Reforms Face Uphill Battle

Illinois has a tradition of inept government, and while some people would like to see changes and reform efforts, the system tends to favor the status quo.  Witness initiatives to add term limits to elected officials.  Both gubernatorial candidates, Bruce Rauner and Pat Quinn, support term limits, though Quinn has found that position a little less pleasing now that he’s attempting to win a second term.

But in order to even get such a proposal on the ballot this November, it needs a 3/5 majority from both (heavily Democrat-controlled) legislative houses and approval from the State Board of Elections.  Ask yourself this – how likely are career politicians like Mike Madigan and John Cullerton to let this happen?  After all, they’ve built their fortunes and power base through longevity.  It term limits did make it onto the ballot, polling indicates the voters would support it – but that’s if, if such an initiative can be worded simply enough for everyone to make sense of it.  Anyone who’s voted in Illinois a few times has seen their share of vague and murky language.  Still, if Rauner threw some money behind it, maybe we could get term limits. Continue reading

Science & Industry

Last week we took in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, which turned out to be the highlight of an otherwise low-key Spring Break for the family.  What a place – especially for curious young minds.

museum-S-I-2A lot has changed since the last time I visited this museum (way back in high school).  The volume of interactive exhibits and activities is impressive.  Seems like everywhere we turned we found another place to do stuff as we learned about it.

I remember being excited about going to museums as a kid – I loved to see and read, see and read about the displays.  At the Museum of Science and Industry, though, they’re not content with only reaching the readers.  As a result, the whole experience seemed more immersive, more kinetic (and certainly a little more chaotic).

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Hey, Nike – We are Fighting Illini!

A big fuss in Champaign-Urbana this week:  the much anticipated Nike uniform brand update happened at the Krannert Center, with Illini athletes from the various sports teams modeling the new look.  It’s a pretty big deal for the University of Illinois in this era of brand identity, intensive marketing, and team gear residual sales.  We get a new look, a unified new font, an updated shade of orange that’s easier to mass reproduce, and 1LL1NO1S.  We get two logos, one new and one very familiar:

We have Nike marketing guys talking about how they studied the history and tradition of the University of Illinois athletics, how they incorporated the Galloping Ghost, etc.  Our type face that “leans forward ready to take on the competition”, with “sleek and powerful serifs”.  It looks good – don’t get me wrong.  The design elements are slick; I really like the look of the football uniforms; the orange really pops, and the Victory Badge look fantastic on the volleyball shirts.  Check the official gallery.

But they seem to have forgotten one very important detail:  We are FIGHTING ILLINI.  If you look at the new unis, you see a lot of 1LL1NO1S, but you don’t see much Fighting Illini.  The question for most of us:  was this a Nike call or a University call?

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Now 342% more fuel efficient

Sometimes you have re-assess and analyze things.  Then you have to trust your conclusions.

This winter, which has been the worst in quite a few years, had about two days when I really needed my truck’s four-wheel-drive.  And even on those two days, I could have and did go out and about in the van (aka the tank).  This realization, while filling up at the pump and wincing, led me to a little analysis of what I’d actually hauled with my truck over the past year.  True, we hauled a piano on a flatbed and took a mattress and box springs over to my Mom’s house, but other than that…  Primary cargo is children.  Children to an from activities.  Mostly in town.  I did a little more analysis on cost-per-mile.  Then I started researching, shopping, assessing the options, and…

Ninja-mobile

Ninja-mobile

Yeah, we’re a Prius clan now.  Beemsville:  now 342% more fuel efficient (14 mpg to 48 mpg).

So far, we like it.  It’s the little black ninja-car.  Silent, stealthy, quick, patient.  The dashboard setup and controls remind me of Darth Vader’s Tie-Fighter.  It has lots of secret compartments.  Will it pay off for us in the end?  That’s probably a 3-4 year question.  Check back with me then.  Just keep Dirty Mike and the Boys away from my house.

And now a moment of silence for Scott Beem, truck guy.  14 years with a truck – many-a-couch, television, second-hand exercise bike, boxes upon boxes, and loads of firewood hauled.  Many moves facilitated.  Grandpa always said you needed a truck around, and as a farmer all his life, he did.  Grandpa also liked cool gadgets and new technology.  He was good with math, too.  And we still have the tank (van) for long trips and intermediate hauling…

And, hey, I’m the Prius and Mini-Van guy…  Did that just happen?  Maybe we need to start looking into a motorcycle or speed boat or some powered combat armor or…

Applause for my girl

It’s been a big week for my daughter.  She just had a birthday, and as my mom pointed out:  she’s now lived with you in your house longer than she will live with you.  This gave me and the wife pause, and then it kind of hit me:  Mom’s probably right.  Oof.  The teen-aged years will soon be upon us.

But at this point, we’re really not all that worried.  My girl has a lot on the ball.  Parent-teacher conferences are like the highlight of the month when they occur.  She has lots of friends but not just one best friend without whom she can’t function.  She does her homework on her own.  She loves to read.  She’s kind to her little brother and often more patient with him than me (and that boy will try your patience).  In sports, she plays hard and smart and listens.

Last week was her first time at band contest, a trumpet solo.  We were well-prepared.  She can play the Jurassic Park theme without missing a note, with good dynamics and intonation.  But…  after warming up in the practice area, our piano accompanist was running behind (because there are never enough piano players these days), so she had to sit in the room with the judge for about twenty minutes waiting.  The judge was great, trying to put her at ease, talking to her about dinosaurs.  She seemed OK if not completely calm.  Continue reading

Dead Last

Last week we saw it in the news:  Illinois ranks last in the nation when it comes to how much money the state kicks in for public education.  Dead last.  Again.  It’s been that way for the last couple of years.  Officials were quick to point out that it’s a ‘complicated formula’ making this determination, but once again, the state will only pay 89% of what it said it would pay to school districts and universities.

You want to know what years and years of gross mismanagement and corruption will get you?  Look no farther than your schools.  In our town they’re looking to cut teacher positions at the high schools and eliminate a period in the school day.  The current budget shortfalls are unsustainable, but the consensus is our electorate is unlikely to pass a small property tax increase to fund the schools.  Out in the rural areas, they’ve already passed these property tax increases (because it’s the only way to increase revenue at the local level), so everyone is paying more for schools that are often under-performing or cutting curriculum and activity choices.

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Christmastime = Finals

Watching the wifely whirlwind this time of year always imbues a certain sense of awe.  The cards, the cookies, the school parties, the calendars…   Gift planning and dispersal.  Meal prep.  Recording the Christmas specials on TV.  Thematic coordination of wrapping paper.

Mostly with a smile.  Mostly with chin up and a sense of yuletide determination.  The late nights, the sleep deprivation, striving towards the 25th, when the kids tear through the wrapping paper and we feast mid-winters and yes, she can once again sleep an entire night.

Like final exams for moms.  And, just like finals, she’s better at it than I am.  The execution requiring more patience, better planning, and stubborn stamina.  Sometimes I would ace a final, but more often than not I found myself feeling ill-prepared and wondering how much it would hurt my grade.  Not so with the better half.

Sure, I can hang the lights outside, carry in the tree, provide the occasional assist.  But Christmastime is the mom’s time to shine.  So raise your glasses.  Help with the clean-up.  Let her sleep in and maybe indulge  that extra glass of wine on New Year’s Eve.  She’s earned it.

Worth Braggin’

You can look at the box scores, you can read the game summary.  It ends up as a very important win for the Fighting Illini.  The annual Braggin’ Rights border battle against Missouri in St. Louis rarely fails to live up to the hype.  We watched as a family, with me trying to control myself and explain things to the kids.  The wife worked on stuff on her laptop and sent several arch looks my way when I started talking to the refs and the TV.  There was yelling and jumping at the end, when Ray nearly stole it and forced a bad three at the buzzer.  Now the holidays can begin as they should:  with Mizzou defeated and that border trophy on its way back to Champaign.

Yes, this was an important win for Illinois.  That signature non-conference victory that could be very big come March.  Beating a ranked team, and pulling it out at the end with a strong finish.  A confidence-builder, a toughness  win.

The toughness factor is what we’ll hang our hat on.  Tracy Abrams led the way there, driving, drawing fouls, and finishing.  And those two made free throws with four seconds left…  Ray Rice made plays to keep us in the game even if this wasn’t his best offensive night.  Jon Ekey with the clutch three.  Bertrand and Egwu and  the freshmen chipping in at key points.  Statistically it was very even, but the Illini seemed to get all the loose balls and tough rebounds the last eight minutes or so.  That will win you close games.

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Pension Reform?

A funny thing happened in Springfield yesterday:  the state legislature actually did something.  They passed a bill to cut benefits from Illinois’ ridiculously underfunded pension system.  Political leaders like Governor Pat Quinn and House Speaker Mike Madigan will point to $130 billion in savings over the next 30 years and move on to their re-election campaigns for 2014.  Predictably, those dependent on the pensions are angry.  We had a contract, they say.  It’s unconstitutional, they say.  See you in court, they warn.  And, of course, that’s the next step.

To us it looks like Illinois is finally accepting it’s lot as a state declaring bankruptcy.  Unfunded pension liability has been dragging the state down for decades.  Meanwhile, the court systems continue to opine against the ‘too big to fail’ mentality for state and local government.  Look at what happened in Michigan yesterday: a bankruptcy court refused to lump local municipal pension failures on the state government.  So what do you do if it’s the next level of government taken to court with no funds?  Appeal to the President?

We note with interest (as has everyone else) that the current plan leaves the pensions of the state judges alone (to avoid conflict of interest, wink-wink, said Madigan).  Right.

This won’t truly be resolved anytime soon, and today there are a lot of state and local government workers and retirees who are feeling uneasy.  As well they should.  Their financial futures are (and have been) in the hands of a pretty bad lot of politicians within one of the worst government set-ups in the country.  We sympathize, but the money’s just not there.

Rough Weekend for I-L-L

chief_logo_upsideFor the Fighting Illini, it started on Friday, when we learned one key recruit who had previously committed to Coach John Groce’s team changed his mind and decided to go with his hometown school.  It continued in Chicago later that day, where a future NBA player and prodigious talent (and potential program changing guy) decided to pad the numbers at Kansas when many (including us) thought he was an Illini lean.  Bill Self and Jerrance Howard haunt us again.  The less said about that the better.  As usual, Robert at A Lion Eye/Illiniboard summed it up best.

Saturday, our first and only family outing to a football game at Memorial Stadium, and the Buckeyes were in town.  Why would we choose that game as our family outing?  Simple, really – extended family from Columbus were in town as well as my sister up from Texas.  The final score of that game 60-35 Ohio State.  And the game was on ESPN, which means they talked about our conference losing streak about 62 more times.

Sunday we learned the Illini hoops game against Bradley was not on TV.  It was on the Big Ten Network’s Digital-only internet feed (a pay service).  Why was this game not on local TV?  People care about watching two downstate schools play?  When the Big Ten Network went live, they assured us these types of things would no longer happen – games would be broadcast on their overflow channels.  Why, Mike Thomas?  And we see another game in December has likewise been relegated to the internet.  Not cool.  To make matters worse, driving back from St. Louis during the first half, and I couldn’t find the game on AM radio after losing the St. Louis station.  What?  No Illini hoops on local radio between Greenville and Divernon on I55?  When did this happen.

Silver linings, though.  Turns out, the Taylorville/Pana FM station was carrying the game once I checked.  Still pretty mad about the TV situation. Continue reading