unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

North Shore Blues

It’s not news that people are losing their homes and many others are stressed out about it happening to them, too. And there’s general empathy for anyone in that position. But when the example is specific and you can make some personal connection with the person or the setting, it’s even harder not to think, “There but for the grace of God…”

I sure had that reaction when I read about a woman in Wilmette who was charged with stealing packages from outside peoples’ homes and then selling the contents on eBay. She is said to have told police she was worried about losing her home and was doing it to make sure she had enough money to pay her property taxes.

The idea came to her when she was walking her dog and saw recently delivered packages on neighborhood porches. She allegedly wound up taking packages from homes on Laurel, Maple, Ashland and 10th street.

These are all streets in and around the house where we raised our children before they went off to college and we moved into the city. Who knows if a fear of losing her home was what was really motivating the woman in this story. But visualizing someone doing this on the streets I know well from years of driving, jogging and biking, makes my heart heavy for someone driven to do that and who lives in my old neighborhood.

But whether it’s in Wilmette, Worth or Waukegan, there are people who are stressed and worried. And as this housing mess plays out, there’s really only one good reaction if you are reasonably secure about having a roof over your head: flat out gratitude.

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Hummers and Lampreys–Be Gone!

It looks like the Hummer might be in its death throes. GM was trying to sell the line to a Chinese company but the deal fell through in part because the government there is putting more emphasis on the environment and limiting imported oil.

Here in the U.S. the Hummer became the poster child for everything that was bad about SUVs–gas guzzling, self-indulgent–clueless. Whenever I see a Hummer my default thought about the owner is “meathead.”

I love cars and reading about them. Always have. But when I read about any new high-performance model that still relies exclusively on fossil fuel and promises 300 horsepower I think, “What planet are these people living on who still make these and others who still want to buy them?”

Which brings me to last night’s show when we did a segment on Atlantic sea lampreys that have invaded the Great Lakes. If you saw those lampreys live in our studio you know how revolting they are to look at and how damaging they’ve been to the eco-system. (They attach themselves to native fish and kill them by sucking the fluids out of them). And now that they’re here, there’s no way to completely get rid of ’em. The lesson from the segment–the best solution is to keep invasive species out in the first place.

Which gets me back to the Hummers. Smart move on China’s part.

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Who has the toughest job?

Last night, one of Elizabeth Brackett’s guests was CTA President Richard Rodriguez. His being on the show reminded me of something I’ve often wondered about. Arguably, the three toughest jobs in Chicago are the person who runs the CTA, the superintendent of police and the CEO of Chicago schools. But which of those jobs is the absolute hardest?

The person running the CTA has a challenging job; he/she has to manage dwindling resources, equipment, personnel and provide a service. The same can be said of the police superintendent–although that job’s compass point is “to serve and protect.” But I’ve often thought that the person running the schools may have the toughest job of those three.

Why? Here’s my thinking in very simple (and probably overly simplistic) terms. Without minimizing the first two jobs, if you’re running the CTA, ultimately you’re judged on how well you move people around. And if you’re in charge of the police department, you’re judged on how well you stop bad guys from doing bad things.

But if you’re running the schools, your goal is to get people to do something positive and better for themselves. Creating an environment where young people want to learn, have the tools to learn and then show that they’re learning is a huge assignment. Also, think about all those factors which can affect learning over which you have no control.

Whose shoes would you want to be in when it came time for your annual performance review? I don’t think I’d pick Ron Huberman’s. (Even though–whenever he’s been on the show–I’ve noticed they’re always nicely shined.)

Your thoughts?

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North Dakota to the rescue!

Last night two interviews on our show caused a brainstorm. First, Carol Marin talked to Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation about its new report basically saying that without tax hikes and aggressive budget cuts, Illinois would soon be flat-out broke and incapable of conducting business. Then Kris Kridel reported that Chicago-based General Growth, one of the country’s largest owners of malls, was in bankruptcy and in danger of being acquired against its will by another owner of large malls.

Then it occurred to me. Given its current budget shortfall and long-term liabilities, Illinois is flirting with de facto bankruptcy. If it were a corporation, it might be an attractive takeover target. What if another state could bail Illinois out by acquiring it? Say, North Dakota? North Dakota is one of a handful of states that pops up on lists of states that aren’t doing so badly budget-wise, all things considered. Sure, North Dakota would have to eat Illinois’ liabilities, but think of what that landlocked state could get in return: direct access to a major waterway, one of the world’s great cities, several major sports franchises, deep dish pizza–all of it.

It would make Kraft’s takeover of British candy maker, Cadbury, the second sweetest deal in recent history. Yes, North Dakota would have to borrow heavily to close the deal, but think of what it could get in return: the Bismarck Bears!

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Welcome to unPHILtered

Welcome to the first posting of my new blog, “unPHILtered.” I know the name is a bit cheesy, but we were trying to capture the spirit of what we want the blog to be: some personal insights that come directly from me to you.*

Almost by its nature, a blog can have a self-absorbed quality to it (so give me points for self-awareness). But my hope is that it can give you some things to think about which relate to our city, our area or our times…and which just might be fun or maybe a little quirky.

Occasionally I might take you behind the scenes on Chicago Tonight or tell you what happened after a guest left or after a segment aired. For example, after a recent candidates’ forum, one high-profile political candidate–angry over what another had said on the air–told that candidate he was “going to get it right between the eyes.” That was a first for us. (Note to guests and potential guests: don’t worry; I won’t say anything to embarrass you.)

On other days, the blog might address something that is going in the culture–a trend, an event or a person of note. So, if I’ve seen a movie that I think you should avoid I might post, in effect, that “it’s too late for me but save yourselves.”

The blog will occasionally take up something that is going on in my personal life that might resonate with you, too. I have no set agenda but a wide range of interests and maybe those interests can be a point of convergence for us.

Being the host of a nightly TV magazine of news and culture probably comes with a set of expectations about how a host is supposed to act and what he or she is supposed to say on the air. In this blog I plan to loosen my collar a bit. My plan is to post Mondays through Fridays. So, I hope you come back here from time to time. And if you have a topic you’d like for me to take up, post a comment and let me know. Life’s short. Let’s have fun.


* Here are some of the other titles my colleagues came up with: PHILler, rePHIL, What the Phil and Philli Vannilli (a perfect name if this were ghost-written–which it will not be). So, maybe unPHILtered isn’t so bad?

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