FOCUS/midwest

Founded in 1962 by Charles L. Klotzer

Reimagining a prairie

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… Stalwart plants grasp at our shoelaces, whip at our thighs, and send forth seeds to journey to new destinations upon our clothes as our little tour group continues plodding at an undaunted pace through The Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands of north-central Illinois. Here at this nearly 3,000-acre site near Franklin Grove, Illinois, the sky meets the ground unimpeded and the forever vista suggests possibility.

Something from the human past seems to be whispering, “This is good.”

It has been suggested by Harvard biologist and conservationist Edward O. Wilson that humans have an innate tendency “to affiliate with life, to be attracted to it, to like its varieties, to enjoy and prefer certain qualities of it.” He calls this instinctive response “biophilia.” And surely the majority of us have felt the fascination, the sense of well-being and wonder associated with a particular landscape whether hiking through a national park or standing in the midst of a backyard garden in bloom.

Yet, Nachusa belongs as much to our present as it does to our past. Read the rest of this entry »

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October 5, 2010 at 7:20 am

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Revisiting “Revolution in America”

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… Job statistics offer a measure of the recent recession’s depth, but tell only part of the story.

A recent report, by MIT economist David Autor, makes the case that the middle is dropping out of the job market; specifically, the economy is rapidly shedding certain kinds of occupations that used to be solid tickets to the middle class.

The kinds of jobs that are disappearing: “Middle-skill, white collar clerical, administrative, and sales occupations and in middle-skill, blue-collar production, craft, and operative occupations.”

What’s driving the change? Primarily automation and offshoring, Autor finds.

If a routine task (one that involves repetition) can be performed successfully by a machine or by a lower-paid worker in a developing country, it will be. And as computer and communications technologies continue to improve, more machines, or non-U.S. workers, will be performing those kinds of tasks.

The thing is, though, the pace of automation is escalating – Read the rest of this entry »

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August 30, 2010 at 6:37 am

Under the radar

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East Side player Gary Fears and his diverse business associates are betting that his military aviation business finally takes off. Whether it will fly is still up in the air.

By C.D. STELZER / cdstelzer@gmail.com

Part two of a two-part series

For a free PDF download of these stories, go to http://www.scribd.com/Fears-Stories/d/33114607

“It’s interesting that the guys who came here to help move the plane actually were Russian nationals,” says Cheryl Hill, a prosecutor in Marquette, Michigan.

Hill is referring to a gargantuan Soviet military aircraft worth millions of dollars that has been stranded for the better part of the last year at a former U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command base in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The spring thaw has melted the snow that accumulated around the aircraft over the winter, but mysteries surrounding its presence at Sawyer International Airport remain. Read the rest of this entry »

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May 7, 2010 at 10:24 am

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Fears and lobbying in Collinsville

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Illinois kingpin Gary Fears works in mysterious ways

By C.D. STELZER / cdstelzer@gmail.com

Part one of a two-part series

For a free PDF download of these stories, go to http://www.scribd.com/Fears-Stories/d/33114607

Nine Gateway Drive is far from K Street, the center of Washington’s influence-peddling industry. The address belongs to a now-vacant space in a strip mall located in Collinsville, Illinois, just east of St. Louis.

This small town, which bills itself as the horseradish capital of the world, seems an odd place for the Kingdom of Morocco to be doing business, but, according to a 2006 congressional lobbying report, the North African nation hired Collinsville-based Avatar Enterprises Inc. to help represent its interests in the United States.

Gary R. Fears, the 63-year-old owner of Avatar, now lives in Boca Raton, Florida, but his career is deeply rooted in Madison County politics, where he made his bones decades ago as a Downstate operative for then-Gov. Dan Walker. Since leaving public life, Fears has traded on his insider status and political connections to parlay a series of controversial deals into a byzantine financial empire. Read the rest of this entry »

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May 3, 2010 at 7:55 pm

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100 sites about journalism, communications

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What happens when hundreds and hundreds of unemployed or underemployed communications workers converge with digital media? You get a veritable revolution, staged on multiple platforms, and the flowering of hundreds and hundreds of websites devoted to criticism, analysis, innovation, self-promotion and related topics. [Here] are 100 of them of varying quality, listed alphabetically. Feel free to repurpose this info, make it viral and stick in everybody’s content bucket. You supply the emoticons. Send recommendations or corrections to focusmidwest@yahoo.com

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December 10, 2009 at 8:33 am

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Parallels between Twitter and Orwell’s Newspeak

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It can be argued that Twitter has emerged as a legitimate form of communication that could influence how children will spell — and think — in the future. Both Fox News and CNN have adopted the form and syntax of Twitter for their closed captions, so that Twitter is no longer merely a computer shorthand but has become an integral facet of our mainstream media.

To illustrate: On Sept. 11, 2001, Fox News carried a story about President Bush’s immediate response to the terrorists’ attacks that adopted Twitter as the style for their closed-caption account (he “did rht thin”).

This year, a new keyboard was introduced called “Tweetboard.” The traditional keyboard has been reconfigured, so that Twitter symbols assume prominent positions on the top row: @ (reply), # (hashtags), RT (retweet), and via @. Another key is for shortening URLs. Read the rest of this entry »

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November 23, 2009 at 10:06 am

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Will books become just a memory?

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This story, about two St. Louis entrepreneurs, appeared in 1990. They were about 20 years early. Read Alan Kaufman’s recent essay about electronic books, “The Electronic Book Burning,” by clicking on this link.

Dust off the books on the shelf. Put ’em in a box and take it to a recycling center.

You might not need them anymore, if a small St. Louis company has its way. The home library of the future could be reduced to a shoebox full of memory modules, each about the size of a quarter.

VPR Systems Ltd. — headed by Robert Griesedieck, 66, a former brewing executive, and Michael Saigh, 37, a stockbroker and business professor — plans to introduce a hand-held electronic book by the fall of 1991.

Unlike other manufacturers, who are developing systems that use compact discs for text and graphics, VPR’s ‘video pocket reader’ uses an interchangeable, reprogrammable memory module. Read the rest of this entry »

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November 2, 2009 at 7:55 pm

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