Growing Up In Sullivan: Antiquated Modes of Communicating

Ginther•May 18, 2016•

By Jerry L. Ginther
NP Columnist

The landline telegraph was, in its day, the fastest and most dependable mode of communication available. Used by companies such as Western Union for sending messages known as telegrams over long distances, it became a large and profitable business especially for urgent matters. The newspapers also made use of this rapid method of disseminating their breaking news stories across the continent in a matter of minutes, where prior to its use news traveled very slowly, taking days to reach distant locations.

Telegraph offices were located mostly in railroad depots in every town along the tracks. At its inception, the railroads were the primary providers and users of this communication system, using it for their daily operation to know the location of each train on their lines. The station operator would telegraph the arrival and departure of the trains to a dispatcher, thereby providing him with the information needed to arrange meeting points between opposing trains.

With the advent of the landline telephone system, the telegraph became less and less used as a speedy method for transmitting messages for the public but was still relied upon heavily by newswire services, railroads and even for large operations occupying several floors in the same building, such as the stock exchanges. These businesses used a closed circuit telegraph system within the building they occupied. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Boy, Do We Ever Need “Dealmakers” Now

Nowlan•May 18, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Veteran newsman Bob Hartley has drawn generally affectionate portraits of three large-in-life, colorful southern Illinois politicians from the mid-20th Century in “The Dealmakers of Downstate Illinois” (SIU Press, 2016).

There may be some lessons for pols today.

Until one man-one vote districting in the 1960s, deep southern Illinois often dominated Illinois politics. Today the great swath of the Prairie State south of I-70, the only identifiable region of our state outside Chicago, doesn’t even claim its own congressman, the population-starved region carved up to serve interests farther north.

Yet in chronicling the lives of John Stelle (McLeansboro, pop. 2,000), Paul Powell (Vienna, 1,700) and Clyde Choate (Anna, 5,000), Hartley brings to the fore an era in which it was quite okay for ambitious men to do well for themselves in politics while doing good for their voters back home.

Southern Illinois has always been hard scrabble, many folks without two nickels to rub together. The soil is generally thin, and the copious amounts of coal (and maybe oil and gas from future fracking) poured forth bittersweet dividends of dangerous but decent jobs, murderous labor conflict and environmental degradation.

So political jobs and government largesse have always been more important in that region than elsewhere in Illinois. Read More

Letter to the Editor 5-11-2016

To the Editor,

Startrek IV, The Voyage Home, includes a scene with Spock’s mother asking him, “Does the good of many outweigh the good of one?”

To which Spock replies, “I would accept that as an axiom.” His mother went to explain that he was alive because his friends considered that, in rescuing him, the good of the one (Spock) was more important that them.

On Friday, April 22, 2016, Eastern Illinois University hosted Area 9 Spring Games Special Olympics. This being the first time I have attended one of these events, I thought it would be a long day of waiting to watch my special person in her events.

However, it turned into a day of unanticipated excitement for all the participants and a surprising appreciation and new found respect for the many, many volunteers in their dedication and hard work. Read More

Oh Brother: Stupid Tricks are Hard to Forget

MikeBrothers•May 11, 2016•

By Mike Brothers
NP Managing Editor

It happened one spring day deep in the Shawnee Forest some 40 years ago, but stupid human tricks are impossible to forget.

I grew up in southern Illinois where 250,000 acres of the state are covered in the nationally owned Shawnee National Forest.

It was a land of limited population and maximum forestation so I spent most of my youth using the National Forest as a playground for camping, hiking, exploring and the most fun: trail riding motorcycles.

Before massive restrictions gave those forest trails to the powerful horseback lobby during the eighties, my friends and I enjoyed endless hours of riding trails up and down the Shawnee hills, jumping rocks and splashing through creeks.

For several years I had an old Suzuki I had bought for $150 because it didn’t run. After getting it going and painting it, I became a trail riding fool.

The messier the weather the more fun the riding because when you are in your 20s you are invincible; there is no such thing as danger. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Can Illinois be salvaged?

Nowlan•May 11, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

A reader asked: “Can Illinois be salvaged?”

I take it he wonders if our state can stem its population out-flow, return to an economic growth rate comparable to that of the nation, and get a handle on our huge state debt and pension albatross.

To this, I think the answer is Yes, but it will take a number of years and concerted effort by leaders of both parties.

If he meant, can Illinois return to the old days of good-paying factory jobs for all who want them, the answer is clearly No. We live in a new world. Such jobs are evaporating, largely because of technology.

I will have to reprise elements from various earlier columns to respond to the reader.

Illinois is at its lowest point in my 74 years. As I pointed out recently, Illinois suffers from decades long net out-migration of its population and persistent slower economic growth than for the nation and, even more worrisome, among our neighboring states as well.

Some of this was maybe to have been expected. The blistering Sunbelt has air conditioning it lacked when I was a tyke, and Illinois always had a larger manufacturing base than most states, so the other states suffered less loss over the years.
Read More

Understanding Illinois: Reflections From Crumbling Cuba

Nowlan•May 4, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I just returned from two weeks in Cuba and offer a few reflections from the land of Fidelismo.

Individual travel from the U.S. to Cuba is still technically prohibited, though American educational and professional groups may visit the island nation. Soon, I predict, American travel restrictions will be lifted, which will overwhelm the already strained hospitality resources of Cuba.

If you can withstand stressful long lines at entry and departure, it’s well worth the effort.

(The Cubans we met are pleasant, helpful and handsome, often a caramel blend of Spanish and former slave black. The indigenous population was killed off by the conquistadores upon their arrival.)

My lady friend is a medical scientist at the Mayo Clinics. She was asked to give a paper in Cuba at an international conference. My cover for tagging along was to serve as her “research assistant.”

After the conference, we traveled on our own all over big swaths of this verdant, tropical island nation of 11 million, which has roughly the land area of our state (with our 13 million people). Read More

Understanding Illinois: Are Illinoisans Leaving by the Droves?

Nowlan•April 27, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

More than a couple of my acquaintances have told me in recent months they plan to leave our state as soon as they can. And now a Chicago Tribune story reports that 3,000 “millionaires” (net worth not including primary residence) left that city last year on a net basis, more than any city in the nation.

What’s going on? As your faithful inquiring columnist, I looked into matters.

In the latter half of the 19th Century, Chicago and Illinois were for a while the fastest growing jurisdictions in the world.

Great swaths of fecund farmland beckoned settlers, and Chicago entrepreneurs such as Swift and Armour employed thousands in butchering livestock and marketing our products to the world. [For a marvelous history of the countryside-city synergy, see William Cronon’s masterful work about “Nature’s Metropolis.”]

Yet since the 1920s, Illinois has suffered domestic net out-migration almost every year of folks (more U.S. residents moving out than in, net), with the rate ratcheting up in the 1970-80s to almost one percent net outflow per year and once again to that rate since 2010.

This is according to talented researchers Mike Klemens and Natalie Davila, who recently sliced and diced our national demographic trends, especially as they apply to the Prairie State.

Using IRS data, Klemens and Davila find that in 2012-13 there was a net loss of 10,500 IRS tax exemptions to Texas followed by 7,700 to Florida and 8,500 combined to California and Arizona. Read More

Understanding Illinois: In Illinois, It’s All About “King of the Hill”

Nowlan•April 20, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

When I was a kid, we played a game called “king of the hill.” One boy at the top of a heap of some sort would fend off others who tried to pull him down and replace him.

That’s pretty much the game of life as well. Our DNA, forged millennia ago, drives us still today to play king of the hill.

Media mogul Ted Turner said that money is how we keep score of who is winning in this game of life. And so it is in Illinois, its government and politics, always individualistic in the extreme.

This self-interest has led to our current budget impasse.

On the one side, we have Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a small government guy (an insider tells me the governor has staff around him who “hate government”). Rauner and his uber-wealthy friends want to whack government because they see it as needlessly draining wealth from the individual.

In sharp contrast, many Democrats such as House speaker Mike Madigan are career politicians quite comfortable with government. Indeed, many have increased their wealth through government.

For example, for almost half a century Madigan has been piling up money at his property tax appeal law firm, as deep-pocketed clients have come to him almost solely because of the speaker’s role as a political power broker. Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: Vacation Time Fast Approaching-There’s No Place Like Home

Ginther•April 20, 2016•

By Jerry Ginther
NP Columnist

Well, post retirement age has arrived and the spontaneous trips and desired vacations that we looked forward to taking have not often materialized.

More free time and less debt being the supposed catalysts for travel and adventure have not produced the expected result.

As a matter of fact, those two items seem to be the least responsible for not hitting the road more often. Now, we seem to have a list of “what ifs” that get more than its share of considerations.

Planning these excursions was thought to be part of the fun, and indeed should be, but deciding where to go is the only easy part of this fun. Planning the routing, places to stay en route, figuring the costs of gasoline and all of the other necessities take time.

Staying on a schedule is also important and includes allowing extra time for unexpected occurrences. When one starts figuring how much time to allot, sometimes halting considerations come to mind that might preclude the trip altogether. Here is one of those “what ifs” I alluded to earlier. What if we can’t find anyone to take care of our chickens for an extended period of time? Easy answer: Sell the chickens or stay home. Okay, the chickens are getting a new home. Move on.

Now, I consider myself a thoughtful planner and usually have little trouble getting my ducks in a row. However, my wife’s list of “what ifs” encompasses so many more “unlikely to occur incidents” that I could never manage that row of ducks. Still, I do what I can to assure her that I’ve considered all of the remote possibilities even if I’m barely in the ballpark. So, I pretend to have everything under control, and she pretends to buy it. Yep, we pretty well know each other’s game. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Can We reduce Prison Population 25 Percent? Should We?

Nowlan•April 6, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Gov. Bruce Rauner has a goal of reducing Illinois prison numbers by 25 percent in the coming few years. A blue ribbon group he set up is at work to make this a reality. Should we do so?

When I was a back-bench state legislator a half century ago, there were 7,000 inmates in our prisons. Recently the number reached almost 50,000, though that has come back to 46,000; crime is down and the justice system is going lighter on drug crimes, I am told.

During the 1980s, we got tough on crime with Class X felony and truth-in-sentencing laws. These policies took sentencing discretion away from judges and put felons in prison for longer stretches than before.

Illegal drug activity was also up, a profitable alternative for young men from poor neighborhoods who had neither positive role models nor jobs.

Criminologist David Olson at Loyola University in Chicago is a member of Rauner’s blue ribbon group.

Olson points out that part of the increased prison population results from convictions for non-violent drug offenses. In addition, 40 percent of all prison inmates are inside the walls for sometimes minor violations of their parole.

Rehabilitation, mental health and education programs in prisons are also woefully inadequate to meet inmate needs, which results in more inmates ending up back in prison than might be the case otherwise.

As a result, we built one new prison a year for a couple of decades and now have 30, and yet the prisons are overcrowded, with a rated capacity of 34,000 to house the 46,000 inmates. Read More