The Spring+Summer 2017 edition of the Quad Cities Dining Guide – featuring more than 800 restaurant listings – is on stands now. Pick one up wherever you find the River Cities’ Reader!
Iowa’s War on Government-Worker Unions: Attacking Organized Labor Is Good, Divisive Politics on an Issue That Deserves Better
The pendulum swung swiftly.
House File 291 was introduced in the Iowa legislature on February 9, was passed by the House and Senate on February 16, and was signed by Governor Terry Branstad the next day.
Despite that speed, this was not some emergency measure. Instead, it was part of a pent-up agenda being unleashed, as Republicans enjoyed – really enjoyed – their first unified control of the legislative and executive branches of state government since 1998.
The River Cities’ Reader’s 2017 Spring Guide – featuring more than 1,300 events from March through June – is on stands now. Pick up a copy wherever you find the River Cities’ Reader!
Energy Boon or Bailout Bust? Probably Both: The Benefits of Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Bill Come with Consumer Costs
It’s admittedly difficult to get your head around Illinois’ recently passed Future Energy Jobs Bill – a massive, long-gestating piece of legislation that touches on many aspects of energy policy.
Yet the legislation is worth exploring. It will be a major change in Illinois energy policy when it takes effect on June 1. And it’s an instructive study of the give-and-take of the legislative process – a case that was absolutely green and utility-friendly, but one that might not be nearly as kind to consumers as has been promised.
This feature collects articles published online by the following Quad Cities-area media outlets: Quad-City Times, Rock Island Argus/Moline Dispatch, River Cities’ Reader, KWQC, and WQAD. It also includes items from CapitolFax.com and the state-politics sections of the Des Moines Register and the State Journal-Register.
If you'd like your media outlet included in this list, contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like many people, I’m not crying that FBI Director James Comey was fired from his job before his tenure was up. As Rand Paul has noted, Comey never stopped crawling to Capitol Hill for more money, more spying authority, more power to the government, and all those things I’m against. And like many people, I find the claims of Russian meddling in the election to be a diversion from the more obvious point that voters wanted change and didn’t want Hillary Clinton.
What has struck me more is a particularly telling aspect of the way the firing of Comey was done. This is a human-interest story to me. It reveals a grim facet of human life and serves as a warning about the type of power move all of us need to be on the lookout for. What would you do if your boss muscled you into taking the fall for his or her sketchy decisions?
If you are consuming your news from broadcast networks ABC, NBC, or CBS, or from cable channels Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN, you are arguably among the most misinformed, or under-informed, viewers in modern times. Not only is precious little of those outlets’ daily content composed of unbiased, need-to-know, evidence-based information; most of it is nothing more than guided speculation, therefore hardly reliable as relevant news.
I have warned readers many times that guided speculation is a sophisticated strategy to manipulate viewers and push us into predetermined conclusions. The Obama administration called it “nudging.” Cass Sunstein, the administrator of the White House Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs (RCReader.com/y/nudge1) from 2009 to 2012, co-authored a book on the subject titled Nudge, and its precepts were implemented throughout the executive branch, via executive order, to effect greater acceptance by the public of President Barack Obama’s policies and programs (RCReader.com/y/nudge2). It is doubtful the new Trump administration will disband this inter-agency behavior-modification department. The question should be: Toward what desired outcomes is the public being nudged now?
Democrats have been privately grumbling for a while now that Governor Bruce Rauner isn’t truly interested in good-faith negotiations on a balanced budget with economic reforms to end the two-and-a-half-year Statehouse stalemate.
But Senate President John Cullerton spent days and days negotiating the details of a four-year property-tax freeze with Rauner, only to have his spokesperson tell me last week that he hadn’t acceded to Rauner’s demand for a four-year freeze. So Rauner isn’t the only one to blame.
In a poll conducted a few days ago by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, a record 57 percent of Americans responded that they want more government in their lives, and that the government should be doing more to solve people’s problems.
That’s the highest percentage since they started asking this question in 1995.
In fact, 57 percent is nearly double what people responded in the mid-’90s.
Furthermore, the number of Americans who feel the opposite – i.e. responded that the government is doing too many things that should be left to private businesses and individuals – fell to a near-record-low 39 percent.
Bottom line: People want more government.
It’s hard to even know where to begin with this.
The thin-skinned Statehouse partisanship of the past two-plus years last week infected the annual fundraising gala of the Illinois Conference of Women Legislators (COWL).
COWL is a bipartisan organization that raises money every year to “assist mature women who wish to continue their undergraduate education,” according to its Web site. “The goal of the scholarship is to focus on deserving, qualified women whose educations were interrupted due to family concerns and economic problems,” the group says. Women who have shown “leadership promise through community service” are given preference.
Anyway, it’s a good organization and it’s one of two events that I never miss each year – the other one being the House-versus-Senate softball game. Both events allow legislators to do things together without partisan or leadership barriers. They help build relationships and trust. Plus, they’re both a lot of fun. And after two and a half years of watching politicians fight each other to a draw on a state budget and economic reforms, we all need the occasional good time.
A mobile Army surgical hospital (MASH) is a nomadic troop of doctors, nurses, and equipment. And while nomads the world over have packed up all of their belongings and disappeared quickly and stealthily into the night, playwright Tim Kelly’s M*A*S*H, currently in production at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre, is not a vehicle that travels well.
People pursue careers in comedy for all sorts of reasons: to make others laugh, to express opinions, to get back at their parents. (That last one is just speculation, Mom and Dad.) But as stand-up comedian Kyle Kinane tells it, his motivation was simpler: to do as little as possible.
“As a kid, comedy was something I watched on TV,” says Kinane during our recent interview. “And I couldn’t really understand how it worked, because somebody would just talk, and that was it. You didn’t have to act, you didn’t have to do stunts – you just talked, by yourself, and people would laugh, and that was a job. I was pretty fascinated with that, and, when I first started, I think I knew I was gonna do it forever.”
Yet for someone who attended college because he thought “if you didn’t go, you had to get a real job, and I didn’t want one of those,” Kinane’s job has found him doing far more than he initially expected.
Considering its real-life tale of the 1916 lynching of a circus elephant and the event’s effects on those who either demanded or protested the execution, playwright George Brant’s Elephant’s Graveyard could rightly be labeled a drama. But it’s more accurately a horror story, and as evidenced by New Ground Theatre’s and director Debo Balogun’s electrifying presentation, that horror doesn’t come from a momentarily out-of-control pachyderm; it comes from human beings, from us, and our own worst impulses. You may, and likely will, shudder when hearing how the elephant Mary crushed her abusive rider’s head – intentionally? – with the weight of five tons. That recollection, however, pales next to the terrifying image of a girl giddy with delight about the beast’s impending fate, or the circus ringmaster admitting, with not quite enough regret, what he eventually did with the corpse.
In the Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse’s current, topnotch production of The Music Man, the signature image is actually an image in motion: actor Don Denton, in his role as Harold Hill, strolling – or more accurately gliding – across the stage.
Middle School -- The Worst (and Best) Years of His Life: "Big Nate: The Musical," running at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse through May 13
Having been a librarian at elementary and middle schools, one might think my most challenging students were the middle-schoolers. Not so! My fears arose before visits from the littler kids, as I, alone, would have to keep them quiet and attentive for 40 minutes. (Ever herded kittens?) So when I attended April 20's Big Nate: The Musical at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse and saw school buses unloading first- and second-graders, kindergarteners, and preschoolers, I thought, “This will be interesting!” – especially since the Big Nate books are for readers 8 to 12 years old. I wondered if the story would hold the attention of this young an audience … and happily, the answer was “Yes!”
The Tip of the Iceberg: Alternating Currents Joins a Crop of New Festivals Highlighting a Vibrant Music Community
It was a sign of the times when the Downtown Davenport Partnership announced last month that it would replace the River Roots Live outdoor music festival – after a 12-year run – with a multi-venue indoor festival called Alternating Currents.
Consider what’s happened over the past two years. The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival was canceled in 2015 because of financial difficulties at its parent organization. The motorcycle-themed Rally on the River, a fixture on the riverfront for more than two decades, didn’t return in 2016.
All of these things reflect a simple reality: Outdoor festivals are expensive to put on, period, and the cost is much higher with headliner acts to drive attendance. Such events represent a serious financial gamble: Just the chance of rain on one day can depress turnout enough to put a festival in the red, and Mississippi River flooding can force an expensive change of venue.
But let’s not mourn River Roots Live too much. If its death underlines the inherent risk of outdoor musical festivals, its replacement shows just how vibrant the Quad Cities music scene has become.
Glancing at the song titles for Lewis Knudsen’s upcoming release Philip, you can see a thread of religion: opener “All My Sins,” “Heaven on Earth” in the middle, and closer “Jesus & Mary.”
That last one, a gentle piano ballad, carries the most weight with its position and unmistakable Christian icons. Except ... it’s not Jesus’ mother that the title references. And, in a clever twist, the song makes no mention of God, stripping the stories down to human characters and relationships.
Singing with equal parts ache and love, the Quad Cities-based Knudsen describes partners in biblical terms: “Well it feels like you’re Adam / and it feels like I’m Eve. / I eat forbidden fruit / and you jump in after me.” And: “Well it feels like you’re Jesus / and I’m Mary Magdalene. / You’re the level-headed one, / I’m the one who makes a scene. / You love everybody, / I always charge a fee.”
There’s a lot to unpack from this simple song, and it’s a good summary of Knudsen’s songwriting strengths and the album overall. He’s full of surprises, and he takes many songs to interesting places a listener couldn’t possibly expect.
If you want to know the secret of Sister Wife’s Trap House, you probably shouldn’t ask the Quad Cities-based duo of guitarist/vocalist Samuel Carothers and drummer Matthew Ashegiri. They work largely by instinct, and on this album those instincts are – far more often than not – startlingly spot-on.
Not yet two years old, the band has worked with producers – on a single for Milwaukee’s Honeytone Records and an EP – but chose to go it alone for Trap House, the debut album Carothers and Ashegiri self-released last week.
There’s a seemingly obvious reason Doyle Bramhall II was pretty much out of the spotlight between the releases of his 2001 album Welcome and last year’s gorgeously mature and textured Rich Man: The dude’s been busy.
As you might guess, the real story’s a bit more complicated – and interesting.
Daytrotter 2.0: The Quad Cities’ Iconic Music Web Site Appears to Be in Good – and Enthusiastic – Hands
When I met last week with the people now running Daytrotter, Ben Crabb – who books the recording sessions for the 11-year-old Quad Cities-based Web site – let this nugget drop: “I just booked George Winston in for a session.”
Yes, that George Winston, the artist best known for platinum-selling, seasonally titled solo-piano records from the early 1980s on the Windham Hill label. For a site that always prided itself on highlighting the new and the next, the pianist seems an odd choice.
Xenomorphin’-Power Dangers: “Alien: Covenant,” “Everything, Everything,” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”
It may not be particularly great sci-fi horror, but for the series’ devotees, Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant is certainly a first-rate exercise in nostalgia. Look! There’s the title gradually appearing in vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines! There’s the futuristic “burial at sea” with a mummy-wrapped corpse! There’s the derelict spacecraft! The face-hugger! The drinking-bird tchotchke! The heroine with the Sigourney-in-combat ’do who shouts, “We’ll blow this f----- out into space!”
With its domestic gross of less than $15 million against a reported $175-million budget, Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword tanked at the box office this weekend, an outcome that should surprise exactly no one. Just how many treks to Camelot is one expected to make in a single lifetime?
Director Jonathan Levine’s Snatched, which finds Amy Schumer’s and Goldie Hawn’s daughter-mother duo evading thugs and kidnappers during an Ecuadorian vacation, is one of those one-joke, sentimental slapsticks that you somehow just know isn’t going to be nearly as funny as you want it to be. That’s why it was something of a shock to return to the recorded notes I took during my Friday screening, and to hear all of one critique (“the music is doing way too much”) in the midst of loads of compliments, many of them made while chuckling.
A Rogue, a Raccoon, and a Tree Stump Walk into a Sequel ... : "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" and "The Dinner"
After a brief prelude set in 1980 Missouri, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 flash-forwards 34 years, catching up with our motley crew of space travelers not long after we last saw them. This may be the film’s single most-unexpected aspect, because with the action unfurling over the course of only a few days, it’s the first time since 2011’s Captain America: Winter Soldier that a Marvel Studios movie is also a period piece. Granted, three-years-ago may not scream “period.” But in this case, it definitely is, given that writer/director James Gunn’s continuation feels so 2014 that it’s almost as if its audience has been in hyper-sleep for the past 33 months, and is awakening just in time for a new Guardians to start. I really wish I meant that as a compliment.
Movies are endlessly surprising. Take How to Be a Latin Lover. In a sane world, I’d follow that with the Catskills-comedian punchline “Please” – although on the day I attended, others were clearly looking forward to it more than I was. The friendly ticket-counter employee told me how much she loved what I thought were pretty noxious previews for the comedy, and directed me to the auditorium with “Try not to laugh too hard!” (“No problem,” I silently replied.) The incessantly chatty patrons sitting behind me expressed excitement about the impending “pool scene,” which, again, looked astoundingly unamusing in the trailers. Then I saw the film. And damn it if this latest vehicle for Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez wasn’t a sweet, moderately clever outing boasting a peppy spirit, a bunch of inspired performers, and a fistful of truly riotous moments. I swear: Sometimes, this job makes no sense at all.
“Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra
Yogi’s words are illogical. But brilliant.
It is equally illogical to inlay a full-sized baseball diamond – made of brick and stone! – in the pavement west of Modern Woodmen Park, not far from the “real” one inside.
Colored Entranced: The Figge’s “Jefferson Pinder: Ghost Light” Explores Race Through Different Lenses
Hovering high above the heads of visitors to the Figge Art Museum, a neon sign that reads “Colored Entranced” points the way into the third-floor gallery. Anchored to the wall, the sign sits at an angle so visitors who enter from either the elevator or the stairs see it almost immediately. Bright tubes of clean red-orange light form words that contrast with and illuminate the corroded tin support from which they extend. The glow of the neon affects the surrounding space by casting light in shades of pink and violet on the white walls. A ghostly reflected image with deep red and cobalt-blue hues can be seen on the polished gray floor.
Colored Entranced is visually appealing, but the symbolic history it represents is abhorrent. Seeing it for the first time, non-black visitors may feel an unexpected pang of empathy for those who were subjected to that kind of direct segregation.
If you visit the Figge Art Museum to see Jefferson Pinder’s exhibit Ghost Light (see our review here), the artist will be satisfied if you leave enlightened. Or thoughtful. Or angry. Or confused.
He’ll also be okay if you see the neon sign reading “Colored Entranced” and choose not to enter the gallery.
On a beautiful January day, Quad Cities Photography Club member Joaquin Espejo decided to walk down to the bank of the Rock River behind Pizza & Subs on Blackhawk Road in Rock Island to take a few pictures. He spotted a flock of ducks walking around on the ice, and when they suddenly took off he was able to capture this image of them in flight.
Two similar Quad Cities sculptures that could be best described as sentimental raise issues about the role of art. Although their tones are different, both pieces depict young girls with adult-male authority figures and are meant to reflect the goals of the organizations that host them.