Because my weary cynicism never permitted me to believe that red light enforcement cameras were ever really about increasing safety, I was unable to take at face value the city's claim last week that 36 such cameras are being removed because their safety-enhancing work has been accomplished.
I'd like to believe otherwise. I'd like to believe that it's simply a coincidence that city officials are ostentatiously decommissioning about 10 percent of the red light cameras just as the new speed camera program is about to begin issuing tickets to lead-footed motorists. I'd like to believe that in no way was the timing meant to convey the message that, see, it is about safety, not revenue generation.
But it's hard. City Inspector General Joseph Ferguson conducted an audit of the 10-year-old red light camera program and released a letter in May decrying "a lack of basic record keeping and an alarming lack of analysis" by those advancing the safety justification. He noted that the city issued 612,278 red light camera tickets in 2012 and collected nearly $72 million in fines.
Camera-issued speeding tickets will be $35 for cars that exceed posted speeds by 6 to 10 mph and $100 for those going more than 10 mph over the speed limit. Those who start getting such tickets in the mail — particularly the smaller tickets, where the violation is arguably in the zone that's often accepted by custom — are going to be wroth. And it's difficult not to see the removal of some of the red light cameras as a pre-emptive strike against the inevitable "it's all about the money!" backlash.
That said, I get it. And, on balance, I'm happy that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is cracking down on the scourge of urban speeders, no matter what his true motives might be. Speeders are a lot more dangerous to pedestrians and other motorists than the hapless folks who've been ticketed several times when the cameras detected them not coming to a complete stop before turning right on red when there were no other cars or people present, I swear!
Anyway. It's not going to work. The pre-emptive strike, I mean. The speed camera program will work just fine, probably too well. But as long as it keeps cranking out tickets for 6 to 10 mph violations, we cynics will continue to grow more and more weary at the claim that it's all for our safety.
A vote for Ralphie:
"The Simpsons" producer Al Jean recently announced plans to kill off one of the animated series' regular characters later this season — the 25th — or early next season.
He has plenty to choose from, which made this a fine topic for discussion online last week. I enjoy nearly all the characters, but if I had to choose one to meet an untimely end it would be Ralph Wiggum, the idiotic, nose-picking son of the town's police chief, whose main contributions are non sequiturs on the order of "My cat's breath smells like cat food."
I could make a better argument for dusting Apu, the Indian-American owner of the Kwik-E-Mart convenience store, purely on the grounds that the ethnic stereotyping of his character comes at least very close to the line of offensiveness. But he's very funny and, as my daughter points out, his demise would outrage and stymie those who construct crossword puzzles for a living.
"The Simpsons" last offed a significant character in 2000 when judgmental Christian Maude Flanders — "She taught us the joy of shame and the shame of joy" — died after being knocked off a grandstand when hit by T-shirt cannons.
And it's quite rare for episodic comedy programs to have regular characters die when there's no external reason for it, such as the unavailability of the actor. One example that comes to mind is the character of Susan Ross in "Seinfeld," George's fiancee, who perished in 1996 after licking toxic glue on cheap wedding invitations.
Dateline Washington, D.C, Oct. 1, 2023:
It's hard to believe, but 10 years ago today, this nation was so riven by the debut of what was then called Obamacare that members of the tea party — then called the Republican Party — effected a partial shutdown of the federal government and threatened to crash the U.S. economy if Democrats didn't agree to delay the landmark health insurance reforms.
Though the job-killing calamities the tea partyers predicted never came to pass, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 proved so glitchy and complex in its first several years after implementation that Congress ultimately scrapped the idea of trying to use the private insurance market to provide universal coverage.
They replaced it with the basic-coverage-for-all model we now know as Americare.
Polls show 70 percent of Americans say the investment in Americare is worth the cost and believe that it's been an overall boon to the economy, though 60 percent also say it was faster and easier to obtain care when private health insurance dominated the market.
President Chelsea Clinton said there were no plans to mark the anniversary.
How to fix baseball's broken playoff system:
In Change of Subject's new, weekly sports chat segment online, I presented the plan of Tim Roznowski, of Richmond, to make the Major League Baseball playoffs more fair:
"The wild card teams play a 2 out of 3 series and the winner plays the team with the best record in the league in a 3 out of 5 series. The other two division champs play a 4 out of 7 series. That way the team with the best record has to win three games to get to the League Championship Series, the other division champs have to win four games and the wild cards have to win five games."
Have a better idea? Have your own prediction for what Obamacare anniversary stories will say a decade from now? Want to nominate a "Simpsons" character for cartoon death? Join the conversations at chicagotribune.com/zorn