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Maximum Obfuscation: Rock Island County Asks Voters for a Blank Check; You’d Never Know It from the Referendum PDF Print E-mail
Local News
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 24 January 2013 08:33

If a government body wants to spend tens of millions of dollars for a construction project, there are lots of ways to gauge the public temperature.

It’s hard to imagine a more roundabout approach than the one chosen by the Rock Island County Board.

Last week, the board voted to put a referendum on the April 9 ballot, and if your eyes glaze over while reading it, that might be the goal. The measure asks: “Shall the County Board of The County of Rock Island be authorized to expand the purpose of The Rock Island Public Building Commission, Rock Island County, Illinois to include all the powers and authority prescribed by the Public Building Commission Act?”

Of course, most people don’t know what the Rock Island Public Building Commission is, or that it even existed – let alone its current or potentially expanded authority.

And there’s no way to know from the words what the endgame is. There’s no mention of a new or renovated county courthouse or county office building, or of a location, or of a price tag – which could be anywhere from $13 million (the low estimate for a new court facility alone) to $50 million (the high estimate for a new courthouse and county office building in downtown Rock Island).

In short, the referendum appears designed for maximum obfuscation – a seemingly innocuous question about an obscure public body. The move could easily be interpreted as a deceptive attempt to gain public support for something the public otherwise might not support.

 
Cutting Through the Frankenfood Debate: Are Products with Genetically Modified Organisms Safe? And Should They Be Labeled? PDF Print E-mail
Health
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 06 December 2012 05:01

Two events in the past few months raised the profile of foods with genetically modified ingredients – and also put a spotlight on how messy the issue can be.

The first was the publication in September of a study led by Gilles Eric Séralini involving the herbicide Roundup and herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready corn (technically known as NK603) – both Monsanto products. Rats in the study developed tumors, died prematurely, and suffered organ damage.

The second was the defeat in November of California Proposition 37, whose ballot summary read that it would have required the “labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.”

There was a lot of heat with both events.

The Séralini study and its PR roll-out were met with an intense backlash from genetic-engineering apologists and much of the scientific community, and the European Food Safety Authority – among other scientific organizations – rejected its validity, saying it featured “inadequate design, analysis, and reporting.”

In California, Prop 37 opponents – including Monsanto Company, E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association – spent more than $40 million to defeat the labeling ballot measure.

Yet combined and detached from the rhetoric and motivations on all sides, these two events neatly summarized the national and international debate over foods with genetically modified ingredients. Are they safe for human consumption? And should the government require the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients – the way nutrition and ingredient labels now note the presence of allergens?

Depending on whom you ask, the answer to the first question ranges from “absolutely” to “we don’t know” to “absolutely not.” And the answer to the second question is largely – but not wholly – determined by the answer to the first.

 
Inhabited by It: Novelist Peter Geye, November 29 at Augustana College PDF Print E-mail
Literature
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Monday, 19 November 2012 13:00

Peter Geye. Photo by Matt and Jenae Batt.

It happens in the second paragraph of the first chapter of his first book. Peter Geye’s 2010 debut, Safe from the Sea, concerns a father and son, but it quickly establishes another character: Minnesota’s North Shore, hanging over Lake Superior on its way to Canada.

The son, Noah, has just arrived in Duluth. Geye sets the scene: “Now he could see the lake, a dark and undulating line that rolled onto the shore. The concussions were met with a hiss as the water sieved back through the pebbled beach. The fog had a crystalline sharpness, and he could feel on his cheeks the drizzle carried by the wind. It all felt so familiar, and he thought, I resemble this place. And then, My father, he was inhabited by it.”

Both of those italicized statements could apply to Geye, who will be reading from his work November 29 as part of the River Readings at Augustana series. In a phone interview last week, the Minneapolis-based author discussed the importance of the North Shore and the wilderness above it as a place (to him) and a setting (for his two published novels and the one currently in progress). He said either he or his editor came up with the term “Northern Gothic” to describe his books – a descendant of the Southern Gothic of such writers as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Cormac McCarthy.

 
The Pension Time Bomb: Why Public-Sector Retiree Benefits Need to Change, and the Barriers to Meaningful Reform PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 08 November 2012 05:00

[Note: Commentary from the Reader's editor, published on this topic, can be found here.]

A riddle: What do you get if you add $209 billion to $54 billion to $15 billion?

If you answered “a lot,” you’re correct and not particularly inclined toward math.

If you answered $278 billion, you’re adept at arithmetic and correct, if literal-minded.

If you answered the respective unfunded liabilities for Illinois’ state-run pension funds, its retiree health-care system, and its pension bonds, you’re correct and probably cheating.

And if you answered “a time bomb,” you’re probably most correct. Because while the numbers are important, they’re constantly changing and open to interpretation, and the most important aspect of them is their magnitude. Whether it’s cast as an $83-billion pension problem or a $278-billion benefits issue, the sheer size of it shows that it can’t be solved with tinkering.

 
Quad-City Water Lore: Contest Winners from the Bettendorf Public Library; Event November 5 PDF Print E-mail
Feature Stories
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 12:04

As part of its yearlong “Building Common Ground: Discussions of Community, Civility, & Compassion” program, the Bettendorf Public Library held a water-themed essay, poetry, photography, and songwriting contest. Several winners will perform their entries at the “Quad-City Water Lore” event on Monday, November 5, at 7 p.m. in the Bettendorf Room at the library (2950 Learning Campus Drive). A reception begins at 6:30 p.m.

They will be joined by Bucktown Revue emcee Scott Tunnicliff, Rock Island Lines creator Roald Tweet with Chris Dunn, former Quad Cities poet laureate Dick Stahl, turtle expert Mik Holgersson, riverboat pilot Harry “Duke” Pelton, and Quad-City Times columnist Alma Gaul. Musical entertainment will include the St. Ambrose Bee Sharp men’s a cappella ensemble, the Quad-City Ukelele Club, Dwayne Hodges, and Jon Eric.

Thanks to the Bettendorf Public Library for its permission to allow us to publish the winners below.

 
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