June 2009 Archives


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I started reading Roger Ebert's blog regularly a while ago -- as one would expect from a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, it's excellently written and Ebert still has as keen a mind as ever, despite his recent bouts with cancer that have rendered him speechless.  It's well worth reading -- just keep in mind movies aren't the only thing he's interested in.

His most recent entry was especially evocative, not just for the nostalgia, but because of his descriptions of Champaign-Urbana back in the late 40s, early 50s.  While the locations he talks about are all still there, all the shops he mentions, almost to a one, are gone.  The newspaper he used to deliver, the Courier, is gone, though its former offices live on in the form of one of my favorite local eateries, the Courier Cafe (I highly recommend their burgers, fries, and milkshakes).  One of the radio stations he mentioned, WKID, is gone, though WDWS is still around.

More interesting for me, though, is what he described that I had shared with him in some way.  Crystal Lake Park is still there, of course -- where he used to ride his bike, I ran the Uni High 5K five years in a row.  I can still remember how grueling those were when I started and how much easier they were at the end of high school, when I think I managed to run it in under 23 minutes.  I suspect I'd have a hard time running it in twice that, these days.  The Urbana Free Library is still there, though I've only been there once, in college, when I was working on a history paper; growing up, I went to the closer (and, in my Champaign-chauvinistic mind, better) Champaign Public Library.  I've never seen any of the little soda shops or drug stores he talks about; that was all gone by the time the 80s rolled around.

Some of the places he described I have been to, but have since disappeared in the 30 years I've lived here.  Huey's, the store he describes, I remember going to a few times in the early 80s; I remember it as a sort of low-rent Farm and Fleet.  I used to get my hockey equipment at Johnston's Sports Shop in downtown Champaign, and probably bought my equipment from the same guy he worked for, Sealy Johnston (who seemed to be about 95 twenty years ago).  The store is gone now, after moving down to Savoy and ending its life as a bizarre combination vegetable stand/sporting goods store; the former storefront went through renovations for what seemed like ages until it became yet another downtown bar a couple years ago.

Reading his post makes me wonder what's going to be left of my childhood in ten, twenty, thirty years.  So much has already changed, even just since I started spending most of my days on the university campus, 20 years ago.  Someone at work used to have a photo of Green Street circa 1994 posted on his office door, looking west from the Alma Mater.  The Co-Ed, the old McDonalds, the old Follett's building...all of that stuff is gone or radically different now.  There used to be two "skyscrapers" in Champaign -- Huntington Tower, at Springfield and Randolph, and the Century 21 building on Third (which went through about 5 different name changes and is now Presidential Tower).  Both are still there; of the two, the latter was the tallest, with 15 or so stories to the other's 12, I think.  Just in the last two years two more high rises have been erected, an 18-story building on the grounds of the old Burnham Hospital, and a 24-story building in the heart of campustown where there used to be what was known as the worst Burger King in the world.

Closer to home, the cornfield I used to cut through to get from school to Jeremy's house has been a housing development since the early 90s, at the latest.  Where there used to be nothing south of Windsor Road (which used to be a gravel road for most of its length) or west of I-57, there's a ton of McMansions and other developments.  Even the house I live in today wasn't built until 1984.  It's very strange to see how things change so much, and yet Champaign still feels like the same place I grew up in.   I can't help but wonder if I'll have the same feelings in 20 years, especially if I end up moving away.
So while reading an article on the ongoing situation in Iran today I made the mistake of disobeying the general advice "never read comments on the internet" and happened to read the following nugget of wisdom:

"Just another day of dealing with the nutcases who run Iran. You know, the ones Obama was so anxious to talk to. Now that the true totaliatarian nature of their government is obvious to all, I wonder if Obama still wants to talk to them..."
Dear Todd, author of the above comment -- the fact that Iran is a a repressive and corrupt government is not something that anyone who has paid attention to world affairs is surprised by.  On the other hand, Iran is far more open than many other totalitarian regimes we've engaged with in the past.

To be fair, I'm not really sure what the best approach is with Iran -- I'm not particularly thrilled about a country run by hardline theocrats with a blood feud against most of the West getting nuclear weapons, but I don't think convincing them that having nuclear weapons is the only way we'll actually talk to them is going to solve the problem either.  I think I'd almost feel safer if the situation was reversed, considering the fact that Iran, at the very least, has more than one person who might be able to act as a firebreak for a nuclear conflict.

I do know, though, that simply ignoring Iran until they doing something that is a cry for attention won't work.  Neither will meddling in their internal affairs or bombing the hell out of them.  Iran is not a country of 65 million spoiled children, it's a country with thousands of years of history, with a great deal of regional influence, and with a comparatively well-educated populace.  Telling them to sit in a corner until they are sorry is not an effective way to deal with them.  Showing them the respect they deserve, to run their own affairs and participate on the world stage, making them connect to the rest of the world, is how you bring about change.  This is what happened with the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, what is slowly happening with China, and what will happen elsewhere as the world becomes more and more interdependent.

This doesn't mean sitting idly by while they develop nuclear weapons, but it doesn't mean thinking the only solutions are ignoring them or beating the hell out of them either.  Punishing the general populace for the actions of their (largely oligarchical) leaders or for simply wanting to be taken seriously is not a solution.

As an aside, Andrew Sullivan appears to be doing a decent job of collecting stuff coming out of Iran on his blog, if you're interested.

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