Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cub Scout's Pinewood Derby fast-paced fun

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The last time I carved a block of wood for a Pinewood Derby was in 1966. Turns out I didn't do much carving and the "driver" looked like a Zit on my chin! Okay. Not a pretty sight.

So when my son asked me to help, of course, I didn't tell him about my fiasco craving and then painting my Pinewood Derby entry, and instead, grabbed my suspenders (air suspenders, of course) and then proceeded to give him directions on how to make his block of pinewood a sleek, hot race car. And he followed my directions to a "t" which is probably not something I really wanted.

Aaron worked hard sanding, carving (with supervision) and then sanding some more. We finally got it to a point where it still looked like a block of wood until dad decided he was goign to help and using a plyers and a screw driver to dig out a driver, I broke the wood.


So it was off to buy another entry to try again couldn't mess it up. And Aaron spent the weekend sanding, painting and complaining about how I messed up his original entry.

I then put in the wheels. The box included some aluminum nails to wedge the wheel in to a pre-cut groove.

And then came the big question. "Where do I put the weights, daddy?"

Well, I'm a man. Men don't read road maps and we don't read directions. "Well, son, as the experienced genius of a father that I am, having lived a long experienced life of 56 years and having my share of covering mobsters to mayhem at Chicago City Hall, I would say, well, um, in the back?"

So we put the weights on the back. When it was all done have to say it was sharp looking.

Now, the Pinewood Derby of today is nothing like the Pinewood Derby of yester-year, which as I mentioned was quite a while ago. Orland Park Pack 372 not only has dedicated Cub Scout leaders, but they have hi-tech leaders who know how to make the Pinewood Derby up to today's needs.

I mean, my kid types faster than I do on a computer keyboard. He knows computers and he knows high-tech and low-tech -- I still have the original Underwood Typewriter from the City Hall Press Room from the Front Page Era Days and I love to type on it, although it's not easy finding the little rolls of black ink tapes. (Remember those?)

This track was very cool. Not the contraption we made back in the 60s with long wood boards and rails and soap boxes and crates lifting one end up to create the hill.

(I was sure placing the weights in the back was the right thing to do.)

Anyway, this one not only was made of Aluminum, but the track was computerized and every car's speed was recorded and converted into real-time speeds. The average entry was around 197 MPH on the 24 foot (or so) track. The best were over 200 MPH.

Turns out the weight doesn't go in the back where I thought it would help push the car and not weigh down the front wheels. It goes on the front. And while you could not weigh more than 5 ounces, our entry was 4.7 ounces, which means I probably should have added a weight.

(My wife asked where do you think we can get a scale that can weigh in ounces? My scale weighs in hundreds of pounds. Of course, the only place we could think of was the Post Office, where we ran into other Cub Scout Parents who were weighing their cars there, too.)

Let's just say we didn't win.

But that doesn't matter. My son has his car and he loves it. It's sitting on a shelf with all his sports trophies and achievements (I had one trophy my entire life, for guitar playing!, though I do have my Hiawatha Trail Medal from a Boy Scouts' hike.)

Aaron had a blast and so did the other young kids and their parents who enjoyed the race.

Okay, next year, the car is going to be shaped like a lead pencil and the weight is going to be on the front. No messing around for the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby then.

-- Ray Hanania

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A fun night at the Field Museum of Natural History -- Dozin with the DInos

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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

Friday, February 5, 2010

Daily Herald looks at challenge of why North end of 17th District can't elect candidates

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The Daily Herald examines views today on why the north end of the 17th Cook County District continues to only showcase candidates from the south end. Click here to read the story.

The talk is heavy that next year, the district will be redistricted and strengthened as a Republican enclave. One way to do that is to eliminate one of Cook County's 17 districts and the target is the one held by Tony Peraica in the 16th District. The consensus on the Cook County board, which will reddrawn the new lines, is Peraica's district has to go. Peraica has built up one of the most disliked reputations on the Cook County Board, so bad among his peers that when he introduced a resolution to roll back the repressive 1 cent sales tax imposed by now out-going lame-duck Board President Todd Stroger, not ONE colleague on the board would second the motion. Peraica angrily blames everyone else for his troubles, but the same motion was introduced by a Republican rival, Elizabeth "Lis' Doody Gorman and it flew through the board four times until it was passed.

Another reason why the north end of the 17th District is not taken seriously: the candidates from that end are usually ringers put up not by voters but by other commissioners trying to unseat their rivals. I don't need to spell it out for you but Mark Thompson was in the race to win as much as he was there to tear down Gorman. And not surprisingly, Thompson, whose entire campaign was one big mud pie of attacks, the most despicable campaign I have seen in years by any candidate running for office, was backed by Peraica.

Thompson wasn't there to give Republican voters in the 17th District a choice. He was there to remove a Rpeublican that his limited circle of friends, who can't get one major piece of legislation passed on the Cook County Board, hate. And I mean "hate" in a literal sense of the word. That's how bad some Republicans have become and why the north end of the district has had no chance of electing anyone.

The new 17th District will move south, Gorman faces a tough battle from Orland Park resident Pat Maher, who is a first cousin of Illinois Comptroller an Hynes. Now that the battle between Hynes and Gov. Quinn is over -- with Hynes losing, the fact is Maher is going to have a tough time winning that district. He benefited from the Hynes machine and Quinn's campaign against Hynes (Hynes was the better candidate for Governor over Quinn), but that won't happen this November.

-- Ray Hanania

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

Orland Park candidate hopefuls fall short in statewide bids

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Two Orland Park candidates seeking statewide office, Jim Dodge for Comptroller and Dennis Cook for Illinois Lieutenant Governor, stumbled in their races, according to the early and unofficial election returns.

Judy Baar Topinka, the former state treasurer and candidate for governor, easily swept the comptroller's race blowing away Dodge and radio personality William Kelly. Dodge is an Orland Park Village Trustee and Cook is the School Board President of District 230.

And early election result suggest that incumbent Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth "Liz" Doody Gorman, who led the fight to roll back Todd Stroger's 1 cent sales tax, will face fellow Orland Park challenger Pat Maher, the president of the controversy-plagued Orland Fire Protection District and son of Orland Park Village Clerk Dave Maher. The vote totals in the Democratic and Republican primary races were close, although in this election, the contentious Democratic race for Governor and Cook County board drew many Republicans to cross over into the Democratic race.

Gorman easily won her race for Orland Township Committeeman over Gerald Maher, a former two-time candidate for Orland Park Mayor.

Jeff Junkas rallied his Republican conservative base to defeat a fellow Republican Molly McAvoy Flynn to win the Republican primary to challenge State Rep. Kevin McCarthy. But the vicious accusations in the Republican contest will certainly leave scars to weaken the challenge of McCarthy. The issue between Junkas and Flynn is that they were both Democratic plants, according to each side, yet both have voted Democratic in the past.

I fJunkas can pull the Republican Party together, he might be able to pull off a substantive challenge to McCarthy, but the animosity driven during the election might not make that possible.

Click here for the Cook County Clerk's updated election results.

-- Ray Hanania

iPad: Another dumb idea by a bunch of tekkies who don't know crap about what real people want or need

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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