unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

The Numbers Don’t Lie! Do They???

As you may know, there is a flap over the number of people who attended Wednesday’s school closings march and rally.  This article in today’s Chicago Sun-Times outlines the respective positions of the police–who had estimated the number between 700 and 900–and the Chicago Teachers Union–who put the number between 5,000 and 6,000.  The Sun-Times did its own count by using a photo of the rally and put the number at about 2,750.

This is not the first time there’s been a heated disagreement about attendance numbers at a high-profile event.  It happened at the Million Man March, too, as I recall.

It brings to mind an old joke about accountants.  A company interviewed three candidates for a job in the accounting department.  The first applicant was given a set of numbers and told to come up with the correct answer.  Applicant number one worked with the numbers and then said, “This is the correct result.”  He was told the company would keep him in mind.

The second applicant worked with the numbers and then said, “This is the correct result.”  He was told the company would keep him in mind.

The third applicant was given the same set of numbers, glanced at them and then told the interviewer, “What do you WANT the answer to be?”  He was hired on the spot.

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And now presenting…the Three Baritones!

You’ve probably heard of the Three Tenors, the Irish Tenors and the Ten Tenors, I assume?  Now comes word of a new group, the Three Baritones.  That’s what I’m calling a newly constituted group that will be singing the national anthem on opening day for the White Sox.  Those three singers happen to be me and my two sons, Dan (a reporter for WGN-TV) and Anthony (an anchor-reporter for NBC-5).  The Sox asked us and we couldn’t refuse.   For lifelong Sox fans, this is a huge honor!

As some of you may know, Dan was a professional singer (with the group he founded, Straight No Chaser) and Anthony has a nice singing voice, too.  Here’s a clip of them earlier this year singing at a charity event:

As for me, I haven’t performed the national anthem since I was part of a group called The Singing Ushers at East Chicago Washington High School in northwest Indiana.  We would sing the national anthem at basketball games and then help people to their seats.  Nice duty.

So we are rehearsing so we can try to do a decent job.  As I told my sons — to use baseball terminology — we don’t have to hit it out of the park, we just have to make contact with the ball.   Also, I hope that the law of low expectations will help carry the day!

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Would This Interview Have Upset You?

I watched the Brian Williams interview with the Emanuel brothers — Rahm, Ezekiel and Ari — and was later surprised that brother Ari was upset with how it went.  The story aired Friday on “Rock Center” to promote brother Ezekiel’s new book, Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family. According to reports, top Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel wrote NBC to complain about Brian Williams’ “contentious” interview with the three of them.

I thought the interview was largely light-hearted with only a couple of serious moments that didn’t seem untoward or overly aggressive.  What do you think?  Did Ari have reason to gripe?

Watch the interview here.

My reaction to it, frankly, was that it was fascinating to see three high-powered siblings interact with each other.  It’s unusual to see the mayor in a situation where he’s not center stage all the time, and from that standpoint alone, the segment held my interest.  Of course, so much of how an encounter is perceived depends on the editing.  Even so, these three must have had some remarkable dinner table conversations growing up.


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The Indispensability of Brian Urlacher

The news that Brian Urlacher and the Bears have parted company got me thinking about one of my favorite poems.  In his heyday, it was impossible to think of the Bears without thinking of Urlacher.  Just as it was once impossible to not think Michael Jordan was the Bulls.  I’m sure at one point it was impossible to think of America without FDR or Rome without the Ceasars.

Each person of prominence, whether it’s on a sports team, a company, in politics–whatever–has his or her day in the sun but then it comes to an end.  Some people might be lucky enough to be honored by statues, memorials or a plaque.  But how many people has the world found it impossible to do without?  Read on!

“Indispensable Man” by Saxon White Kessinger

Sometime when you’re feeling important;
Sometime when your ego’s in bloom
Sometime when you take it for granted
You’re the best qualified in the room,

Sometime when you feel that your going
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul;

Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining
Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.

You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop and you’ll find that in no time
It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example
Is do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There’s no indispensable man

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Could Women One Day Help Elect a New Pope?

As the new pope was inaugurated today, it occurred to me how little I know about the rules of picking a pope.  For example, could the rules be changed to allow women who head religious orders to participate in picking a pope?  Could the rule that only cardinals choose a pope be changed?  Is that a rule a pope could change?  I’m sure that there are some very easy answers to these naive questions.  But I don’t know the answers.  So I resolve to ask them of my guests tonight when we take up the pope’s inauguration on Chicago Tonight!

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The Three Components of a Great Vacation

bigbendA recent vacation to the vast and remote Big Bend National Park in west Texas got me to thinking about something a very smart person once told me about vacations.  He said that a great vacation has three components, and that, in a certain sense, the vacation itself can be the least important.  The three elements are:  the anticipation, the vacation experience, and the memories.  It’s true. 

bigbend2Being able to look forward to a planned vacation is such a stress reliever; knowing that a breather is on the way can do so much to help keep you centered.  This tranquilizer can last for months as you look forward to your trip.

bigbend3And the vacation itself, even if it’s only for a few days, does help you vacate your mind from its regular routine.  Going someplace new makes my senses hyper alert so that I have no choice but to be in the moment and not think about my normal routine.

bigbend4And to quote a cliché, memories last a lifetime.  When my wife and I were driving through Big Bend I said that I was upset that I wouldn’t be able to remember every single vista just as we were experiencing it.  But pictures help, right?  So here are a few to help you vacate–even if it’s for just a few seconds!

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About That Border…

philbyriograndeAs I wrote on Monday, my wife and I recently spent a few days at Big Bend National Park in west Texas.  The park is strikingly beautiful with vast desert vistas pierced by mountains born in the area’s ancient and violent volcanic past.  Big Bend is huge and — because it is relatively remote — not very crowded.

One feature of the park that made a big impression on me is its southern border:  the Rio Grande River, which also separates the park from Mexico.  The river winds its way through both canyons and areas that are relatively wide open.  And in many places in the park, it is very easy to wade to the Mexican side.  In the picture above, I am on the American side looking at rocks, but the flow of water right in front of me is only about seven or eight feet wide.  It would have been nothing to cross over to the Mexican side (something I didn’t do).

The debate over immigration reform has been vexing and robust — as befits any topic with multiple dimensions and competing equities.  But there’s nothing theoretical about a narrow stream of water.  It just flows by you.  Very simply.  Hardly making a sound at all.

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When the World Stops to Watch

Not everyone has access to a television or radio during the workday like those of us in the news business.  But, as I was watching the announcement of the new Pope, it occurred to me how relatively few events  can capture world attention, even for a short time.  I don’t mean high-profile tragedies or wars — those are a given as attention magnets; I mean those events that are significant to the world community as a rite of passage or ceremony of note.

Whether or not one is Roman Catholic, it’s hard not to take pause or at least note when a new spiritual leader is chosen for 1.2 billion people, one-fourth of the world’s population.  I don’t know how it compares to the election of a new American president, but I would guess it’s at least of greater interest than the selection of a new Secretary General of the U.N.   I assume the coronation of a new monarch in England might draw a big worldwide audience, but truly, how often does the world stop to take notice of a non-violent event?  Maybe the soccer World Cup or the Olympics?   Or–heaven help us–the Oscars!


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Radio For A Wide Range

near MarfaMy wife and I took a trip to west Texas recently for two reasons:  to visit Big Bend National Park and the arts community of Marfa.  Big Bend is one of the largest national parks and one of the least visited.  It is a stunning mixture of desert and mountains under a sky that is improbably big.  Marfa is a town of about 2,000 residents that also is improbable.  Marfa is in one of the poorest counties in the country, and at the same time, home to a remarkable and thriving arts community — one whose overarching aesthetic is minimal art by such practitioners as the late Donald Judd, who came here in the 1970s and got the ball rolling.

Another revelation was the existence of KRTS 93.5FM Marfa Public Radio.  It’s a cracker jack operation run by a sharp and appealing former Chicagoan, Tom Michael.  The station has only been around since 2006, but it’s already built a strong record of programming and service.   Here’s an article in The New York Times about its inception.  Here’s another one about the role it played in covering devastating wildfires.  If you find yourself in west Texas, you owe it to yourself to tune in.  The tagline for the station is, “Radio for a wide range.”  That includes city slickers from Chicago!

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