Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Personal Aside: The “Reader” Thinks John Kass is Too Much a Hedgehog i.e. Narrowly Focused on Ryan’s Corruption, Ignoring his Good Points.


John Kass.

For years, Michael Miner has been writing a column in “The Reader” called “Hot Type.” This week it is about John Kass, the “Tribune’s” page 3 columnist—the most philosophically balanced and consistent writer in the major press today in my estimation. There are some who say Kass is another Royko. I don’t think so. I could take Royko or leave him; when he was funny he was very, very funny—but it was entertainment. Good entertainment but as enduring as a snow-cone in July.

With Kass you get a columnist who is tough, Chicago-tough, a former butcher, a former merchant marine sailor who writes like an angel. Show me any other columnist, a chronicler of the city, who gives you tips on what books to have your kids read for their character improvement…who can write funny, write touchingly, write with literary flair, write simply, write with a kind of spirituality that is not corn-ball or emotional-filled.

Michael Miner goes after Kass by saying that Royko was a fox and Kass is a hedgehog. By which he means Royko took in a wide vista as a Fox—but a hedgehog has narrow visualization. By which Miner, probably the most consummate liberal writing today in Chicago, seemed to imply that if Royko were around he would look at George Ryan and see beyond Ryan to the good he did…whereas Kass is rooted only one a narrow vista.

To Miner, Ryan’s good points come not from his extensive past but from after he changed. He blasted capital punishment; he became a pro-choicer and vetoed a key piece of pro-life legislation which he had pledged to sign; he went to Cuba and urged recognition of the Castro government; he changed his mind on O’Hare expansion. These are the good things, to Miner. Does Miner imagine that one night Ryan just sat bolt upright in bed and said: all these things I was wrong about…so I’m going to change!

Miner knows but does not acknowledge sufficiently that Ryan changed in order to get off the prosecutorial hot-plate, to influence a future jury panel. Why else did he get himself nominated for the Nobel Prize? You have to give Ryan and his advisers credit for using every ounce of initiative to save his skin, but Miner should be less gullible and come to understand the reason why Ryan did it. But to a liberal, if you do liberal things no matter what the motivation, that’s all that matters.

The paramount issue that will convict Ryan in the minds of his fellow Illinoisans is something that all the sweet perfumes of Arabia cannot expunge, or the mellow let-be-statesmen-about-it stuff that Miner writes to obfuscate his ideology. It is this: Ryan’s corruption put people who worked for him in a vise; they had to sell tickets. Every secretary of state has encouraged workers to sell tickets but in the past when you’d go out for coffee and return you’d find probably a ticket or so on your desk—worth $100. You either ponied up yourself or got somebody to buy it. With

Ryan, when you went out for a coffee break or to the toilet, you found a hefty stack of tickets—and that stack would have to be satisfied.

In order to pay for that stack often an inch or so thick of $100 tickets and satisfy your patronage obligation, a Ryan worker would have to be as venal as possible about it. Which is the reason why under Ryan, drivers examiners were taking more chances than they ever had before—because the tariff was ungodly high to pay the piper. That’s why so many Ryan examiners turned crooked… many more than under other secretaries of state…and that’s why an illegal alien trucker got on the highway, failed to understand English when someone was trying to warn him about debris tumbling off his truck…and that’s how the six kids were incinerated.

Yeah, Michael, John Kass is a hedgehog—focused on one thing. Not a fox like Royko. Well read Dick Ciccone’s book on the tortured soul that was Royko…and think again about your fox and hedgehog analogy. It’s pretty tough to take your eyes off the spectacle of six kids roasted alive which can be directly laid to corruption, Michael. Maybe you can but then you’re the broadminded kind of guy that I am sure Mike Royko would agree with on this issue.

Yeah, right.


  1. Mike Royko possessed great talent, but he seemed to use it sparingly. He managed to produce only one book ("Boss") that was not compiled from recycled columns. As a columnist, John Kass is consistently better on a wide range of topics. Toward the close of his career, Royko seemed to be coasting and phoning it in most of the time. The worse columnist in recent memory is probably Richard Roeper, the smug adolescent, who has never come close to fulfilling his potential.

  2. You don't know what George Ryan was thinking when he emptied death row. You only know what YOU see as his motives.

    And your report of the Guzman-Willis accident is not supported by what Guzman testified in court. He told the judge that he knew he was being waved over, but he wanted to continue so that he could pick up his load to be paid.

    It casts a different light on how much George Ryan was responsible for the deaths of the children.

  3. By far the best Chicago writer since Finley Peter Dunne, John Kass too often allows his talents to play public executioner on people the Trib 'wants to get.' He's a prose Joey the Clown sometimes: Duffs - Dead men! Torres Dead Man! Ryan Dead Man! Daley - Bullet Proof!

    That's my only beef with Kass.

    Kass' prose is only rivalled by Dan McGrath, The Tribune Sports Editor.

  4. Ryan examiners turned crooked… many more than under other secretaries of state…

    The only difference between Ryan and prior SOS was Ryan&Co were caught because we never previously had a Peter or Patrick Fitzgerald.

    The SOS under Dixon and Powell was more crooked than under Ryan. It was most crooked under Carpentier. And Ryan never changed. Ryan was crooked as Speaker of the House. That is precisely why Big Jim made him wait in line behind Little Jim for his turn at the SOS stepping stone to the mansion.

    Ryan never changed on the issues. He always played the issues to personal political advantage and not for any inner compass.

  5. Let's give Guzman the benefit of the doubt. Even so, Ryan and his goons blocked an investigation and treated the Willises like jerks for wanting the truth about Guzman got a license. I'm not willing to let "Greedy George" off the hook. Amen, Tom, to your comments!

  6. Tell me: How did Ryan "get himself nominated for the Nobel prize"?

    How does one do that?

  7. Can any rational person honestly believe that former Governor George H. Ryan personally reviewed all of the trial records of each and every one of the convicted inmates on death row? Imagine all of the hours spent by prosecutors, judges, jurors and witnesses on all of those cases. Every conviction was fatally flawed? That strains credulity.

    The Office of the Illinois Secretary of State has been a cash cow for years and a top source of patronage positions in state government. It is not especially clean under Jesse White, who has endured several scandals, but has been immunized by the media against serious scrutiny. George H. Ryan ended up wearing the collar for presiding over one of the most corrupt regimes in recent memory as Secretary of State. He lacked Jim Edgar's finesse in selling fundraising tickets. Edgar pushed tickets as well, but his methods were more subtle and inoffensive. How does one get nominated for a Nobel Prize? Cuddling up to Castro and engaging in America bashing helps an awful lot (Cf. Jimmy Carter). I doubt that Ryan bothered to look at any files or to consult with the Prisoner Review Board before he emptied death row. I hope he enjoys his orange jump suit.

  8. In his book "Boss" Royko really took a slam at the De La Salle Christian Brothers who taught at De La Salle in the days when Richard J. Daley was a student there. A reader would have gotten a bad impression of the Brothers based on Royko's book. As someone who was educated by the De La Salle Christian Brothers and someone who is still proud to call himself a "Brothers Boy" I found Mr. Royko's words to be offensive because his words did not match my experience of the Brothers in High School and in College. Royko was nothing but a yellow journalist.

  9. No argument here, Mister Mc Geean. I also received eight years of my education from the Christian Brothers and I am proud of the fact.

    There were mistakes in Royko's book "Boss." He belittled Martin Kennelly for seeking a third term without the support of the Democratic Central Committee (omitting to mention that Richard J. Daley had previously pledged to support Kennelly many months beforehand). Royko went on to the add that the only time in recent memory that a candidate had successfully beaten back the Machine had occurred in an obscure judicial election. Royko missed the fact that Judge Edmund K. Jarecki had been reelected with Martin Kennelly as his principal backer. This may have been a factor in Kennelly deciding to take on an uphill battle since he knew from experience that it was difficult, but not impossible.

    Royko had talent, but I do not think that he ever reached the height of his true potential. He became complacent and contented himself to do the same routine over and over.

  10. Elizabeth

    Nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize can come from many sources. These include: 1. Members of national assemblies and governments of states;
    2. Members of international courts;
    3. University rectors; professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law and theology; directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes; and 4. Others who have received the prize in the past.

    So it would be fairly easy for Ryan to get himself nominated by a friend in government or a university professor. Incidentally, by law (Norwegian), the names of nominees and the nominators are not supposed to be revealed until 50 years later. Wonder how Ryan's name got leaked?

  11. John Kass is an excellent Journalist.