Now that former Illinois Governor George Ryan is officially a free man, the Land of Lincoln has only a single former Chief Executive in prison.

In their book Fixing Illinois: Politics and Policy in the Prairie State, authors James D. Nowlan and J. Thomas Johnson tackle the problem of corruption.

As Johnson recently told Mark Reardon on KMOX Radio the culture of corruption in Illinois extends beyond our convicted political criminals.

“We use a very broad definition of corruption in our book.  It’s not only illegal acts,” Johnson said. “But it’s those ethical lapses that are tied to doing something for yourself instead of doing something for the good of the people. So I think we have to address that issue first.”

The good news is that Johnson and Nowlan identify some solutions to tackle a culture of ethical dubiousness in Illinois.

“This is a book about hope,” Johnson told Reardon. “So I hope it has some traction. Not only for our political leaders but for the public generally in our state.”

 

Matthiessen State Park in LaSalle County is a feast for the eyes in all seasons. With greenery and wildflowers in the spring and summer, colorful foliage in the fall, and the arresting sight of icefalls in the winter, there is plenty to take in.

For hikers this site near the Vermilion river offers a deep canyon, hundreds of steps and various streambeds to navigate.

Matthiessen State Park is featured in Exploring Nature in Illinois: A Field Guide to the Prairie StateThroughout the book naturalists Michael Jeffords and Susan Post invite you to discover fifty preserves, forests, restoration areas, and parks in the Land of Lincoln.

Each Wednesday we’ll preview some of the unexpected beauty of Illinois’s prairies, lakesides, river bottoms, and woodlands found within the book. . . . just in time for you to plan a weekend trip.

You’ll find maps and descriptions of these wild places in Illinois, including many hard-to-find sites, within the pages of the book.

At the risk of summoning Rod Blagojevich in a cloud of fire, brimstone, and cheap aftershave, our blog belatedly marks the third anniversary (June 27, 2011) of the former Illinois governor being found guilty of 17 charges.

Blagojevich got his start in politics by marrying an alderman’s daughter. After four years in the statehouse, Blagojevich ran—oh, the foreshadowing!—for the U.S. House seat of congressfixer-turned-prisoner Dan Rostenkowski. Michael Patrick Flanagan, a conservative Republican, had made a two-year cameo in the seat before playing doomed matador to the local Democratic machine and losing handily to Blagojevich in 1996.

Promoted without irony as a Kennedyesque figure, Blagojevich campaigned for governor on a promise to end business as usual in the wake of the corruption tsunami that brought down previous office-holder George Ryan. That he ran against an opponent with the name of Jim Ryan (no relationship to George) only helped. Voters, untroubled by Blagojevich’s Muppet voice or erroneous impression of himself as humorous, made him the first Democrat in thirty years to plant his lawn flamingo outside the governor’s mansion.

There is much to condemn in the years that followed. The hubris of tape-recording his own corruption. His successful attempts to alienate everyone in his own party. Calling his hairbrush “the football.” Trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat. Extorting money intended for a children’s hospital. A  foray into reality television that allowed him to become another of the semi-sentient piles of hair that frequently win a measure of American celebrity, a celebrity that ended only after he forced a 16th minute of fame on an unwilling public.

In Fixing Illinois: Politics and Policy in the Prairie State, authors James D. Nowlan and J. Thomas Johnson make a rather novel appraisal of Blagojevich, blasting him not for his scandals—anyone can do that, as this blog shows—but for his long-overlooked record as a lousy executive: Continue reading

Flammulina velutipes (Curtis) Singer

Edible, but tough. Despite appearances, the commercially produced “enoki” mushroom found in many grocery stores is a cultivated form of this mushroom.

One of the best-known and most-produced mushrooms in the world, Flammulina velutipes has a far-spanning career that includes appearances in forests, countless Japanese restaurants, and the labs of the space shuttle. F. veluptipes, nicknamed the winter mushroom (and also the velvet foot), makes the scene in late fall and under the right circumstances may grow throughout the cold months, even in such life-hostile January climates as Wisconsin.

In the wild, the velvet foot’s color and texture ranges from resembling a kitschy orange vinyl souvenir to a rubbery shroom of reddish or yellow-brown. Boldly bald, F. veluptipes prefers hardwoods and may grow fairly high up on a tree trunk.

As mentioned above, the cultivated version of F. veluptipes is the enoki or enokitake mushroom familiar to lovers of Japanese cuisine. Farmed since at least 800 A.D., the enoki does not resemble its feral cousin in the least, thanks to being grown in the dark in a carbon dioxide-rich environment that encourages the growth of its telltale long stems. Asian folk belief attributes anti-tumor and other properties to the enoki, and a small body of scientific research does suggest the presence of anti-cancer and anti-oxidant compounds.

In 1993, NASA sent F. veluptipes into orbit aboard the space shuttle to test the mushroom’s reaction to zero gravity. Instead of growing more or less vertically, F. veluptipes shot out in all directions. Nonetheless, it grew, good news for future astronauts who want an extra on their pizza but are reluctant to take swine into space.

Here’s the disclaimer: F. veluptipes, more than most edible mushrooms, MUST be positively identified before you eat it. In one of those tricks Nature likes to play, F. veluptipes resembles Galerina autumnis, one of the more common deadly mushrooms. Extremely poisonous, G. autumnis adds to its menace by fruiting next to F. veluptipes, making it easy to drop a mushroom you definitely don’t want in your basket of benign woodland swag. Left untreated, G. autumnis poisoning can cause vomiting, internal bleeding, and kidney failure. In the end, it essentially leaves victims with a choice between an emergency liver transplant or death.

As always with mushrooming, eat well, but be careful out there.

The UIP book Mushrooms of the Midwest describes and illustrates over five hundred of the region’s mushroom species.

Authors Michael Kuo and Andrew S. Methven provide identification keys and thorough descriptions. The authors discuss the DNA revolution in mycology and its consequences for classification and identification, as well as the need for well-documented contemporary collections of mushrooms.

Each “Mushroom Monday” get a taste of this unique and beautifully illustrated book here on the UIP blog.

Photo: Michael Kuo

 

The Modern Masters of Science Fiction series is devoted to books that survey the work of individual authors who continue to inspire and advance science fiction.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote of his alter ego Kilgore Trout: “Like most science-fiction writers, Trout knew almost nothing about science.”

That most doesn’t include Gregory Benford. A longtime professor of physics with a noteworthy research career, Benford sold his first story in 1965 and has since put out twenty-some novels and over 100 short stories, as well as many essays and articles.

From the start he brought a new perspective to hard sci fi informed by his own background. “Long ago I realized that I had one great advantage in fiction, since few write about scientists, yet science is the driving force of modern times,” he told author George Slusser. “I’ve always wanted to render how scientists think while in their most characteristic mode–facing the unknown, that is, doing research.”

Benford also embraced the big issues, with morality, the failings of human nature, and immortality among the ideas fueling his fiction. And he hasn’t shied away from offering solutions.

“I think we are rushing toward terrible times, with all pressures rising,” he said. “Climate chaos, resource depletion, overpopulation, the rats-in-a-cage frenzy of maddened crowds. So maybe pointing out ways we can best solve these problems by looking large is the best use of my time.”

 

Michael Agnew has been visiting media outlets and brewpubs throught the Midwest to discuss his book A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland.

Recently the author visited KARE 11 TV in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

On the KARE 11 News Agnew discussed the craft beer boom and the tendency for sweeter beers in the region. He tracks a style that he calls “the Midwestern IPA.”

The Ballard Nature Center is a glimpse into what Illinois was like before the landscape gave way to cultivation for corn and soybeans.

Located between Altamont and Effingham, just off old Route 40, Ballard Nature Center is a remarkable prairie restoration that is host to a diversity of dragonflies, colorful native flowers and plenty of wildlife.

Ballard Nature Center is featured in Exploring Nature in Illinois: A Field Guide to the Prairie StateThroughout the book naturalists Michael Jeffords and Susan Post invite you to discover fifty preserves, forests, restoration areas, and parks in the Land of Lincoln.

Each Wednesday we’ll preview some of the unexpected beauty of Illinois’s prairies, lakesides, river bottoms, and woodlands found within the book. . . . just in time for you to plan a weekend trip.

You’ll find maps and descriptions of these wild places in Illinois, including many hard-to-find sites, within the pages of the book.

Mutinus elegans (Montagne) E. Fischer

Usually at least partially submerged in the ground; appearing like a whitish to pinkish or purplish “egg” up to 4 cm high; when sliced, revealing the stinkhorn-to-be encased in a gelatinous substance.

Mutinus. Inspired by a Roman phallic deity. Elegans. A word derived from the Latin word for graceful.

English speakers, unimpressed with the lovely etymological pedigree of the so-named mushroom, gave it colloquial names like the dog stinkhorn and the devil’s dipstick.

Best known as the elegant stinkhorn—a contradiction in terms?—Mutinus elegans claws its way through leaf litter, forest floor debris, mulch, flowerbeds, and lawns like a brightly colored finger. Rare among mushrooms, M. elegans reproduces by getting its spores to piggyback away on insects. To this end, it evolved a failsafe method of attracting flies, bursting from the ground with a tip covered in a brown or olive brown slime that gives off an odor described as “like spoiled meat.”

Not surprisingly, mycologists answer a lot of questions about M. elegans in the summer and fall, when the elegant stinkhorn and its smelly kin trespass in yards and gardens. Yet for people with severe colds or those who go mushrooming in welder’s masks, the stinkhorns provide attractive fungal specimens arrayed in reds, pinks, whites, yellows, and oranges. Once the flies clean off the slime, that is.

The stinkhorns’ place in history connects to the exalted Darwin family. Appalled not by the smell but by the phallic appearance of the stinkhorn species P. Ravelenlii, Charles Darwin’s daughter Etty embarked on a mission perfect for the prudish atmosphere of the Victorian Era:

‘Aunt Etty … armed with a basket and a pointed stick, and wearing a special hunting cloak and gloves,’ would set out in search of the mushrooms. At the end of the day, Aunt Etty ‘burned them in the deepest secrecy on the drawing room fire with the door locked—because of the morals of the maids.’

The UIP book Mushrooms of the Midwest describes and illustrates over five hundred of the region’s mushroom species.

Authors Michael Kuo and Andrew S. Methven provide identification keys and thorough descriptions. The authors discuss the DNA revolution in mycology and its consequences for classification and identification, as well as the need for well-documented contemporary collections of mushrooms.

Each “Mushroom Monday” get a taste of this unique and beautifully illustrated book here on the UIP blog.

Photo: Michael Kuo

The Modern Masters of Science Fiction series is devoted to books that survey the work of individual authors who continue to inspire and advance science fiction.

Under his own name and numerous pseudonyms, John Brunner (1934–1995) was one of the most prolific and influential science fiction authors of the late twentieth century.

Jad Smith, author of the MMSF series title John Brunner, describes the author’s early novels as “eerily prescient.”

“His Hugo Award-winning Stand on Zanzibar (1968) is set in 2010 and feels very contemporary in its handling of media saturation, urban overcrowding, terrorism, and genetic modification,” Smith told us for a previous blog post Q&A.

The Shockwave Rider (1975) is a forerunner of cyberpunk,” Smith added. ”It finds Brunner imagining a “data net” resembling the Internet, coining the term ‘worm’ to describe self-replicating malware, and broadly engaging with the idea of information society.” Continue reading

On the very the southern tip of Illinois, in the Cache River State Natural Area, you’ll find Little Black Slough Nature Preserve.

Well known for its cypress-tupelo swamp, Little Black Slough has floodplain forests, upland woods and small patches of limestone barrens.

Little Black Slough Nature Preserve is featured in Exploring Nature in Illinois: A Field Guide to the Prairie StateThroughout the book naturalists Michael Jeffords and Susan Post invite you to discover fifty preserves, forests, restoration areas, and parks in the Land of Lincoln.

Each Wednesday we’ll preview some of the unexpected beauty of Illinois’s prairies, lakesides, river bottoms, and woodlands found within the book. . . . just in time for you to plan a weekend trip.

You’ll find maps and descriptions of these wild places in Illinois, including many hard-to-find sites, within the pages of the book.