Tom's mailbag Feb. 7, 2014


This week’s mailbag contained a nice variety of questions — some of them unanswerable — about sports, politics, history, potholes, the weather and even how they handled a snow day at the University of Missouri.

First up, a question about another pothole-damaged road, North Market Street north of Olympian Drive.

“This road is used by people coming off Interstate 57 to go to work or shop in Champaign. When is Champaign County going to fix this 2- or 3-mile stretch of road?” 

Good news: This segment, once the jurisdiction of the state of Illinois but not the county, is now controlled by the city of Champaign. And it is to be resurfaced this summer.

“I saw a strange sight outside my window today: a dozen robins, devouring berries from my Crabapple tree. I have never seen robins in a snowstorm.”

Apparently it’s not that rare. Maybe they were just hungry.

From the National Audubon Society: “Robins often stay in the vicinity of their breeding area for the winter, or may move about a several-state area in flocks. They are generally eating lots of berries, so often aren’t hanging around backyards like they do the rest of the year. Like all birds, their feathers and fat reserves keep them warm for the winter, as long as they are finding food. During a snowstorm, they may ‘lay low’ to conserve energy until the storm passes, then resume their travels in search of food. Although they don’t need us to provide food during inclement weather, they seem to appreciate a heated birdbath as other water sources may be frozen or covered over temporarily.”

There were a few questions/statements about the Carol Ammons/Sam Rosenberg race for the Democratic nomination for state representative in the 103rd District, which essentially is the cities of Champaign and Urbana.

“Does Sam Rosenberg have a good chance of winning the congressional race?  I sure hope so!”

Not a chance. He’s running for the Legislature. He certainly has a chance to win that, although he’ll have to make a better showing at future debates than he did Wednesday night. Debates aren’t everything, but he’s got to make a better argument for why he should be elected over Carol Ammons. She did a good job of stressing her work in the community and serving on the county board and city council. Rosenberg’s argument was weak by comparison.

In response to a question about who won the Ammons/Rosenberg debate Wednesday night: 

“Ms. Ammons, hand down.  She was obviously more qualified for job and had best answers to questions.

“I did not see the debate but read your article.  Ammons is quoted as saying there are millions of non-violent prisoners in Illinois.  The last quarterly report of Illinois Department of Corrections (Oct. 1, 2013) lists a total of 48,785 inmates, with 7,174 being in for murder and the rest for various class X offenses.  In politics exaggeration is the norm but Ammons’ figures are fantastical even if extrapolated to the entire U.S. Perhaps she meant to say in all of U.S. but the notion of massive incarceration of non-violent offenders has become an accepted fact ....until one actually looks at what is being labelled as non-violent.  Is drug-dealing non-violent?  Do folks rob to obtain drugs from non-violent dealers?  Do folks overdose on heroin etc.?  I strongly support decriminalization of most drugs and controlled legalization of many such as marijuana but we should not be naive in doing so. In listening to prison reform advocates one would think we are incarcerating folks on a regular basis for a first offense possession of a single joint. This is rarely the case ... one cannot go to the state prison on first offense possession of a joint in Illinois. It is a misdemeanor. Tom, please check out the stats.”

Agreed, there aren’t millions of people in Illinois prisons. I think Ammons got a bit flustered and tongue-tied, but her larger point — and I think it is valid — is that Illinois prisons have a lot of inmates who don’t need to be in prison. I think you’ll find plenty of politicians who’d agree to that privately but might not want to get too outfront on the issue of “going soft on crime.” Maybe the guy who’s going to shake up Springfield will shake up the state’s criminal justice system too.

And that Department of Corrections report sure needs to be updated. It’s the most recent one online and it’s dated Oct. 1, but it’s for prison populations on Aug. 31. It’s a quarterly report with numbers that are almost 6 months old.

A question about a restaurant that was supposed to open in downtown Champaign last June.

“Maize was planning to open another restaurant in the old(er) railroad station building.  It is not open. Will it?”

Two separate calls to Maize this week left me with conflicting answers, both of which were pretty vague. The last essentially was that they don’t know yet. 

Sorry, but that’s all they’re offering.

Here’s a Champaign-Urbana history question:

“The information on Clark Griggs and the slush fund that brought the UI to Champaign-Urbana was good (last week’s mailbag). The collection of stories, rumors and jokes regarding the site selection for the land grant school remind me of Paul Bunyon stories. One tall tale leads to another and every re-telling adds more  

incredible and astonishing parts. We know that Jonathan Baldwin Turner was deeply disappointed that the school was not built in Jacksonville. The historical record indicates that Champaign County had the lowest bid and failed to deliver on many of the promises and plans that were part of the deal. Turner commented to the Chicago Tribune, “This is the first time in my life I ever saw or knew a valuable piece of property to be knocked down to the lowest bidder.” Over the years many Illinois citizens have expressed the opinion that the choice of Champaign County as the home of the land grant university has harmed the support and reputation of the University of Illinois in many ways. I’ve heard several strong arguments that support this viewpoint. I think it is true. Jacksonville was the best choice and the choice to build the UI in Champaign-Urbana has kept the UI from having a truly great relationship with the state. What do you think?”

That’s an interesting observation and an interesting question. For most of the 20th century I think the UI had an excellent reputation in Springfield and a good relationship with legislators. It helped that Republican governors and Republican lawmakers were running the state at the time, and were happy to invest the state’s resources in a Republican area of Illinois. So I don’t think it mattered whether the UI was in Urbana or Jacksonville or Bloomington or Decatur. It would have been interesting to see, though, what would have happened if the UI located in the state capital, like Wisconsin and Ohio State. 

Probably the only thing that would help the UI, politically, in today’s environment is if it had been located in Chicago. Fortunately for the reputation of the University of Illinois that wasn’t an option in 1867. Maybe this is the best place for the University of Illinois, especially once that high-speed rail system to Chicago is built in the year 2164.

On booing at Illini basketball games:

“That question is complicated. Students who are part of the professional college sports teams (football and basketball) should expect to receive boos. They are part of a system driven by enormous amounts of money. The system is corrupt and destructive. They should expect to be treated as all professional athletes are treated throughout the world. NCAA coaches and NCAA contract athletes receive astonishing amounts of praise, compensation and fame. They expect hero worship, they should expect harsh treatment when they disappoint the paid customers. I would not boo athletes because it is foolish for many obvious reasons. However many people have a different view because they see the NCAA corporation as professional sports and the athletes as willing participants in a world of corporate profits. Universities, through their donors and ticket-buying fans, buy into this system. If those investors aren’t happy they will express that discontent in many ways, including directing boos at players and coaches. There will soon be less booing at Illinois basketball games. The basketball team, and their overmatched coach, will continue to become less competitive with the professional programs at other universities. Those universities have invested more resources in the NCAA system. Illinois will not make that investment. As the basketball team becomes less competitive the empty seats in the arena will be as silent as the empty seats in Memorial Stadium. The issue of boos directed at the athletes will not be an issue.”

“Booing our players is never acceptable.  Especially this group of guys who are playing their butts off to try to win!”

“Absolutely not. It is ridiculous. Those people are really not supportive of the players and should stay home.”

“I have always thought that IF you are going to ‘boo’ the team when things are not going well, you give up the right to cheer and feel good when it turns around and they win. The cheering when ‘we’ win should be reserved for those who stayed with the team when they were down — not for fair-weather ‘fans.’”

“Once these ‘college kids’ enter college, they need to realize that they are no longer little kids. They chose to play at the collegiate level and if they can’t take the criticism coming at them, they shouldn’t be in uniform. People will always have something to say, that’s a part of life. If they don’t like getting booed, they should work harder and turn those boos into cheers. Only the strong survive.”

Anyone who goes to Illinois games — even those who boo — is a better fan than I. So I’m not going to boo the booers. At least they invested the time and money to go to a game. I’m no longer willing to do that, not for a mens sports program that is 3-15 (with wins over Purdue in football, and Indiana and Penn State in basketball) since Oct. 1. Since the slush fund has there been a worse year to be an Illini fan? Not that I can recall. Illinois has become Northwestern. 

“With Illinois football attracting one of the worst recruiting classes in the Big 10, only Purdue was worse, how can we have any hope for Tim Beckman’s future?  I would say, if I were a 4- or 5-star recruit, I also wouldn’t want to be coming here to play either.”

On the other hand if you just want to play football, come to Illinois. Maybe you can play as a freshman. Maybe you can play both ways.

Finally, a reader calls our attention to how the University of Missouri handled a big snowfall this week ...

Not only did the chancellor cancel classes Wednesday (public schools there have been shut down all week by the cold and snow) but he promoted campus snowball fights and a snowman-building competition judged by his wife. 

Now I see why the Big Ten wanted no part of Mizzou, the slackers.

read about it here

Have a good weekend, everyone. 

Let me leave you with the best news I’ve heard all week, this little nugget in this morning’s National Weather Service longterm forecast discussion: “By midweek, the northern branch of the (jetstream) shifts back into Canada and takes the bitter cold with it.” 

Maybe I’m being overly optimistic but that sounds like the first sign of spring. Play ball!

 

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