Yikes! How did I get here, surrounded by anti-Whiteco diatribes, anti-smoking screeds, anti-anti-smoking rebuttals, and anti-Milstein manifestos? Impending economic disaster! Surreptitious subsidies! Machivellian Milsteinian malevolence! Second-hand innuendo!

Holy cripe! I’m stuck in the land of exclamation points!

As one astute Chicago Tribune commentator pointed out last week, we’re in a crisis of crisis rhetoric! We’re suffering an epidemic of exclamation! We’re being hoisted by our own hyberbole!

There I go again … I need to settle down.

How did I get here? After spinning my speculations on the third page of the feature section for over a dozen years, people around here started fighting over me?#34;two women, in fact, and I can assure you that doesn’t happen very often. The viewpoints editor thought my bombastic broadsides would be a perfect fit for her section. The express editor wanted me to keep bringing all 17 of my readers into that section.

Like Billy Martin in the old Lite beer commercials, I felt very strongly both ways.

Still, it’s nice to be wanted. Besides, now they can run Susan Cross’ venomous, hateful letters about how hateful and venomous I am right next to my column! And they can put Greg Saganich’s reason-impaired sneering there, too. What better company could a columnist keep?

But I have to admit, the atmosphere is a lot more charged here. Things were nice and peaceful and cultured back in express. I’ll need to stay on my toes.

And I’ve got some catching up to do, so here’s a litany of quick-hit opinions just to juice the back-and-forth:

? Why would we trust George Bush with our Social Security after he fooled us into invading Iraq? Shame on us if we do.

? For those who think we’re of one mind with our weekly editorials (opposite page), I strongly disagreed with our position last week on opening up the Marion Street mall. It isn’t likely to ease traffic snarls and may make them worse. What’s more, the vast majority of merchants on the mall agree with me. That should count for something. Keep it closed, give it a much-needed facelift, and make it a community gathering place.

? I agree (mostly) with our position on Whiteco. Yes, the size of the subsidy bothers me. Yes, village staff came off looking pretty inept throughout the entire process, and I haven’t seen any sign that they recognize it and/or learned any lessons. That bothers me even more because it bodes poorly for the future. And I have questions about whether enough people are willing to pay that much just to rent an apartment. On the other hand, I haven’t found the anti-Whiteco arguments compelling enough to start the whole process over from scratch. No doubt we could have done better than what we’re getting, but we’re getting something significantly better than the first proposal, thanks largely to the laudable efforts of the opposition?#34;and an empty lot with no prospects is worse.

? I like Joanne Trapani, I respect her community service, but I’m really glad she’s not running for re-election. It’s time for a less combative village president.

? People don’t go to bars to smoke. They go to drink. Tolerating smoking is insane now that everyone knows what it does. Nicotine is highly and universally addictive, as opposed to alcohol which is selectively addictive. Smoking damages everyone, not just the users. You can make a very qualified case for alcohol in moderation (taste, Dionysian indulgence). With smoking, there is no moderation, and there is no redeeming value.

I think people go to a particular establishment because they like that establishment, not because it’s closer than Forest Park. Smokers have adjusted to lots of restrictions. They’ll adjust to this, too. Ban it.

We’re supposed to be a progressive community.

It’s time we started acting like one.

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