Friday, January 30, 2009

What must the king do now?

And so Birnham Wood has quickly come to Springfield and the mighty Quinn smote off the tyrant's head. (Although in truth the Thane of Ravenswood had already fled the place so he could get one last free ride on the gubernatorial jet, or so I understand). Given the former guvnor's predilection for literature, one wonders what Shakespearean scenes he and his gang of advisors and publicists were replaying in those final hours. Richard II comes to mind. One of the less known but most poetic of Shakespeare's histories, it chronicles the deposition of the corrupt wastrel Richard II by Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV. Echoing Macblugo's shunning of his kingmaker Richard Mell, in the first scene, Richard II recklessly banishes Bolingbroke and in so doing alienates many nobles. Richard meanwhile conducts business with complete disregard for due process and pillages the public coffers to entertain himself and wage foolish wars in Ireland. Sound familiar? Henry returns and leads the rebellion to Flint Castle, wherein the now isolate Richard is holed up. Richard dominates the gripping deposition scene, risky stuff in those days for a play about a deposed monarch to be shown in front of a monarch, with a masterly, self-indulgent, self-pitying whine played out in gorgeous iambic pentameter.

Act IV, Scene 1:

".... I'll read enough,
When I do see the very book indeed
Where all my sins are writ, and that's myself.

Re-enter Attendant, with a glass

Give me the glass, and therein will I read.
No deeper wrinkles yet? hath sorrow struck
So many blows upon this face of mine,
And made no deeper wounds? O flattering glass,
Like to my followers in prosperity,
Thou dost beguile me! Was this face the face
That every day under his household roof
Did keep ten thousand men? was this the face
That, like the sun, did make beholders wink?
Was this the face that faced so many follies,
And was at last out-faced by Bolingbroke?
A brittle glory shineth in this face:
As brittle as the glory is the face;

Dashes the glass against the ground

For there it is, crack'd in a hundred shivers.
Mark, silent king, the moral of this sport,
How soon my sorrow hath destroy'd my face."

For Bolingbroke substitute Fitzgerald and there you have it. The last words perhaps are directed at his successor. Later, Henry IV pays for his part in fomenting insurrection against a reigning monarch by spending his reign wracked by paranoia and suspicion: "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." (Henry IV Parts I and II).

In the end the Thane of Ravenswood lacked the fight of his bolder Shakespearean forerunners like Macbeth or Richard III, who went down fighting gamely with sword in hand. Instead he chose to play for the cameras in a simpering, self-indulgent show, played across venal, pointless shows typified by the View.

Now his name is being erased from the thin blue signs that the Illinois tax-payers had paid so richly for, part of which he had of course lined his pockets with (allegedly). How many times had I genuflected before them at the Boughton Road toll on I-355 (ironically not far from Bolingbrook). I mourn the missed opportunity of being one of the motorists able to join in the celebration of the removal of that most odious name. Better to have replaced it by his head upon a spike, but I suppose these are more civilized times.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Digestive triple threat

My traditional morning repast of Go Lean (but not lightly) was almost rejected entirely before it could perform its work below when opening the Tribune yesterday morning revealed not just one but three of the most vile creatures in Illinois all together. This was of course the morning of Macblugo's nauseatingly self-serving and desperate parade before all the blabbing shows watched by people that don't have to work for a living and who care little for truth or accuracy. Apparently he made a believer out of Geraldo Rivera, which should tell you all you need to know.

It turns out that Macblugo is following the growing trend of hiring publicists rather than lawyers when caught in a pickle; the same firm that "represents" suspected murderer Peterson is now doing the same for the soon-to-be-ex guvnor. So, I have to wonder what sorts of folks can work in these sorts of firms that are able to work with these sorts of people. To borrow a phrase, they either have a lot of testicular virility, or, more likely, absolutely no conscience. No mirrors will be found in the office bathroom within which they can survey their black inner souls. Or else there is a bunch of portraits in an attic some place.

The odious Ryan who, mercifully, escaped the mercy of the soon-to-be-forgotten former President, despite the best efforts of the senior senator from Illinois, man of many faces Dick Durbin, and another vile visage from guvnors past, James Thompson, (who I once dined in the same restaurant with, the late-lamented 302 West in Geneva), was in the news as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in declaring a moratorium on executions and clearing death row. Ironically, he can probably hold Macblugo partly to blame for his failure to escape his rightful resting place with a presidential pardon. His case is being championed by a professor from the University of Illinois, Francis Boyle, who has the nerve to claim that Ryan's incarceration is an act of revenge by the pro-death penalty Justice Department. While UIUC is an excellent state university, a place at which the SSCP's progeny currently attends, it clearly does not have uniformly high standards across the board. What qualifies one to be a professor of "Human Rights" I wonder?

While I am entirely against the death penalty for any crimes (I often find it puzzling why the pro-life people are almost always ardently pro-death when it comes to adult punishments), I do not for one second that Ryan's late acts where motivated by true compassion or concern for the rights of individuals. Witness his response to the hired truck scandal that claimed the lives of six children and his annual shaking down of employees for his (cash only, small bills please) Christmas bonus. No, it was a completely cynical act designed to deflect the gaze away from the investigations that finally and properly nailed him. In any case, I think it is a bit of a stretch to parlay that act into a Nobel Peace Prize thing even if the motives were honorable. There again, one can win Nobel Peace Prizes for making inaccurate films about climate change these days.

So of the three who is the most vile? While Peterson lacks all the trappings of corruption, he is the one suspected of murder. How many are there out there who presume his complete innocence in all of this? Other wife beaters and abusers of women perhaps. It might have turned out differently if, back in the day, the verdict on the death of wife number three had been returned differently. I am no coroner, but I would have found drowning to be an unlikely cause given the victim was lying in a bone dry bath with a large gash in her head and a pool of blood in the bath. That is Will County for you. Sort of Chicago west.

Ryan has blood on his hands indirectly, the dead children innocent victims of his corrupt schemes. His response to the problem was to try and cover up the investigation. He has never been contrite, unless you believe the letter scripted by Thompson to coincide with the clemency appeal. I remain unconvinced.

Macblugo, despite the parallels of our Thane of Ravenswood with that Scottish play, has not, so far as is known, killed anyone directly or indirectly. He has made the bigger fools of us though, which in part could be said to be our fault for electing him a second time.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cap n trade

Gripped by the coldest winter in twenty years, combined with suddenly affordable, bountiful supplies of petroleum (whatever happened to the energy crisis?), all the while being mired in the worst recession in living memory, the subject of global warming has, not surprisingly, faded into the background at least for now. Being environmentally responsible is one of those things the middle classes like to do when they can afford to; it's a luxury to indulge in to partially assuage the guilt over all that conspicuous consumption. Being organic is another fun thing to do if you have the loot, otherwise Hormel canned spam is just great. So much for organic farming as the new paradigm for feeding the world.

So, it is encouraging to read that, in the new Camelot, the plans to limit carbon emissions discussed in the campaign are still going ahead. The argument, correctly, is that this will motivate a clean energy economy by encouraging investment in and development of alternative energy sources. Without financial incentives it cannot happen.

The favoured approach is the "cap and trade," as opposed to a direct carbon tax, although in effect it acts as a tax on the excessive carbon producers. The financial incentive to reduce emissions is the avoidance of having to pay to buy the permits to emit above the limit. Those that emit below the limit will be able to sell the difference. In theory I suppose it all evens out with the net result of there being lower emissions. I'm a little skeptical, but the system worked for acid rain emissions from power plants (I think), so why not here?

Opponents are concerned that the scheme will ultimately increase the price of energy and hurt economic recovery and increase costs for the people. Therein lies the rub: the clash of sustainability and economic growth. It cannot any longer be acceptable to strip mine resources irresponsibly without paying their true cost. The true cost of buying petrol must include some kind of compensation for its replacement. What we were paying back in the giddy days of summer is probably much closer to a true cost, though probably even then lower than is realistic, than what we are paying now.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The distant dream of $200 oil

Dulcie likes to remind me whenever possibility arises that, as a college professor, I am blissfully insulated from the vicissitudes that afflict normal people. Thus you might think I am unaware of what goes on in the world. I like to think I am very informed, regardless of what Dulcie might think. For example, I am well aware that something happened on Tuesday. I know that because my in'nernet connection speed slowed to a trickle; but being the busy college professor I am, I was unable to leave my office to join in the global celebrations. Or, perhaps, I was just a little jaded by the incessant build-up to really get that excited.

The other day though, I was filling up the TSX and got concerned that the tank was filled by the time the dial hit $20. Even as the petrol poured across the forecourt like that scene from the Birds, the dial would not budge. What happened? Only a few weeks ago, the numbers would skip nimbly past $40 and keep going. It seems like the oil price has crashed big time. Back in the balmy days of summer, as the price soared skywards, reaching a breathless $147, those silk-suited experts working for institutions now profiting from giant bail-outs confidently predicted the price would soon reach $200, flicking their cuff links with emphasis. It was all about explosive growth in emerging markets we were told, the free market at work; all accusations of manipulation and speculation were dismissed as mean-spirited nonsense.

So what happened? Here we are, a few weeks later and the price is only one third of what it once was. It never exceeded that high water mark of $147. Does anyone have an expectation it will reach $200 any time soon? The same cuff-linked experts are now speculating as to how low it will go. Great to have a job where it never matters whether you are right or wrong. So we are to believe that the economic downturn has reduced to demand to such an extent that the price has dropped by a factor of three. People are driving less; factories are making fewer products. Can the free market really explain this? Or, as I tend to believe, was there speculation and manipulation at work in the market? The steepness of the rise, and the equal rapidity of decline seem hard to explain just in terms of fluctuations in demand.

Whatever the real reasons for the wild ride in prices are, the fact it is now so low is really disastrous for the progress of alternative energy sources which should be a priority. There are echoes of the late seventies here. The then giddy oil price had prompted all kinds of efforts in alternative energies. Exxon liked to show off a solar-powered house at the research lab I interned at. These all disappeared like the morning dew when the oil price dropped. When I returned to that Exxon lab two years on, the solar house was long gone. 25 years on it's a similar pattern although the stakes are now much higher. Back then global warming was not in the picture. Will the encouraging growth in things like wind power lose impetus in the face of this crash? Dulcie and Aylwin's Big Beer Adventure was punctuated by the sights of pieces of turbines hurtling along on improbably wide vehicles towards the western states. Across swathes of Wyoming and elsewhere the white blades were to be seen in their stately rows, only a slight blemish on the windswept wild horizon. Surely the absence of credit and the turbulence in the economy will impact investments in both the public and private sectors.

While I selfishly enjoy filling the tank for a few dollars, I would rather return to the days of summer when the oil price was making itself felt. Although I would rather that price was a true reflection of supply and demand and not a false consequence of manipulators.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Now is the winter of our discontent

It seems I misjudged Macblugo after his less-than-stimulating "Is this a joke?" response when the plods knocked on his door a few weeks past. It seems that the Thane of Ravenswood, when given time to reflect and the help of a few advisors, is quite a devotee of literature, and might indeed rival the original Macbeth in his poetic response to strife. Critics will argue that his choices are all of the rather obvious high-school curriculum; even a cultural cesspit like me was familiar with some of them. Incidentally, who are all these advisors that still cling to their disgraced leader? At the end Macbeth had only the loyal, and thoroughly wicked, Seaton. Macblugo has an army of lawyers. Who pays for them I wonder?

Although the image of the overly-ambitious, grasping Patti saltily urging her husband on in the background, invites comparison with "That Scottish Play," which, incidentally, by some stroke of synchronicity, has just opened in a very contemporary, R-rated version in Chicago, I think Richard III, represents a more apt Shakespearean parallel to our venal governor. For while Macbeth did bad things, he was not fundamentally a bad or dishonest person. His fault was the possession of ambition and, once having given into its temptation, he succumbed in trying to contain the train of consequences. Half way across the river of blood... If we looked closely in the mirror, we would find a little Macbeth in all of us.

He was basically honest and decent. While he could smite foes on the battlefield with aplomb, he made a complete dog's breakfast of doing in Duncan: the whole business with the dancing dagger and the hands covered in blood. His conscience could not deal with his victims. While Macbeth could not gaze upon the ghost of Banquo, one could not imagine Blugo imploring Judy Baar-Topinka (his victim in the last election who was brought down by dirty money) not to shake her hennaed locks at him. For Blugo has no conscience. Like Richard III, he is completely comfortable in scheming, lying, seducing and gaming his way to the top. Having used someone, he has no shame in dumping them. Ask Richard Mell. In the first act, Richard III seduces the wife of the person he has just murdered. Blugo's parading various cripples at one of his poetry slams reminded me of a later scene in which Richard III appears before the public with a holy man to convince them of his virtue. R III is a far more dastardly character than Macbeth. While the former had, according to Shakespearean legend, a deformed shoulder, Blugo has the hair helmet.

Monday, January 12, 2009

In Vino Veritas

On this rather uninviting Monday, with the prospect of decidedly inhospitable conditions later in the week, the SSCP returned to his labors as a member of faculty. Although term begins Wednesday in the midst of our Alberta Clipper (whatever did happen to global warming?) the first days of the week are our sort of preseason, punctuated with rather tarsome and largely unproductive meetings. Today however was one of little more significance, for it marked the arrival of our new president, hot from nearby Harper College, to rescue the listing S.S. COD from the perils of the deep. We wait with interest to see how things develop.

I had received some weeks prior an invitation to a reception, I believe the word "lavish" had been used at some point, to mark the occasion; and I replied in the affirmative without much expectation. Receptions at the college are generally marked by a culinary standard that would make a state penitentiary blush. Add to that the inevitable absence of drink and one is left with the question "Why bother?"

Some months ago I was inspired by experiences in educational circles abroad to a write a piece for our newsletter on this whole business of drink, or rather its absence, and the college. Such is my immodesty that I invite you to read it here, since I am rather proud of it. (I know that's wrong.)

Today I am required to revise my article. Dr. Breuder, for that is our new president's name, makes no secret of his love for wine, a love that I entirely resonate with, Dulcie and Aylwin's recent flight to beer notwithstanding. The reception featured wine. Shock! Horror!! In a community college!!! In the middle of the afternoon!!!! I was in slight disbelief when I was asked at the reception table if I was drinking wine and if so was that one glass or two? Well, in honor of this historic moment, two glasses was the only response. And these were not Lucky Jim glasses of improbably small dimension, but healthy pours that would not disgrace a wine bar. Thus was I fortified for the evening's board meeting where at I was due to deliver some sharply worded remarks in the general direction of the BOT, or at least one of its members. More on that later. Hic.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Slight issue with self esteem

By some strange synchronicity, Dulcie and Aylwin's Big Beer Adventure from Chicago to Portland seemed to be intimately interwoven at many points along the way with the much bigger and more daring adventure of Lewis and Clark some 200 years previously. It was as if they got out at O'Hare and took the Mannheim Road, for it is that same national route 12 that plunges over the Lolo pass in Idaho all those miles west, the point at which Lewis was the coldest and wettest he had ever been. What took them about a year and a half took us 4 days. There is something to be said for modern transportation. Not having been raised in this country, I could be forgiven for knowing little about the exploits of these two chaps. I do recall seeing one of my offspring perform in a fifth-grade musical about them, though I fear it did not really get to the heart of the matter.

We were not so sodden with beer that we were completely oblivious to the historical significance of the footsteps that we followed in our fossil-fueled rage: alongside the headwaters of the Missouri, across the Lolo pass, down along the crystal rapids of the Lochsa and the Clearwater, and the lands of the Nez Perce (doubtless they reloaded with toilet paper from the giant factory in Lewiston that greets visitors with a pungent stench), beside the mighty Snake and the even more mighty Columbia (oh to have seen it then before the dams in all its salmon laden glory (the adventurers disdained the ready availability of fresh salmon, preferring to gorge themselves on dog)), through the Columbia Gorge and the dramatic shift from arid grassland to rain forest, and eventually the Pacific coast (which can now be glimpsed in scenes in Twilight).

We returned wanting to learn more of their story. So we viewed the PBS documentary called Corps of Discovery or something like. It is a superlative sumptuously filmed and exquisitely tender piece of work. Much was revealed about the men, and woman, in the extensive journals that they kept. It became obvious that Meriwether Lewis had issues with self-esteem. I'm sure that if he had attended school in the late 20th century, things would have turned out differently. No doubt building up his self-image and proper medication would have improved things. For there, in the shadow of the Bitterroot Mountains, within a few weeks of completing the most heroic and epic voyage in the entire history of America before or since (arguments about that anyone?), Lewis agonized in his journal on the occasion of his 31st birthday that he had accomplished nothing of value, that his life had been basically a waste. (Roland Burris please take note of Lewis' resolution as you chip away on your wretched folly of bloated self-aggrandizement.)

Lewis writes in his journal on August 18th 1805:
"...I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little, indeed, to further the hapiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, and now soarly feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended. but since they are past and cannot be recalled, I dash from me the gloomy thought, and resolved in future, to redouble my exertions..."

He writes beautifully though clearly without the aid of a spellchecker. "The many hours spent in indolence..." I can identify with sentiment.

More shocking was the finale. Lewis was not able to handle normal life subsequent to the voyage. It all ended in a lonely wayside inn in Tennessee where he topped himself in the dark of the night. He was 35. I'm not sure that part was in the fifth-grade musical. Totally stunning and shocking, the narrator on the PBS tape could not relay the words without losing composure. Humility and modesty are worthy virtues, though I fear that Lewis took them a little to excess in his fatal self-deprecation. I was reminded of Ludwig Boltzmann, one of the giants of the history of science, who basically invented the field of statistical mechanics that connected the macroscopic properties of systems to the microscopic actions of molecules. Boltzmann met his end at his own hand for much the same reasons. With these two as role models what should the rest of us do?

The thin blue sign

Hurtling along I-88 the other day, weaving among potholes and navigating the serpentine arrangement of temporary lanes that are an enduring feature of this highway in construction perpetua, I genuflected once again with my transponder before the thin blue sign that celebrates Rod R. Blagojevich, patron saint of open-road tolling. Four times that day I gave thanks, not to mention 40 cents seamlessly deducted from my account, in recognition of that foresight and genius which rescued us from the tyranny of sitting for ten minutes, scrabbling for enough loose change to make the little gate rise up to allow safe passage through the toll booth. Much of that loose change would ultimately find its way into the trunk of some corrupt employee's car to be doubtless distributed later in all manner of interesting ways. In Illinois, no coin is too small to steal, particularly if you have a trunk-load of them.

The blue signs were the subject of some "controversy" a couple of years back as I recall from an article in the Tribune. The tollway authority has its own sign-making department; but these blue signs were made by another company under a rather hefty contract. With all these things one now wonders what machinations lay behind the obtaining of said contract. The Macblugo tapes suggest that $25,000 represents the basic unit of doing business on gBay. How many gBay units were those blue signs worth for the company that got the deal? What will happen once the inevitable happens sooner rather than later we hope? Will some dope spray paint out their patron's name and replace it with another? Maybe another contract will be required to create a new batch of signs to honor the next guvnor. Meanwhile, they give us pause to reflect upon the utter bankruptcy of the state's current administration.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

"I am a tool..."

Certainly quote of the day, arguably quote of the year, and possibly quote of the decade. Thus spake craven, dull-witted, shameless Roland Burris, Macblugo's appointee to the Illinois Senate. Thanks to the self-serving bungling of the rest of the gang of Illinois politicos; who could have acted swiftly to pre-empt an appointment, but didn't for fear of wrecking their own chances or worse actually allow for a proper election; Macblugo, at his brazen, preening best, seized his opportunity. In the aforementioned Burris, he found a more-than-willing accomplice. While any man blessed with even a morsel of conscience and half a pair of bollocks would be unable to look in the mirror and touch the outstretched hand of Macblugo with the longest barge pole available to man, Mr. Burris apparently leaped at the opportunity with open arms, ambition besting honor. There is apparently in his mausoleum, built by his own hand to commemorate his lack of achievements, space to record one more inglorious act.

With this act of folly closing the year, can we now likewise bring down the curtain on all this fanciful, self-congratulatory talk about America getting past the race issue in the election of the new black King Arthur? Though as my aging father observed from his distant vantage point across the pond, "He's not really black is he?" Out of a sense of respect for political correctness, I said nothing.

What more nauseating sight was there on election night than seeing the bloated face of Je$$e Jack$on, father of an over-reaching $on, blubbering as if on cue to the cameras in Grant Park? Unless you include self-proclaimed empress Oprah conferring the proverbial fifteen minutes on some nobody by resting her head upon his manly shoulder, also on camera. Was that not the same Je$$e who a few weeks earlier had wanted to cut nice Mr. Obama's nuts off?

There is always a tendency to get carried away on these big occasions, and lots of people have lots of things to say. Some of them, like me, only get to say talk to themselves on their little blogs, while others have to occupy oceans of time on TV and radio, or write penetrating columns for newspapers and magazines. I would like to think the right person won, the intelligent person won and forget all the rest of the ballyhoo about triumphing over race and stuff.