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Focus Encore: Why give gifts?

There’s a lot of forethought, and sometimes a lot of stress, that’s a part of the holiday season. That’s completely counter-intuitive considering the holidays are supposed to be a time to relax and enjoy time with family and friends. During this encore hour on Focus, we talked about why certain expectations are attached to the holidays and what we can do about it.For the first half of the hour, host Jim Meadows talks with University of Illinois Professor Harry Liebersohn, about the reasons we give gifts. He does research in Europe and says even though the act of giving a gift implies the same thing everywhere, traditions surrounding gift giving vary widely from culture to culture. He’ll also tell us about how the definition of what a gift is has evolved over time. Then, on the second half of this hour on Focus, Susan Salterburg of the University of Northern Iowa joins the show. She’s a part of an outreach program called “Reclaim Your Holidays,” that’s trying to spread the message that simplifying the holidays and giving fewer gifts is not only 100% acceptable but also more environmentally friendly.

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Cartooning

Robert Harvey, Cartoon Historian and Author of Meanwhile…A History of Milton Caniff, Creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon

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Brain drain in downstate Illinois

When Archer Daniels Midland told Decatur city officials that it would be moving its global headquarters to Chicago, city councilman Pat McDaniel said the news hurt, but that it wasn’t surprising. “Young people don’t want to locate in Decatur anymore, at least we’re starting to see more and more people want to move to places like Chicago.”And according to IRS and US Census data, McDaniel might be right. People are moving, around Illinois and out of the state all together. For at least the last fifteen years, more people have moved out of Illinois than have moved in. In order to keep businesses and communities thriving, Michael Lucci of the Illinois Policy Institute says that trend has to stop. It’s costing the state lots of money in tax revenue. In addition, Lucci says it’s a specific demographic that appears to be moving out.“It’s earners that are making above the average household income who have college degrees that are leaving,” he says, “with an aging tax base and business climate where attracting big corporations to locate in a particular space is highly competitive, something has to be done.”City leaders like Pat McDaniel agree. The question is – how? Kathy Lively has some suggestions. After the shutdown of the Maytag plant that employed nearly 1,000 people in Herrin, Illinois, city residents rallied together to ensure those workers found new jobs and stayed in town.During this Focus interview, Scott Cameron talks with Pat McDaniel about what it means to Decatur that ADM is moving its global headquarters and some of its employees. Then we’ll hear from Michael Lucci and Kathy Lively from Mantracon, a company that helped the city of Herrin take care of its laid-off workers when Maytag left in 2006.

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Unmet Needs: "Folk Wisdom" about health perpetuates stereotypes

Joey Ramp gets uncomfortable in large crowds of people. New places also make her uneasy. It’s her service dog, Theo, and her highly regimented schedule that helps her handle her anxiety and cope with her post-traumatic stress disorder. Theo is always with her, and since her disability isn’t visible, she says people are curious. Sometimes they ask; sometimes they don’t. “Most often, when people ask and I say I have PTSD, people want to thank me for my service.”That makes it awkward for Ramp to explain that she never served in the military.Kay White, an Associate Professor of Behavioral Science at Millikin University, says the fact that those conversations happen is a product of the “folk wisdom” that she says we often rely on when it comes to understanding and talking about mental health. During our #WILLchat on Twitter, that was a part of our series "Unmet Needs: living with mental illness in central Illinios," you asked how to start conversations about mental health and mental illness, during this Focus interview, we’ll mull it over. In this Focus interview, host Scott Cameron talks with Ramp and White about stereotypes and misunderstandings when it comes to mental illness.

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Look onscreen, the doctor will see you now

Harry Wolin manages Mason District Hospital in Havana, Illinois, one of many clinics in Illinois that provide care to medically underserved areas. The hospital has been treating patients via telepsychiatry, when a patient meets with a doctor via a computer screen, for about four years now. Wolin says they started offering appointments that way after the county mental health center shut down due to lack of funding.“If we wouldn’t have started offering this service, many of our patients would have had to travel an hour or more to see somebody,” he explains.In an evolving health care system where cost control and efficiency are key, some are looking to telepsychiatry as a solution; some are more skeptical. Could the technology a way to offer more patients quicker access to a doctor? Is that really the best solution? After the show, Friday, at 11:00 a.m., we'll be continuing our conversation about mental illness on Twitter at the hashtag #WILLchat. Have you been personally affected by the lack of access to mental health services? What would you like to see change? What stigmas have you encountered in central Illinois? Tweet us @Focus580.

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Going to college on the G.I. Bill today

Johnny Watts started school at the University of Illinois after serving in the Army for six years. He says returning to the life of a student after serving in the military was a little daunting. He worried he wouldn’t be classroom ready, that other students would be far ahead of him in terms of coursework. But once he found a community of veterans to hang out with, he says it got easier. “It was nice when I found other vets to talk to. You kind of have your own language after being in the service,” he said. “And, then I had someone else besides my wife to talk to about school.”Watts graduates this spring from the University of Illinois with a degree in electrical engineering, and is moving to southern California with his wife. She’s also a veteran who has been attending the University of Illinois. And, according to a new study from the Student Veterans of America, the Watts’ are among a large group of veterans who’ve taken advantage of the education benefits in the Post 9/11 GI Bill.New data shows that just over 50 percent of returning soldiers who use the GI Bill are finishing their degrees.Nicholas Osborne, Dean of Veterans Student Services at the University of Illinois, says it’s a little bit higher than 50 percent at the Urbana campus where around 400 veterans are enrolled. He’s not satisfied with that figure. “That means 1 in 2 veterans are dropping out of school. We can do better.”The original G.I. Bill that was passed in 1944 following World War II was transformative to the way Americans think about higher education. Author Ed Humes says that at the time, few people thought veterans would utilize the education benefit. They were wrong; nearly 8 million vets finished degrees following the war. The current G.I. Bill is much different than the original one, but many are still using it to gain access to higher education. Osborne says it’s up to colleges and universities to ensure it’s feasible for veterans  current day benefits.During this Focus interview, Scott Cameron talks with Watts about the unique barriers he’s faced trying to get acclimated with the university environment after returning from the military. We also hear from Osborne and author Ed Humes who wrote the book “Over Here: How the G.I. Bill Transformed the American Dream.” 

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What to read to understand the fight for Crimea

If you’ve been following the crisis in Ukraine and the fight for Crimea, do you have unanswered questions about why Russia is so invested? We do, and we wanted to get a better understanding of the historical context of the conflict. Kathryn Stoner, a political scientist who is a Senior Fellow at the Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, has prepared a reading list that she says go a long way in explaining the Russian perspective.Continue reading to find her reading list and descriptions of the books and their authors.The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-first Century by Angela Stent(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014)This is a terrific book, hot off the press, that takes the reader through the post cold war relationship between Russia and the United States. Stent worked in government during some of the period covered in the book, and is also a Professor of Government at Georgetown. She argues, appropriately, that Russia and the US really don't understand one another's interests and motivations particularly well, and that this lack of fundamental understanding leads to hard limits in the extent to which the two powers can cooperate. There are lots of original interviews in this book with both US and Russian policy makers who have played key roles in the past 20 years. Among the topics covered here are Russia's war with Georgia in 2008 and Russia's reaction to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004. Russian Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity (Second edition) by Andrei Tsygankov(Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010)This is an interesting overview that might be the right book to start with on this list of four. It is really the only one of the four that I list here that provides a quick and dirty background read on Cold War relations in 30 or so pages. It also examines issues of enduring importance to both the Soviet Union and contemporary Russia. It helps us to understand, for example, why Russia cares so much about keeping Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other post-Soviet states within its "natural sphere of  influence." Tsygankov is decidedly more "pro-Kremlin" than the other authors in my list, but that perspective is really important for Americans to read and understand. As the title suggests, while Russia is no longer the Soviet Union in ideology, it is a blend of the Russian empire of the Tsars with a Soviet mentality and general suspicion of Western intentions.Russian Foreign Policy: The Return of Great Power Politics (Second edition) by Jeffrey Mankoff(Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, and Council on Foreign Relations, 2012)Mankoff's book is really a long essay on the sources of Russian behavior in the last 2 years in particular. I find the book a particularly useful reminder of the various grievances that Russia holds against the West — from the expansion of NATO (right up to "Russian" borders in the Baltics and what is really Ukraine, not Russia); the NATO bombing of Serbia in the late 1990's, another Slavic brotherly nation; the attempt to install anti-ballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic; the NATO bombing of Libya which Russian leaders think far exceeded the mandate NATO was given to intervene in the UN; and Russia's suspicions regarding US involvement in Ukraine's first and "Orange" Revolution in 2004. It is a quicker read than the Stent book, but covers the main issues. It helps to explain why Russia feels it should be able to do what it wants in its "legitimate and historical zone of concern," which we now know includes Crimea!Post-Imperium: A Eurasian Story by Dmitri Trenin(Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2011)Trenin is a former Soviet Defense Ministry official, who speaks and writes fluently in English and is now a leading researcher at the Carnegie Center for International Peace in Moscow. One of the interesting things about this book is that it is written from a very personal perspective. Trenin describes his own professional transition as a defense policy expert through the collapse of the Soviet Union, and weaves this story into the changes in Russian foreign policy through the 1990's and then the last decade under President Putin. Trenin is very politically progressive by Russian standards, and is a sharp analyst and observer of Russian politics. He knows personally many of the key players in the defense and foreign policy establishment in Moscow, and this relatively short book provides some really useful insights into again understanding how Russia has risen from the ashes of the Soviet Union and the "bad times" of President Yeltsin in the 1990's, to again being a "player" in global politics. Trenin is well aware of his country's limitations, however. He gives the reader some useful insights into Russia's internal problems like its demographic challenges, as well as the economy's dependence on oil and gas exports in particular.   Trenin covers Russia's post-Soviet wars in Chechnya (within Russia's own borders) and also in Georgia, which is a useful reminder to the casual observer that Russia has been using its military a fair amount since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Crimea is just the most recent example. The book ends with a useful discussion of what Russia is culturally and ideologically, and touches on Putin's tendency to appropriate historical symbols from the imperial and Soviet periods of Russian history in order to foster and promote national pride. The message is: "Russia is back."

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Researching medical marijuana a challenge for scientists

Americans in 20 states, including Illinois once its new medicinal cannabis pilot program is fully functioning, can purchase medical marijuana to treat symptoms of diseases ranging from multiple sclerosis to glaucoma to HIV and AIDs, but the science behind why medical marijuana helps ease symptoms of some of those diseases is hazy. Because marijuana is a classified as a schedule 1 drug by the federal government, a category for drugs with no medical value and highly addictive properties, researchers have a very difficult time gaining access to marijuana plants in order to study them.In this Focus interivew, Peter Hecht, author of the forthcoming book "Weedland," and clinical psychiatirst Suzanne Sisley, who works with veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder at the University of Arizona, join host Scott Cameron.   

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"Young Invincibles" sign up for Affordable Care Act leading up to deadline

Director of Outreach for Get Covered Illinois Brian Gorman says young people are signing up for health coverage through the Affordable Care Act's health care marketplace in the final days for enrollment, something that Illinois officials has been concerned about. He talked with Scott Cameron during this Focus interview about how many people have signed up so far. He says its important that the "extension" for enrollment announced yesterday by the Obama administration doesn't give people more time to start the process of enrolling; it only gives you more time to finish an already exisiting application for insurance.

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The Effects of Gender-typed Toys

Supriya Hobbs and Janna Eaves are painfully aware that they are surrounded by mostly male students in their engineering classes at the University of Illinois. That’s part of the reason they’re behind the new start-up Miss Possible Inc., a toy company with intentions to manufacture dolls for girls fashioned after historical figures like Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart.“Most toys, especially dolls, are empty,” says Hobbs, “Entrepreneur Barbie wears a suit and has a smart phone; that makes her a CEO?”This hour on Focus, Scott Cameron talks with Hobbs about the start-up, and why Hobbs and Eaves want girls to be interested in science and technology. We’ll also hear from Analisa Russo, part of the company Electroninks, which is bringing a gel pen to draw circuits to market this summer. Isabelle Cherney, a researcher at Creighton University, will tell us how the toys we play can have an effect on our perceived capabilities and our gender identity.  Then, we’ll switch gears at the end of the hour when Jake Kuebler of Bluestem Financial Advisors, LLC in Champaign joins us to discuss issues in personal finance.  

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