NY v. Ill. Politics: The excitement never ends

What is more exciting: politics in (my home state of) Illinois or politics in (my adopted home state of ) New York?

Illinois: Rod Blagojevich co-stars in “Celebrity Apprentice” in two weeks, the lieutenant governor dropped out of the Ill. lieutenant governor primary about a month ago because he was arrested for domestic abuse, Republican Rep. Mark Kirk has a good shot at the senate (though hopefully not as good as Alexi Giannoulias)

New York: Embattled Gov. Paterson is out, Harold Ford is not running for Senate (relief), Rep. Charlie Rangel has been fingered for taking corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean (and was found in 2008 to rent four rent-stabilizied NYC apartments, like so many other well-off people in this city who certainly don’t need it), maybe Eliot Spitzer will run again and the mayor  of White Plains was arrested this past weekend on charges he beat his wife.

New York wins this round, if you’re one who likes political excitement at the expense of good government, that is. I’m willing to take nominations for other Illinois events, since I am not as in tune with goings-on there.

Remembering a great teacher

I was surprised and saddened to read that my senior year film studies teacher Mr. Harris died of a heart attack on February 9.  He was only 52.  Mr. Harris taught English and film studies and also ran the writing center, which enlisted students to tutor their peers (I did this for two years).  Though I did not love my high school experience, Mr. Harris was one of the redeeming factors for me.  He devised film studies as a real college-level course, with cool academic articles and challenging analytic paper assignments, giving a preview of the kind of critical thinking skills that were later expected of me in college.  I have him to thank for introducing me to the brilliance of Hitchock movies.  In his class, we watched parts of Notorious and all of Rear Window and Psycho.  Plus he talked about dark themes in film which is the kind of thing that appealed to my young, searching, teen-angsty soul.  And he was clairvoyant.  Back in the spring of 2001, he lamented how theaters were not widely playing the film Memento and took us on a class outing to the historic Music Box theater in Chicago to see it.  The movie later became a big hit.

Because I have probably criticized young people for writing things that are trite, I really appreciate that Mr. Harris had such genuine appreciation for what New Trier students produced.  It is teachers liked him who saved us nerdy outsiders from a soul-deadening high school experience and made those years in fact uplifting.  Thank you, Mr. Harris.

Here is his obituary and an article about him and his partner of many years, also a teacher in the North Shore.

Obama was on “Check Please”

I know the video of Barack Obama’s appearance as a food reviewer on the popular Chicago show “Check Please!” has probably made its rounds by this point–my friend Jon linked to it on his food blog already–but I have to mention it because I used to love “Check Please” and other programming on PBS’s local Chicago affiliate WTTW.

Here Obama is plugging Hyde Park soul food restaurant Dixie Kitchen, which also has an outpost in my old college town, Evanston.  It turns out that WTTW never aired the episode because they felt Obama, then the state senator representing the Hyde Park area, overwhelmed the other two guests.  I do remember seeing Dixie Kitchen reviewed on “Check Please” back around this time, when I was pretty into WTTW programming, so maybe they had a later guest review it.  (My other favorite WTTW show of the time followed the El train and launched off into tours of the neighborhoods surrounding each stop.  Did you know there are parts of Chicago–somewhere in the Northwest side–where you can canoe?)  Anyway, the video:

Notice the intent facial expressions of the other guests as Obama opines about the lack of retail and restaurant choices in the South Side.  Just a small preview of what was to come I guess.  A man who can weave “johnny cakes” into an inspiring monologue had what it takes.

Chicago Public School students protest at my high school

The anticipated teach-in comes a day after nearly 1,000 Chicago students sporting book bags and name tags got a tutorial in civic action aimed at spotlighting the disparities in Illinois public education. They missed the first day of city classes and instead attempted to register at two North Shore schools where educators and residents welcomed them. [Chicago Tribune]

The outrage of Mayor Daley and Governor Blagojevich seems a little excessive, considering these students are getting a real civics lesson.  When I was in fifth grade, my class boycotted–or maybe talked about boycotting–the school cafeteria after they decided to stop selling sweets, because we had just learned about the American colonists’ boycott of English goods.

Also, from what I have heard, New Trier students were very welcoming to the CPS students.

Chicago no longer ‘the laughingstock of the nation’

Chicago just lifted a foie gras ban it passed 2-years ago. According to Mayor Richard Daley, the ban made Chicago “the laughingstock of the nation.”

Mayor Richard Daley had called the ban the “silliest ordinance” the city council ever passed[...]

I can tell you, we were laughing pretty hard in my little pocket of the nation about Chicagoans who are too unrefined to eat some goose liver! They are better off sticking to pierogis and hot dogs! Mwa ha.

People like me leaving the Upper Midwest

According to NPR, young adults are leaving Upper Midwestern states like Wisconsin and Illinois after college. My suggestion to policy people and others trying to figure out how to keep us there or lure us back? Make it warmer. On a serious note, playing up the more affordable cost-of-living and the awesomeness of certain cities like Chicago may help too.

Architecture on the river

Sometimes when I miss living in Paris, I think of its uglier manifestations, like Front de Seine, the eyesore that sits on the west side of the Left Bank:

Paris's Front de Seine (Nagram)


In comparison, look at Chicago’s riverside architecture:

Chicago river (National Geographic)

(National Geographic)

The rest of Paris is beautiful, though.

Cool video

I did a search for Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Happening Brother” and found this video clip from the music documentary Save the Children.  It is interspersed with montages of black neighborhoods in early 1970s Chicago, which is especially interesting.  The footage moves from adults on rundown city streets to children at storefront churches to families walking in the park to children playing in fields and on waterslides, evoking the them of saving the children (the footage is from Chicago’s Operation PUSH).

Save the Chicago Transit Authority!

Dear Readers,

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is facing a funding shortfall that threatens its viability as a public transit system for a world class cityAccording to CTA:

Due to insufficient state funding, the CTA will be forced to raise fares and eliminate service. The first fare and service changes will take place on November 4, 2007. If sufficient funding is not received, additional fare increases and service changes will take place on January 6, 2008.

According to the Chicago Tribune:

If Gov. Rod Blagojevich and legislative leaders don’t end months of bickering by Sunday, the CTA has threatened to raise cash fares up to $2.50 a bus ride, eliminate 39 bus routes and layoff more than 600 workers.

As many people have pointed out, this will only push more Chicago area residents to drive to work, clogging already congested roads. 

It would be a disgrace for Illinois not to allocate the funding that would allow the CTA to avoid service cuts and fare increases.  Moreover, it would create a vicious cycle (probably not unsimilar to the state of other public transit systems in this country) where scanter service and higher fares pushes more people from using it, forcing the system itself to postpone repairs, raise fares again, and make evern more service cuts. 

Go to SaveChicagolandTransit.com to support more CTA funding from Springfield.

Chicago’s transportation nightmare

How can my beloved Chicago be sinking into a transportation morass?  The scarcity of funding for the CTA and Pace in Chicago is going to impact the whole area, according to a suburban mayor.  He’s right:

[Elmhurst Mayor Thomas Marcucci] said he realizes there are some in Springfield who could care less if that were to happen. But he said he believes that they would change their minds about the need for new funding if it ever were to happen.

“Everyone in the region is affected by public transportation, whether you ever ride a bus or not,” he said. “Everyone is affected. The buses take thousands and thousands of vehicles off the road every day. So does the heavy rail, Metra, every day.”

This is a good idea.  My solution to this problem: move the capital of the state from Springfield to Chicago.


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