Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Ninth Annual Thanks/No Thanks List

With Turkey Day 2013 just around the corner, it's time to present my annual "Thanks/No Thanks" lists. This tradition has been passed from generation to generation ever since Stuart the Blog Writer jotted down his thoughts in the ancient year of 2005. (There's next to no context; it's just a quick read while I wolf down some sweet potatoes.)

Thanks: The Second City Conservatory program, the entire Chicago improv community, another Stanley Cup in Chicago, gay marriage in Illinois, my two school districts, and above all my friends and family during this trying year.

No Thanks: B-cell lymphoma, government shutdowns, the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, my gradually increasing monthly health care premium, unintentional sleep deprivation, and temp jobs with incompetent management.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fifty Years Later

My father was in the U.S. Army in the late '50s and early '60s, and he was actually assigned to the Pentagon for a couple of years. In fact, Corp. Allard (Spec 5) was on duty in the Department of Defense headquarters the day President Kennedy was assassinated. I asked him about this night, and though I can't give the story justice, he specifically remembered a number of generals panicking upon hearing the news of his death. Secretary McNamara's staff was either catatonic or in tears, and all the phone lines and switchboards were completely jammed. My father was also in military dress at Arlington National Cemetery when Kennedy was buried a few days later.

It seems almost cliche to pinpoint JFK's death as the day America lost its innocence. Indeed, this was the first tumultuous moment in a decade overflowing with violence and tragedy, but the world was changing even when Kennedy was still alive. His passing only accelerated that progress. I have no right to compare or contrast life before JFK, I wasn't alive yet. I can tell you what great music came out in '63 and that's about it. At the same time, this is a milestone in our history that we cannot take trivially. For my generation, it was September 11th. For my grandparents' generation, Pearl Harbor. For my parents and the whole Baby Boomer generation, it was President Kennedy.  With embarrassing scandals and other arbitrary crap dominating the media, I hope people look at this sorrowful 50th anniversary as an opportunity to remember when politics worked and this country had a sense of guarded optimism.

Other notes:

+ Jamie Brown Reed, the woman who first hired me at WZND (the college radio station at ISU) lost her childhood home to the tornado that blasted through central Illinois last weekend. Several other acquaintances of mine also lost everything they had when the twister hit outside Peoria. I highly recommend donating to the American Red Cross if you haven't done so already. They could really use the relief.

+ Dad Update: Our live-in caretaker has been with us for three weeks and change now; she's doing a fine job, though my father is still having his ups and downs. However, last week he spent four days in the hospital with two swollen feet. It doesn't seem like anything serious --a reaction to his medication, if not anything else-- but that doesn't make my family any less concerned. On the bright side, it doesn't look like he'll need chemotherapy, radiation, or dialysis again, at least not until 2014.

+ Finally, some words of wisdom: there is nothing like an impromptu, pay-what-you-can yoga session to remind you that you're not as limber as you think you are.

Next Week: my ninth annual "Thanks/No Thanks" list.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Illinois' Rainbow Connection

For once, I feel proud to be an Illinoisan.

When I heard that the state house would vote to legalize gay marriage again, I was anxious. Unlike other states, the bill had support and opposition within both parties.  When they first voted earlier this year, a coalition of Democrats and moderate "collar county" Republicans were narrowly defeated by both Christian conservatives and African-American Democrats (also on religious grounds). This time around, a handful of black representatives were persuaded to change their minds, and same-sex marriage was legalized by the same narrow margin. Governor Pat Quinn, a career Democrat who has waffled on the sanctity of marriage in the past, agreed to sign the bill when it lands on his desk. Effective next Spring, the Land of Lincoln will be the 15th state to pass such a law. Today in Illinois, logic and freedom trumped bigotry.

Besides the obvious, I'm feeling a new sense of state pride because for once, Springfield actually passed some legislation. Our state government can't approve a budget, but we passed this. Most other issues are just as divided along party lines as anything else in the country. With the GOP assuming control of the state senate last year --the Illinois Republicans' first semblance of moving forward since George Ryan left the governor's office nearly 11 years ago-- nothing is in lockstep. Ineffectual legislating and infighting among state Democrats resulted in losing seats in both houses last November, and Quinn is no sure shot to be reelected next November.

Since assuming the governor's seat after Rod Blagojevich's impeachment, Pat Quinn has been a stable but underwhelming leader.  On multiple occasions I've accused Quinn of being indecisive and doddering, as if Illinois was a dysfunctional family and Quinn is the hapless old uncle who has final say on everything. Despite the infighting, Quinn is the state Democrats' only hope in 2014; early contention from Attorney General Lisa Madigan (daughter of State Speaker/svengali Mike) and former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley (son and brother of former Chicago mayors) both flamed out early. Where Madigan was undone by her father's myriad controversies, Daley didn't feel equipped to run for office.

It's a shame of sorts, because there's a group of seven or eight Republican challengers ready to rip Quinn to shreds next year; whether this turns into Obama vs. Romney in miniature remains to be seen. The state of Illinois has taken a more liberal turn in recent years, something that Quinn can only take half credit for; after legalizing medicinal marijuana and allowing non-U.S. citizens to get driver's licenses, gay marriage was the next logical step. At the same time, Quinn's indecisiveness and unsteady hand of leadership are his undoing, and he is understandably vulnerable to lose his job one year from now. Quinn's best hope is that the wide stable of GOP candidates nearly cancel each other out, just like they did in 2010.

Drama aside, it's a great day to be an Illinoisan.