Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Bloomington Pantagraph. January 26, 2024.

Editorial: Black History Month is vital

Arguments about diversity have dominated our cultural discussions for the last decade. From #metoo to George Floyd, from Colin Kaepernick to “go woke, go broke,” our conversations can become more about winning and less about doing the right thing.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have returned to the fore. DEI initiatives want people from different backgrounds to all be treated fairly and included. The execution of diversity has always thrown some sections of our society into a tizzy, and now is no different than 50 years ago.

The arrival of Black History Month, which is celebrated in February, is here just in time to add some kindling to the discussion.

Some in our society find Black History Month as a gift to its subjects rather than a gift to all of us. The observance points us toward people and occurrences that may have been lost to history for some audience members.

Black History Month is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of Black individuals in various fields. From trailblazing leaders and activists to groundbreaking artists, scientists, and athletes, their achievements have shaped both Black history and global history. It provides an opportunity to acknowledge the significant contributions that Black communities have made to society.

Black History Month serves as a platform for education and awareness. A key facet of understanding history is understanding who wrote the history and how they view the world whose history they’re writing.

Additional platforms for history are always good. Toward that end, Black History Month allows us to explore and learn about the struggles and triumphs of Black communities, offering a chance for individuals to expand their knowledge, challenge stereotypes and foster a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of history.

The month also promotes the importance of diversity and inclusion. (There are those words again.) It highlights the need for a society that embraces and respects people of all backgrounds, fostering a sense of unity and shared humanity.

An accurate history also includes some sections we might prefer to ignore or forget. Black History Month prompts reflection on the historical injustices faced by Black communities and the ongoing fight against systemic racism. It encourages conversations about social justice and the need for collective action to create a more equitable and just society. Those conversations don’t have to be forums to find blame. However, acknowledging what went wrong and vowing to do better is vital.

The stories of resilience, courage, and perseverance showcased during Black History Month serve as inspiration for future generations. By recognizing the achievements of Black individuals, we instill a sense of pride and possibility, motivating young minds to aspire for greatness.

The most important parts of our history are the ones that show us all being the best that we can be and finding reward in that.

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Chicago Sun-Times. January 24, 2024.

Editorial: Keep red dye No. 3, other potentially harmful additives out of food to protect Illinoisans’ health

If there is evidence that some food additives can lead to physical and mental ailments, it makes sense to keep them from going into people’s bodies.

Artificial coloring may give our food some pizazz, but the potential adverse effects of ingesting products with the eye-catching accents, particularly red dye, has been cause for concerns for decades.

Other red dyes have been banned previously because of studies linking them to cancer. However, red dye No. 3 remains a staple in many items found in grocery stores, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibited the cosmetics industry from using the additive for similar reasons in 1990.

A proposed bill that would outlaw retail sales of edibles and drinks that contain red dye No. 3 by 2027 could help Illinoisans stay healthier, especially children who are drawn to foods brightened by the synthetic, which has also been associated with behavioral problems in boys and girls.

What makes the pending legislation especially forward-looking is that it aims to put the brakes on the sale on other potentially harmful ingredients: brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate and propylparaben. State Sen. Willie Preston, D-Chicago, who introduced Senate Bill 2637, also plans to add titanium dioxide, a whitening agent, to the list, the Sun-Times’ Stephanie Zimmermann reported.

All five substances, though “generally recognized as safe” by the International Food Additives Council, are banned by the European Union. California also outlawed those same ingredients in the fall, except for titanium dioxide, which has links to genotoxicity (meaning it can cause cell mutations) and intestinal inflammation.

Not all additives pose a threat. Some facilitate large-scale food production. Some enhance flavors and ensure that food and beverages don’t spoil on supermarket shelves.

But if there is evidence an additive can lead to physical and mental ailments, it makes sense to keep people from ingesting them while finding safe alternatives to replace them.

It’s not about removing choice, but about advocating for safe ingredients, as Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, who strongly supports the legislation, says.

Brominated vegetable oil, which is used as an emulsifier, has been linked to metabolic disorders. Potassium bromate, a chemical used to strengthen dough, has been identified as a possible human carcinogen in various studies. And propylparaben, used as a preservative in some baked goods, can potentially lead to hormonal and reproductive issues.

Eliminating those ingredients, along with red dye No. 3 and titanium dioxide, would help take out the guesswork for consumers, who may end up scratching their heads while reading food labels.

The U.S. has been mostly reactive when it comes to restricting what can be put in food. The EU is more proactive, requiring additives be proven safe before they can be used in foods and drink.

Emulating the proactive approach will protect Illinoisans in the long run.

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Chicago Tribune. January 29, 2024.

Editorial: Funny interstate road signs do no harm, Secretary Buttigieg.

You’ve likely seen the funny electronic signs on highways around the country: “Drive Hammered, Get Nailed,” “Don’t Drive Intexticated,” or, for Chicago hot dog fans, “No Texting, No Speeding, No Ketchup.”

Did you also hear the one about the federal bureaucrats trying to ban humor in those messages flashed to drivers? That one is no joke.

The U.S. Federal Highway Administration is pushing to end any funny business on roadway signs.

In an 1,113-page rule book published last month, the Feds claimed those messages might be “misunderstood or understood only by a limited segment of road users and require greater time to process and understand.” And while the agency isn’t outright banning humorous text, it is strongly recommending against it.

You’d think a bunch of government employees who commute on the treacherous Washington Beltway would want any laughs they could get. Instead, they’ve decreed that signs should be “simple, direct, brief, legible and clear.” The rule book even gives a couple of examples, including, “Impaired Drivers Lose License + Jail.”

We understand that America is a melting pot and plenty of motorists unfamiliar with American slang and local culture might not get the jokes in signs such as Boston’s famous, “Use Ya Blinkah.” But the government’s preferred phrase using the word “impaired” is surely no simpler or easy to understand.

The same goes for the bureaucrats’ mandate to convey legal requirements and not just slogans. So instead of the straightforward, “Don’t Text, Just Drive,” the hardworking lawyers at the Transportation Department strongly recommend, “No Hand-Held Phone by Driver.”

Obviously, so much better.

This spoilsport effort has become fodder for late-night comedy routines and gripes about liberal overlords such as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg banishing all fun. But there’s a serious side.

Roadway deaths have been trending in the wrong direction, after many decades of progress. While the latest figures show a slight improvement, the high death rates — especially pedestrian fatalities — should give everyone pause.

The reasons are not exactly known, but anyone who drives can name a few likely suspects. Smartphones, for starters, divert attention from the road, and traffic cops are hard-pressed to enforce the weak laws against texting while driving.

The growth in the Sun Belt’s population is also a factor. The Southern U.S. is awash in multilane roads with fast speed limits, dim lighting and no sidewalks, bike lanes or crosswalks — a recipe for fatal accidents. The poor and homeless who tend to congregate on foot along those roads are especially vulnerable.

Some attribute highway fatalities to the legalization of cannabis, others to the blinding LED headlights and distracting touch screens on today’s cars. Everyone who gets behind the wheel has a favorite pet peeve.

The results are grim. The U.S. vehicle death rate is much higher than in most European countries, for instance. The New York Times recently reported that the death rate on the roads of crowded Britain is five times lower.

The U.S. can do better. Building safer crosswalks is relatively cheap. So is upgrading the lighting and reducing speed limits. And while it requires more investment, there clearly is a need to reduce the number of U.S. grade crossings between road and rail: the fatalities in Florida involving the new Brightline train and road vehicles are unsettling, as was the news last week of a young woman in Barrington being killed by a Metra train.

Taking humor out of electronic road signs? A waste of time.

Many states, Illinois included, have used the popularity of humorous signs to promote highway safety. This is a tried-and-true tactic: Illinois highway officials recognized the opportunity years ago by launching contests and otherwise taking advantage of interest in its funny signs to get the message out that people should not drive while drunk, texting or enraged.

A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation explained to the Chicago Tribune during a 2018 safe-driving campaign that, without humor, the electronic signs get stale: “If we can catch someone’s attention for just a second and let them know there are life-and-death consequences when they’re on the road, that’s what we want to do.”

Her observation is supported by a surprisingly robust body of research showing that humor helps to get messages across: This is why airlines create those humorous safety videos, each specifically designed to get you to actually look at the screen and not your phone. There’s an academic journal and international research conference devoted to how humor can make everything from management to journalism more effective.

Ever notice how many TV spots use humor to build brand awareness and sell products? That’s no accident. And while marketing gurus still debate how well humor sells, there’s no debate about the billions that savvy companies devote to funny ads. Just wait for this year’s Super Bowl.

So thanks for your agency’s strong recommendation against funny signs, Secretary Buttigieg, which we strongly recommend that everyone ignore.

Now let’s get to work on actually making our roads safer.

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