these four went to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament? Famously, Northwestern has never been invited. DePaul, Loyola, UIC and Northwestern are barely noticeable in the winter, competing with the Bears (even long after their season is over), the Bulls, Blackhawks, and Cubs and White Sox (before their seasons begin) for media and fan attention in the big city.

Northwestern will sell out its 8117-seat Welsh-Ryan Arena if it is playing a Big Ten opponent with many alumni in the area. Other than those dates, the turnout is disappointing for its games and downright embarrassing for the other three teams. DePaul's fall from grace is particularly disappointing. The Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena) was built for DePaul men's basketball in 1980 and 1981, after the Blue Demons had outgrown their aging on-campus dump, Alumni Hall. (Alumni Hall no longer stands.) Now DePaul may have a few thousand fans rattling around a stadium that seats nearly 20,000. It is the third tenant after the Chicago Wolves (minor-league hockey) and Chicago Sky (women's hoops). Students can take a free bus from the Lincoln Park campus. Unfortunately parking and tickets are awfully pricey for average fans. DePaul's tickets run $20-$100 for most games. Northwestern sells all individual Big Ten tickets for $20. Loyola and UIC charge less--about $12-$15. I'm not going to look up DePaul's records, but I suspect the Blue Demons have no NCAA tournament wins in the past decade.

Even when the Bulls and Blackhawks were awful, which was for most of the past decade, Chicago sports fans barely gave our college basketball teams a second look. They deserve better. And as fans, so do we.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

How much longer, Jan?

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D.-Ill.) turns 66 on May 26.

When the people of the Ninth District of Illinois first elected her in 1998, she was 54.

When the people of the Ninth District first elected Sidney R. Yates in 1948, he was only 39. By the time he left office, he was 89. Even after that, according to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.), Yates regretted leaving office. "I never should have left," Durbin said Yates told him, despite Yates' health problems preventing him from performing basic duties of his office. Like showing up for House votes.

I'm very concerned that Jan* considers her House seat a lifetime appointment and will run for re-election until she is well into her 80's, like her predecessor Sid Yates did. It's not supposed to be that way. Entrenched incumbents block entire generations of qualified candidates from stepping in and making their own contributions to their communities. Take Sen. Dick Durbin, please: by 2014, we will have had one occupant of his Senate seat for 18 years. As the Congresswoman is able to amass a multimillion-dollar campaign war chest, she can look at elections as minor distractions from her long-term reign.

This needs to stop. Even Jan's hardcore liberal supporters must realize entrenched incumbents get lazy, as Yates did. Electing a member of Generation X would further reduce the average age of House members (still too high) and show the country that in the Ninth District, to quote a former president, "The torch has been passed to a new generation."

*"Mrs. Schakowsky" is somewhat incorrect as Schakowsky is her first husband's name, not her husband's name. Her husband is convicted felon Robert Creamer.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Open letter to Tom Ricketts, new Cubs owner

Mr. Tom Ricketts
Chicago Cubs
1060 W Addison St
Chicago IL 60613-4305

Dear Mr. Ricketts:

I read about the proposed upgrades to Wrigley Field in the newspaper on Feb. 10. If you take a walk around Wrigley Field and compare it to other ballparks, I’m sure you would come to the same conclusion I did: the entire grandstand needs to be razed and replaced with a new, modern edifice. The new seating areas would include a luxury box level behind home plate; a club level; first-class skyboxes; a spacious upper deck; plentiful concessions stands and wide concourses. The players would enjoy a modern clubhouse and indoor batting/workout area. I hope you will work with an architect that will guide you through these plans and bring them to fruition before the aging structure collapses and hurts someone.

Just as important to the Cubs’ future success is a night-game schedule that resembles those of the Cubs’ league rivals. If you speak to the manager, coaches and players, they would likely tell you how important it is to play 55 home games at night, like their rivals do. Wrigley’s Friday matinees are especially hard on players, as other teams play all 13 Friday home games at night. There are far too many weekday matinees—27 this year, excluding Opening Day and Labor Day—while other clubs play five or fewer. Fans should not be forced to take days off to see the Cubs. Television revenue also suffers.

All that stands between the Cubs and a regular night-game schedule is Ald. Tom Tunney. He helped the Cubs revise their night-game agreement with the city in
2003. If you demonstrate to the alderman your commitment to revitalizing the neighborhood and bringing home a World Series championship, he would surely listen to your scheduling concerns.

Thank you very much for your attention to these important matters. Go Cubs!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

A potential solution lurks in the Wrigley Field night-game saga

I'm disappointed it took me so long to come up with this.

The Cubs need more night games--eventually up to 55 home games at night per season, up from their current limit of 30. The Cubs' neighbors who forced through the city ordinance banning night games at Wrigley Field, with the help of former Ald. Bernie Hansen, want the Cubs to stay in the neighborhood. (The Cubs receive permission from the city to play a limited number of night games per season, but the ordinance does ban night games at Wrigley Field. That limited number stands at 30.) So the Cubs call Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) for a friendly meeting. Then the Cubs, in a respectful, polite way, will tell the alderman: If we don't start playing as many night games as we want, whenever we want (including Fridays and Saturdays), beginning with the 2011 season, we won't play a full schedule in Wrigley Field anymore.

With a little planning, the Cubs could probably implement this plan this season. Owner Tom Ricketts places a call to his crosstown colleague, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Would it be all right if we used your ballpark for a few games? Uncle Jerry would be delighted. The decision wouldn't really be up to him; it would be up to the government agency that runs the taxpayer-financed and -owned ballpark. It would also need MLB commissioner Bud Selig's rubber stamp. But I'm sure everyone would be agreeable. Reinsdorf would love to show off his ballpark to a fresh audience of Cubs fans, most of whom would only venture to Bridgeport to see the Cubs anyway. With the current interleague schedule of just three Cubs games per season at U.S. Cellular Field, very few Cubs fans have ever visited the South Side ballpark because those tickets are in such high demand. Reinsdorf and the White Sox would enjoy additional revenue from Cubs games, which they would share with the Cubs.

Happily, several White Sox road trips and Cubs homestands coincide in the heat of the summer this season. Here's a sample itinerary:

Thurs. July 15 - Sun. July 25: the Cubs add another two night games to their schedule.
Tues. Aug. 2 - Mon. Aug. 9: the Cubs add another two night games to their schedule.
Mon. Aug. 16 - Mon. Aug. 23: the Cubs add another three night games to their schedule.

In three stretches, that's an increase of 7 night games--23 percent over the Cubs' permitted limit of just 30 night games in that dump Wrigley Field. But moving these games 8.1 miles south poses serious consequences for Wrigley's Lakeview neighborhood, commonly known as Wrigleyville. Moving so many games in the heat of the summer--which is the whole point, to give the players respite from the brutal sunshine. This is also the most profitable time of year for businesses that depend on Cubs fans spending time and money in the neighborhood. If the Cubs aren't home for this critical period, that would be devastating for numerous bars and restaurants.

And I think the Cubs should go right ahead and do it. The night-game limit is keeping the Cubs from their goal of bringing a World Series championship to Wrigley Field. If the Cubs convince their Wrigley neighbors the night-game limit makes it impossible for them to be competitive, and that they will seriously consider and act upon alternatives, the neighbors will knock down Ald. Tunney's door, demanding that he give the Cubs the night games they want.

Working this out with the fans is really a minor issue. The Cubs could provide bus service to U.S. Cellular Field from Wrigley Field and the Wrigley night parking lot (Lane Technical High School). Fans could convert their Wrigley seats to U.S. Cellular seats at the Cubs' website. Once Cubs fans visit Sox Park for the first time and enjoy the wide concourses, plentiful concessions, plentiful on-site parking, and unobstructed views of the action, they may not want to go back to Wrigley Field.

Then Uncle Jerry would have the last laugh.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Speak softly and pack heat

The Chicago Tribune printed my letter in its Feb. 9, 2010 edition. A little background: On Jan. 31, the Tribune ran an article profiling Otis McDonald, a Chicago resident who owns rifles but would like to purchase a handgun to protect his home. He and his wife have suffered several home invasions. With the assistance of a legal team, McDonald is the named plaintiff in McDonald vs. Chicago, a case challenging Chicago's 28-year-old handgun ban which the U.S. Supreme Court will hear beginning March 2. Hizzonerdamare Richard M. Daley, who enjoys taxpayer-funded 24-hour armed police protection, vehemently opposes having the law being repealed or ruled unconstitutional.

The letter-writer I refer to, Irving Maslow of Northbrook, had yet another letter published near mine in the Feb. 9 newspaper. He still opposes handgun ownership.

Dear Editor:

Colleen Mastony's excellent profile of Otis McDonald ("The Public Face of Gun Rights," Page One, Jan. 31) offers an opportunity to respond to a Voice letter that appeared Jan. 9. A gentleman from Northbrook states simply, "Guns should be banned everywhere by law" and is absolutely sure they are never used in self-defense because he has never heard anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

This gentleman doesn't offer a suggestion of what to do with the 200 million handguns currently in circulation in America, the vast majority of which are in the hands of law-abiding citizens. In the safety of his low-crime Northbrook community, surrounded by other low-crime communities and miles removed from Chicago's dangerous neighborhoods, surely he can't imagine needing to defend oneself and one's home, as Mr. McDonald does on a constant basis. A handgun can be "used" in self-defense simply by announcing to an intruder or would-be attacker, "I am armed." Such incidents rarely show up in statistics. A handgun is a solitary woman's best friend, as well as anyone else who wants to protect him/herself.

The Northbrook letter-writer wants American troops to protect us. Right. Police respond to draw chalk outlines. It's up to us to protect our own homes and families with the best defense available: handguns.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

No silent defenders of that dump Wrigley Field

A friendly warning to those who might dare criticize that miserable, pathetic, dilapidated, decrepit, sorry excuse for a ballpark Wrigley Field: bring an umbrella. And old clothes. And be ready to duck the tomatoes.

That dump Wrigley Field certainly has its defenders who have made their feelings known to me, quite a few of whom are young Jewish women. "Charming." Of course it is. So is a park bench in a downpour. Nice to look at--not so nice to sit in and take in a game. Around the league, the only ballparks that approach Wrigley Field in terms of "worst ballpark experience" are Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (1966) and Fenway Park (1916). Alameda County's taxpayers built the Coliseum as a bipurpose facility for baseball and football. Apparently the Oakland Raiders' return in 1995 and the Coliseum's subsequent remodeling for football ruined it for baseball. Like that overcrowded bandbox Wrigley Field, Fenway Park looks nice on tv and is full of history, but it's a terrible place to watch a ballgame.

Part of the blame for the sad state of Wrigley Field, which should have been imploded years ago, falls directly on the Cubs' miserable ownership. Decades of neglect from the Wrigley family and then Tribune Co. contributed to the Cubs remaining in a ballpark best suited for baseball in the 1930's and 1940's, when it was just a few decades old and still on the cutting edge of ballpark technology and architecture. If Chicago had followed the lead of major National League cities such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati in the 1960's, it would have built a bipurpose baseball-football facility for the Cubs and Bears. Instead, the Bears moved from Wrigley Field to a college athletic stadium--Soldier Field--and the Cubs stayed put. P.K. Wrigley never bothered to install lights despite all his fellow owners doing so. Why didn't Major League Baseball force the Cubs to start playing home games at night? So sad that they are now stuck in a serious competitive disadvantage due to playing 45 percent fewer night games than their rival clubs.

So neither the Wrigley family nor Tribune Co. followed their fellow owners in friendly blackmail with their civic hosts: threaten to leave if the taxpayers don't come up with a new ballpark. The Wrigleys sat quietly by (never having enough money to run the team well after the 1930's, anyway) while their colleagues built new stadiums in the 1950's and 1960's. The Tribune Co. enjoyed the revenue from the renewed popularity of "retro" Wrigley Field in the 1990's and 2000's (while fielding truly awful Cubs teams) while other cities indulged their baseball teams again with new ballparks.

Now the Cubs are doubly cursed: they aren't allowed to play enough night games in an aging, decrepit ballpark the city is ready to condemn. An urban legend says the Wrigleys bought lighting equipment in 1941, and then the U.S. went to war, so the Wrigleys donated the equipment to the war effort. And they did nothing about lights from 1945 until they sold the club in 1981! To make matters worse, the new owners at that time, the Tribune Co., compromised with the city and the Cubs' neighbors, agreeing to very strict, untenable night game limits: 18 night games per season beginning in 1989, and 30 night games per season beginning in 2004 and continuing today. Other teams play 55 home games at night. The Cubs wear themselves out in the summer sun every season, meaning they need to be much stronger than their rivals to reach the playoffs. It's not a coincidence they haven't won the pennant since 1945, when most teams were still playing no night games or very few night games. It's a severe competitive disadvantage.

New owner Tom Ricketts announced very modest plans to renovate his ballpark, but he isn't even replacing the troughs in the men's restrooms. He wants the Cubs to host the All-Star Game in 2014, but he isn't planning any serious upgrades, and he isn't interested in changing the night-game schedule. I guess he isn't serious about a world championship, either.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Super Bowl: Wishful thinking

The NFL’s Super Bowl schedule looks like this:
Super Bowl XLIV, Feb. 7, 2010: Sun Life Stadium, Miami
Super Bowl XLV, Feb. 6, 2011: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Tex.
Super Bowl XLVI, Feb. 5, 2012: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Super Bowl XLVII, Feb. 3, 2013: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans

I’m guessing the next three, on Feb. 2, 2014; Feb. 1, 2015; and Feb. 7, 2016 will be in Glendale, Ariz.; Tampa and Miami.

Yes, I’m sure Detroit, Houston, Atlanta, Jacksonville (if the Jaguars are still there) and would-be first-time hosts St. Louis (if the Rams are still there) and New York will make presentations to the Super Bowl Host Committee. And Dallas and Indianapolis will certainly hope the Super Bowl will swing by their cities again, with its $200 million in economic impact.

Here’s a little secret: the Super Bowl is for rich guys who play golf. Sure, it’s a national holiday with a four-hour tv extravaganza. But most people who watch don’t care where the game is. The NFL does. The host city does. And wealthy fans who use the Super Bowl to entertain their clients and friends care. The NFL wants to keep its wealthy fans who actually pay cash for tickets (unlike its member clubs) happy. And they’re not happy if they’re flying up to Indianapolis in February. They love Miami. They love Phoenix. They like New Orleans because of its party atmosphere. They like Tampa if it’s nice out. Jacksonville may have ruined whatever chance it had of hosting another Super Bowl with cloudy, rainy weather all week when the Super Bowl was there a few years ago. Indianapolis has a nice stadium and friendly locals, but the NFL puts Indy in the same file as Detroit: one and done. “We promised you a Super Bowl if you built us a new stadium. You hosted. That’s it.” The NFL may return to Dallas if only because Cowboys Stadium can hold 100,000 people, meaning a live gate of possibly $200 million at $2000/ea. When it comes down to it, though, the Super Bowl is about rich guys who play golf. So keep that in mind, Twin Cities, when you consider the Vikings’ request for a new retractable-roof stadium. The Super Bowl might visit once, and that’s a big “might” since you couldn’t guarantee clear roadways to the game in the event of a blizzard on Saturday night.

In the 1980’s, the NFL liked its Super Bowl rotation of Miami, New Orleans and Pasadena, Calif., with occasional visits to other cities. Pasadena is not currently viable since the NFL left L.A. years ago. I see the current Super Bowl triumvirate of Miami, New Orleans and Phoenix holding firm. If L.A. lures a team, that will change. But cold-weather cities—and even mild-weather cities like Atlanta, Houston and Dallas—should be realistic about their slim chances for regular Super Bowl visits.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Public transit: fare increase vs. service cuts

How would the mayor know?

When was the last time Hizzonerdamare Richard M. Daley took public transit to work?

It's been more than 20 years. He's had taxpayer-funded 24-hour limo service for as long as he's been mayor, and he was elected in 1989.

Once again, the mayor demonstrates how little he knows about real life in the city he runs. Last week, as the Chicago Transit Authority (cta) prepared to cut service frequency on most of its bus routes and all rail lines (except in Skokie), Mayor Daley said service cuts are preferable to fare increases.

For whom?

For people like the mayor who don't ride cta, I guess.

I have a sneaking suspicion that there's a sense at cta headquarters that now that we can find out via text message when the next bus is coming, we won't mind waiting. A longer wait is still inconvenient, especially when a trip requires more than one ride. And the rush-hour overcrowding on the busses with heaviest passenger demand and all trains will only get worse.

Three dollars a ride would be a lot to take, and there's so much wasteful spending in cta management that must be cut. (A ride is currently $2 or $2.25.) But the alternative, which we riders will face next week (beginning Feb. 7), is going to be worse. Every time cta cuts service, a percentage of its faithful ridership decide it's not dependable and seek other options. It does itself nor its passengers any favors by cutting service.