Hoping to cut down on air pollution that in recent days has reached dangerous levels, city officials in Paris on Monday began trying to cut automobile emissions by enforcing an odd-even system of traffic rules.
For the most part, only cars with odd-numbered license plates could be on the rues et boulevards Monday (since it's the 17th of March). On Tuesday, the city's streets will mostly be open only to cars with even-numbered plates.
The restrictions apply in the city and 22 surrounding suburbs, according to France 24. There are exemptions, the news network adds, for electric and hybrid cards, and "any vehicle carrying three people or more." Motorcycles are subject to the odd-even rules.
City officials have taken another step as well: Public transport systems will be free as long as the odd-even rule applies. How long the odd-even rules will last isn't yet known.
As for why this is happening, France 24 explains that:
"Paris and much of northern France have been suffering under high pollution levels for several days after an extended period of cool, dry nights with much warmer daytime temperatures — climactic conditions that do not allow pollutant particles to disperse.
"Paris is also more prone to smog than other European capitals because of France's diesel subsidies and its high number of private car drivers."
The odd-even restriction has been used in Paris once before, in 1997.
The BBC's Hugh Schofield reports that on Monday it wasn't hard to spot even-numbered plates on the streets, but that "most cars on the roads [were] indeed odd-plated, and traffic [seemed] lighter than usual." Still, according to The Associated Press, by midday police had issued nearly 4,000 tickets and 27 cars had been impounded.
The wire service also notes that:
"Paris' anti-pollution efforts trail far behind those of some other cities. Athens has had a similar alternate driving ban in place for many years; in the Greek capital is has contributed significantly both to reducing pollution and reducing traffic.
"Sao Paulo, Brazil employs a more complicated license plate-based system that assigns each car a day of the week on which it cannot be driven during morning and afternoon rush hours."
Chinese officials imposed odd-even driving restrictions in Beijing before and during the 2008 Summer Olympics there, both to help clear the air and cut down on traffic congestion.
Some Two-Way readers, and this blogger, are old enough of course to remember the gasoline crises of the 1970s and the odd-even gasoline rationing they led to in the U.S. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 also forced officials around in the New York-New Jersey region to impose odd-even restrictions on gasoline purchases.
St. Patrick's Day is my excuse to present you with the following illusion in green, courtesy of Akiyoshi Kitaoka, a psychology professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan.
This image includes two spirals in different shades of green, one a yellowish light green and the other a darker turquoise green. Right?
At least, that's not what the pixel color values on your monitor will tell you, or what you'd find if you used a photometer to measure the distribution of lightwaves bouncing back from the green-looking regions of either spiral. In fact, the two spirals are the very same shade of green.
If you don't believe me, here's a trick to make the illusion go away: replace the yellow and blue surrounding the green segments with a uniform background. Here I've replaced the blue with black:
And here the yellow is gone, too:
Tada! The very same green.
And just in case you think I've swapped the greens on you, here's a final demonstration. If you follow a single green region across a section from the original image (with yellow and blue) to a modified section (with black), you'll see that the shade of green remains the same.
The fact that the illusion disappears when the surrounding colors are replaced with a uniform background illustrates an important feature of color perception. Our experience of color for a given region of space isn't just a consequence of the wavelengths of light reaching our retinas from that region. Instead, the context matters a lot!
When a version of this illusion first made the Internet rounds in 2009 (thanks to folks like Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy), a few explanations were offered, including the idea that "our brain judges the color of an object by comparing it to surrounding colors" (from Richard Wiseman) or that it's a consequence of "simple downsampling" (from Dan Kaminsky). It turns out both of these ideas are partially right and that vision scientists have been studying the phenomenon for some time. (They've found, for example, that patterned backgrounds can have a larger effect on color appearance than uniform backgrounds.)
To find out more, I turned to an expert: friend and vision scientist Ben Backus, an associate professor in SUNY's College of Optometry. He kindly
explained one of the most important factors behind the illusion:
This illusion works because the visual system measures color at a coarser spatial scale than luminance (i.e., brightness). Thus the apparent color of a small object can be contaminated by the colors of neighboring objects, which is very nicely demonstrated by this illusion. When green is sandwiched between yellow it looks much yellower than when it is sandwiched between blue.
Why does the visual system do this? Basically because it can. Usually. Since there is almost always a change in luminance at the border between two objects in an image (which is why black and white photographs are interpretable), you don't need color to detect where the borders are. You can fill in the object colors after you know where the edges are, using a coarser color map.
This normally works just fine, and it allows your brain to save tremendously on wiring. Your optic nerves are already by far the thickest nerves in your body, with about a million axons coming out of each eye. They use a lot of energy transmitting the luminance information at high resolution. Why also transmit color at high-resolution if you don't have to?
Incidentally, color television signals transmit luminance information in greater detail than color, and digital cameras collect the luminance data at twice the resolution of color. This all works fine because natural images don't have sharp color borders except where they also have a sharp luminance border.
And finally, because I can't resist, one more image from Akiyoshi Kitaoka's website, an impressive variant of the peripheral drift illusion. (But first, a warning: anomalous motion illusions like this one make some people dizzy, so look away if that happens to you!)
Almost like shamrocks blowing in the wind ...
You can keep up with more of what Tania Lombrozo is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo
Westboro Baptist Church founder Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. is in hospice care and near death, family and church members say. Nate Phelps, a son of the longtime pastor, says his father's passing would put his followers in a crisis, because the church's members "think that death is a judgment from God."
Nate Phelps' comments come from an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal, in which he adds, "So far, that illusion has held because none of them has passed."
The church's members are convinced that they will be taken up by Jesus Christ, Phelps tells the newspaper.
"They're clear about that, that they're not going to feel the sting of death," he says.
Nate Phelps says that if that belief isn't borne out, the church's members will likely see it as a test of their faith. He predicted that some would find a "palatable justification" to continue on with Westboro Baptist.
News that the founder of the church that's known for using controversial funeral protests to carry out a campaign against gays and other groups was in hospice care came out over the weekend, along with a statement from Nathan Phelps that his father had been excommunicated last summer from the church he built.
Fred Phelps Sr., "is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas," Nathan Phelps wrote in a Facebook post. He said that church members were preventing him and others who have left the family over the church's teachings from seeing the ailing church founder, who is 84.
The reason for Phelps' excommunication isn't known; a church spokesman interviewed by the Capital-Journal didn't deny it had occurred, but he refused to elaborate. He also said that while Phelps is in hospice, he isn't near death. Another of Phelps' sons contacted the newspaper to say its version of events was accurate.
Nate Phelps told The Associated Press in a phone interview Sunday night that church members had voted Phelps out of the church "after some kind of falling out."
He added that Fred Phelps and his wife were moved out of the space they had long occupied above the church and into a nearby house. Afterwards, the church founder stopped eating and drinking, Nate Phelps said.
The AP reports, "Nate Phelps said he has no doubt some people would want to protest his father's funeral but added, 'I wish they wouldn't.'"
The possibility of Fred Phelps dying has led to questions over how Westboro Baptist might continue, and whether the church's followers would persist in their attempts to garner publicity for their views at funerals and other events.
A look at the church's website shows no break in its "Picket Schedule," which lists upcoming shows by the singer Lorde and comedian Kathy Griffin as targets. The site also features a video titled "Aye, God Hates St. Patrick's Day," featuring spokesman Steven Drain, who is mentioned by Nathan Phelps as a possible successor to his father.
On Sunday, Drain told the Capital-Journal that Westboro Baptist doesn't have a central leader , saying, "The Lord Jesus Christ is our head."
He added that several church elders have been preaching at the church.
"For a very long time, we haven't been organized in the way you think,"Drain said.
Nathan Phelps says that his brother, Tim, and Drain have both "shown the fire" that would be required of the church's pastor. But he also tells the Capital-Journal that several long-time church members "could get up and do the same job as the old man has done. They've heard [the preachings] a million times."
Now that she is back on the road, now that the Internet is again awash in pictures of her sweating on stage in Glasgow, running through sold-out crowds in London in costume, it seems as good a time as any to talk about what for many young women was the most important big live show of the past two years — Beyoncé's "The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour." And because Beyoncé has been on the road since last April, almost an entire year, there has been ample time for the constellation of the fans who pay serious money to follow her to create a fan culture (much like The Grateful Dead and their Deadheads but updated for the 21st Century) that is almost as intriguing as the star herself.
Barclays Stadium might be an athletic venue, but for the four nights that Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter performed there last summer it became a coliseum of glitter, sequins, gold lamé. Justin Bieber calls his fans Beliebers, Lady Gaga calls hers the Little Monsters and Beyoncé calls her most hardcore fans the "BeyHive." As they clogged and crammed Atlantic Ave., all trying to get to their Queen, the description never seemed more accurate.
Not everyone at the concert was a woman, and not everyone was bedazzled, but it was pretty remarkable how many of them were. At a Beyoncé concert are swarms, literally swarms, of women. There are some men there too, of course, but the women, and by this I mean every kind of woman you can imagine, they come invincible. They stride four abreast. They henpeck and flirt with the guards. They twerk in front of food kiosks while they wait in line to order snacks. They wear their best outfits — baggy vests and baseball caps to dresses tight enough to look like bondage. They feel it. A Beyoncé concert is like one epic Beyoncé video. One can't help but get into the fantasy. It is about the community. And even though it was a hot night in the city, inside of Barclays the women were being nothing of short of congenial. In the elevator going down to another level, I danced with two super sassy Delta sorors to "Blurred Lines" as it played over the loudspeaker. They high-fived me when we exited. In another concourse, I watched a rambunctious group of blonde women in six-inch heels buy shots and eat huge hamburgers under unforgiving stadium lighting, totally not giving a f—- about their appetites or their table manners because at a Beyoncé concert absolutely none of that matters. If you wanted to evade security and crash a section that was closer to the stage, it was all good. If you couldn't make up your mind about whether you wanted that really expensive T-shirt with a half-naked bent over Beyoncé emblazoned on its front, you could take your time because chances were the person behind you was giddy with the same excitement and indecision too. There was no judgment, because a Beyoncé concert is a world run totally by girls, and by that I mean women.
At this point, you don't have to be a Beyoncé fan to acknowledge that Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, age 32, is the clear contender for the title of the hardest working woman in pop music. I was not left particularly breathless by her Super Bowl show nor did I race to see it. I own only one of her albums, the one I think is her best until her most recent, B'Day, but over the years, ever since a friend gave me a pass to attend her intimate Roseland show in 2011 where backstage I watched a breathless, drenched Beyonce walk off stage like it was nothing, I've been forced to concede that, love her or not, there can be little doubt that Beyoncé is a behemoth of work ethic and sweat in nude salsa dancer tights. She is the sort of woman who in between a 132-date world tour found time to record an entire album in absolute secret, film 17 music videos, and organize it all through her own fledgling company, Parkwood Entertainment, instead of her established record label, Columbia Records.
Over the years, Beyoncé has razored off friends and group members who slowed her down. She has become a dancer, a wife and a mother. And of late, Beyoncé has become a cultural lightening rod whose obsessive fans tell us loads about how conversations around sexuality and race still pervade American pop music. People care about Beyoncé for the same reason Camille Paglia and bell hooks cared about Madonna. If Madonna exemplified white female sexuality and independence coming into its own, Beyoncé shows her fans what it means for a black woman to put on the performance of a lifetime.
Like all superfans, the BeyHive to some extent thrives off the sense that their bond to the object of their affection is intimate and specific even when it is not. What is specific with someone like Beyoncé, the now equal-earning, if not out-earning, wife of a man worth a half-billion, who obtained that money with her own blood, sweat and tears as a teenager in a girl group, and later out-svengali-ed her looming, impresario father, broke off and eclipsed her groupmates to become one the world's most top-selling solo artists, is that her fans feel like they have been there for her success. They are proud of her. They have watched her grow up and watched her win. Beyoncé's totemic status with the BeyHive is legendary. The Hive is fiercely protective of their Queen Bee. Besides Beyoncé's concerts, the foremost apiary of the BeyHive is on the Internet, on Twitter. On Twitter, you can find the Hive massive and worldwide: the bugged out French teenagers, the Brazilians tweeting from Rio, the white boys in the Midwest with Broadway dreams, connected by their love of Beyoncé, all speaking in a lexicon that makes them sound like both the forefront of the beekeeping movement and the ultimate Beyoncé fans. If you insult Beyoncé on Twitter the Hive will insult you until you rue the day you were born, or regret the day you cancelled your gym membership.
After following one Hive member's Twitter feed for hours (and discerning that she lives in the Deep South and is married despite being very young, and that she mostly tweets about three things: going to the casino, Beyoncé's sales numbers and fighting with her husband for more money to feed her Beyoncé habit), I timidly sent her a message over Twitter: "Can I ask you a question?"
I was timid because her timeline revealed that she had spent her morning trying to get a Best Buy employee fired because he slipped her a link to download the album for free. This infuriated her. How will Beyoncé out-sell Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and the "competition" with people like this, she wondered. Sometime the next day she (I'll call her "Angela") followed me back. Angela wrote that she was down to talk with me about being a part of The BeyHive but with one condition: it had to be positive. She said she was all about positivity — something that seemed mildly ironic since for the last 48 hours she had made light of Rihanna for being a victim of domestic violence, mocked Taylor Swift's flat ass and dissed anyone who admitted they were a fan of Tamar Braxton.
But as we corresponded back and forth I watched her tweets take a kinder tone, so I agreed to her request and asked for her phone number. She wrote back that her phone was dying. So without thinking I sent her my number and told her to call me. When an hour passed without reply, I sent her another note, and I got a reply that revealed the tone had clearly changed. Angela was now highly pissed. "Who are you? Are you pulling my leg?" She wanted to know why'd I want to interview her. I wrote back and explained I'm a writer. Before I can finish she sends me another note, "I'm blocking you." Her anger is almost palpable. I send her a link to my work and a few minutes pass. No reply, but when I check her timeline again, I almost pass out. She has taken my information and posted a screenshot of it to all of her followers, not just her followers, but also the entire BEYHIVE, because she has captioned her tweets with that hashtag: #BEYHIVE
Of late, the Hive has gotten a bad name; everybody knows that they have a reputation for stunts like this. But what seemed less obvious, at least to me, was why they took their love affair with Beyoncé so seriously and exerted so much effort and so much venom in its defense.
Back at Barclays, this time months later, I stood outside, in the winter, at Beyoncé's last show in Brooklyn and tried to get some of her fans to talk with me. I started with groups. People with "go-for-it" Beyoncé-like style. High heels. Studded loafers. Fur vests. Red talons. I approached one group of young ladies with Lady Godiva-long weaves and asked them if they would answer a few questions for a piece I'm working on.
"No, boo, no questions," their "leader" said, holding her phone to her face like I was paparazzi. "We are late for the show."
She herded her girls along. It didn't matter that we both knew the show didn't start for an hour. TMZ taught her well. After a few attempts like this, I gave up and decided to try the only people who couldn't walk away from me: the security guards. At the least crowded entrance door I asked a guard, "What sort of fan comes to the Beyoncé show?" This guard, a middle-aged black woman, looked around furtively, and then she pointed to herself and then back to me without saying a word.
"Mostly black girls?" I inferred and whispered it back her.
"Oh yeah," she said. She had a heavy Caribbean accent. Then her face got grave and she nodded, like the answer was apparent but also a secret. "It's a mixture, yeah, but yeah, it's mostly us here."
When I tried to verify this assessment of the crowd with another guard, who was also a middle-aged black woman, she balked, "Are you kidding me?" She laughed proudly. "Oh no! No way! No way! White people love Beyoncé. The gay guys? Please! Beyoncé? She is international." She would not stop laughing and before I could ask her something else she walked away still scoffing at me and shaking her head.
I had the best luck with a young guy guard, who caught my eye because he was beaming like he had best job in the world and for that night maybe he did. He really didn't want to talk. He was distracted, involved in doing his "job," watching the crowd of women closely, but he tried his best to answer me.
Is the Hive mostly black girls? He repeated the question. "Man, the crowd is all sorts of people, look around," he said. And he was right, to our left there was a vent of passengers pouring from the LIRR subway station with hoards of bridge and tunnel middle-aged moms and white girls in Uggs.
"See, there are all sorts," he said, confidently, and then he smiled, revealing a large chipped tooth. "The black girls, though? They just dress up, they get way, way more into it so they stand out more. Because they take it seriously."
It is true, there are all sorts of Hive members but to me the ones with the best language, the ones whose Twitter feeds I couldn't stop reading, were the black girls. What is interesting is that they are also a part of the demographic of black women who are now also being taken to task and called empty, subjective words like "toxic," for their use and approbation of a technological space that is supposed to be open to all. Black Twitter. But the Hive, to some extent, and Black Twitter at large, is what happens when you don't have real access to mainstream media, when there are so few black icons who speak to the realities of black life, and when last year (for the first time ever in Billboard's history) no black artist had a Number 1 hit. It is no wonder then that so many young women and men of color, indeed, take it more seriously.
On the day the Hive will never forget, the Beyoncé album's release day, I was in Chicago. I had longstanding plans to review Beyoncé's concert that night at the home of the Bulls, The United Center. It was bitterly cold. Before I went to the concert I checked Twitter, and there one Hive member, a young black girl, was tweeting joyfully about having tickets to the concert that night. Intermixed with her joy was anger. She said she couldn't believe her family would "f—- her over" like this. She had been kicked out her home by an aunt. Later she would complain about the cold in Chicago. She was a college student who often tweeted maudlin to heartbreaking tweets about struggling all her life and going "Christmas shopping with no money." That night it was below freezing in Chicago. When my sister and I stood outside and waited for our cab it was so cold I wanted to cry. Once inside the United Center, as we waited for the show to start, I asked people questions, how much were their tickets? The girls beside us had spent $500. When I watched the Hive on Twitter the only time they risked treason of their Queen was to complain about the high cost of showing of their love. Didn't she realize how expensive it was becoming to be devoted? Now, in retrospect, I realize somewhere in that crowd of thousands of people there was a girl without a home in the middle of winter to whom tickets to Beyoncé meant the entire world.
In Life Is But Dream, Beyoncé's film-length selfie/documentary, she leaps into the waters of the South of France and shows off her voluminous wedding dress. And one point we are shown a still-sexy silhouette of her pregnant belly — causing Beyoncé to lament that she can't understand how someone could ever believe that she and Jay Z used a surrogate to have their child. Where did they come up with this? She asks incredulously. These rumors, these crazy legends, these stories? But Beyoncé's parents are from that same pit of the American South that birthed not just the ragging rhythms and 2/4 meter her band interpolates into the finale of the Mrs. Carter show but also the most magical realism this country has ever seen. Beyoncé, who claims her Southern Creole heritage big time, must know that men and women like her mother and father come from a people who tell stories, people who dream big, hope huge and often invoke the devil or the supernatural as explanations for things outside their grasp or their understanding of reality. The thing Beyoncé doesn't understand about all of the rumors surrounding her is that in the great tradition of that kind of storytelling, the thing beyond our grasp and most people's realities is her. Beyoncé, either out of naďveté or innocence, is the last to accept what most people think — that she is not like us.
In her video for "Partition" Beyoncé slithers around her husband, a man who proves talent wins everything and capitalism can buy all if one accepts the blindfold it comes with, and she looks fantastic. In bell hooks' essay "Selling Hot Pussy," hooks writes about Tina Turner's long, blonde wig and her hot-to-trot savage sexuality as an inversion of "old imagery" to "place herself in the role of the dominator." But as right as hooks is, about the blond hair and everything else, for an hour or so it is nice to watch Beyoncé's visual album and consider the pleasure of a black woman who is able to express her sexuality without being called a ho, a video girl, a freak, a gold-digger or words worse. She can do what most of us cannot.
In 2011, a study was released by the Violence Policy Center that revealed that black women were murdered by men "at a rate of 2.61 per 100,000 in single victim/single offender incidents," whereas with white women, the rate was 0.99 per 100,000. This seems like a slight difference but not when the popular perception of black women and girls is that they are antagonistic, "toxic," tough, brassy and impossible to hurt.
Pop music, like most things in America, has an especially hard time with black women and their bodies, from Miley Cyrus' use of them in her tired Jump Jim Crow antics to the condemnation of Rihanna's wonderful wild. Rihanna is a popular target for the BeyHive, a person they often humiliate, maybe just because she is another big deal black girl in pop music. Almost daily they post pictures of her beaten, swollen bruised face after Chris Brown's vicious attack. It is gross and unforgivable, and something that could be reined in if Beyoncé actually communicated with her Hive regularly (she does not). But of late I've come to think that it speaks to something important about the BeyHive: I'm not certain they really hate Rihanna, or find joy in her hurt — instead I think what they really hate is that Rihanna knows firsthand, like so many women and girls, and perhaps like so many of them, that being violently hit by a man doesn't ever feel like a kiss. It feels the opposite. It is a humiliation that is impossible to forget. So what I think the Hive hates about Rihanna is that there is no fun, no fantasy in that kind of knowledge of womanhood, just a reflection of the real but all-too-often silent life they too must wade through as young women of color in America.
And then there is Beyoncé. Who, like most black women, must work hard, but unlike most black women and girls, is endlessly well defended. She will never be homeless. She will never be broken. She has no discernible dirty laundry. While her fans' lives might be pocked with disappointments and failures, somehow their Queen's life has largely avoided this. There are people who like to say hyperbolic, vapid things like, if you hate Beyoncé you must hate your life. Beyoncé is such a symbol of triumph that these people are willing to overlook her extremely problematic ties to the worst forms of capitalism (Pepsi, Wal-Mart and Barneys). But recently I've come to realize how much the Hive's deep, at times blind, investment in her isn't so much about loving her one ton of talent but rather their defense of her place on the pedestal. They are in love with what she transmutes. What she is allowed to be. And Beyoncé does this more earnestly than the majority of singers today: she performs for them, shows them what a woman in successful control of her life sounds like. This is why they root for her. She gives her fans hope — as Tina Turner once did for women in the '80s — a sense that they, too, might win at life and vanquish the hurt. Beyoncé is the rare exception who has beaten the odds, despite her being a woman, and despite her being a black woman.
A few days after Beyoncé's album came out I was invited join over forty women in a conference call about the album. Did I come in love? Adrienne Maree Brown, the facilitator of the call, asked me when I revealed I was on assignment. I replied that I came in sisterhood. Which is the word that kept circling in my head as I listened, almost awed into silence by these women, many of them women of color, who just wanted to be rapturous over the black woman who almost shut down Christmas. For one hour all that these women wanted was a private space to say, Beyoncé is my sister and I love her.
Is Beyoncé a feminist? Is she a womanist? I don't know. To me she is a cyborg. "Cyborg writing," Donna Haraway tells us, "is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other." What I appreciate about Beyoncé is that I understand and recognize the tools seized. This is not to say that these aspects in Beyoncé align neatly — they are indeed confusing — but they demand a right that is so often denied black women: The right to be a human, a character with many identities, many aspects, attitudes, vulnerabilities, joys, heartbreaks and realities. This is why, in many ways, the best and the most important videos on Beyonce's new album aren't the ones where she shows her perfected flesh while blithely singing that pretty hurts, they are instead the series of behind scenes videos called the "Self-Titled" features where she shows us how she constructs her music, her package, her production. This where she explains how she breastfed her daughter while in the studio, expresses her deep respect and devotion to her mother and sister and talks about her unbridled desire for her husband as a young wife. Twenty years ago, Donna Haraway wrote in her Cyborg Manifesto that she would rather be a cyborg than a goddess. She also wrote that "women of colour might be understood as a cyborg identity, a potent subjectivity synthesized from fusions of outsider identities." If Beyoncé, who wears her engagement ring over a robotic glove in her "Single Ladies" video, doesn't embody this sort of fusion I don't know who does. Women like her, Tina Turner and Josephine Baker show us the necessity of constantly remastering how you are seen by others, how you are understood and, in the choreography of that dance of dominance and submission, they show us that the performance of a lifetime is one that you must do in the world, in practice and not just in theory, with all eyes on you.
So here is one more moment from that show in Chicago, at the United Center, where Michael Jordan once soared across the court and made millions of boys and girls believe they do could do something mythic and magical: Beyoncé was attached to a holster by members of her all-female band and lifted into the sky. The crowd sighed. In a blue sequined jumpsuit with blond hair that makes her look like them and yet still totally ours, Beyoncé set soar. The white man in front me started to fan himself. It was indeed surreal. The Queen Bee had made the stadium into her hive, turned her skeptics into believers, and made everyone go hoarse singing her anthems: If I Was a Boy, I'm a Survivor, Who Runs The World (Girls). I am not a Beyoncé fan but I felt like crying tears of joy all three times I saw the Mrs. Carter show. Because while other pop stars may sing about throwing some glitter on it and making it rain, only Beyoncé could literally soar over us, climb up over our heads and our real lives, climb over her kingdom, to actually throw down over us what looks like bits of pollen, golden confetti, and make it rain bits of her dream all over her fans who love her so, and who would do anything for their Queen.
The numbers look bad for Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
Illinois has remained in lousy shape throughout Quinn's five years in office.
The state's jobless rate is the worst in the Midwest and among the highest in the country. Quinn pushed through a sizable tax increase early in his term, yet Illinois's finances remain among the shakiest in the nation, with its overall budget gap continuing to increase.
"We were one of only two states in the entire country where the unemployment rate got worse last year," says Andrew Welhouse, communications director for the state Republican Party. "Illinois is getting worse, as all of our neighbors are getting better."
For all these reasons, Quinn's approval ratings are underwater and polls indicate he trails Bruce Rauner, a multimillionaire venture capitalist expected to win Tuesday's Republican primary.
Yet few people in Illinois are ready to rule out Quinn, who took the reins in 2009, after fellow Democrat Rod Blagojevich was impeached for trying to sell President Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Last fall, Hillary Clinton joked that Quinn belonged in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "luckiest politician" in the world — an acknowledgment of the governor's good fortune in avoiding a tough primary election fight.
"People have written Mr. Quinn's epitaph too early too many times before," says Gregg Durham, a pollster with We Ask America, a firm based in Springfield. "He always seems to bounce back."
Running Against A Newcomer
Democrats are eager to paint Rauner as the second coming of Mitt Romney, only worse — an arrogant rich guy seeking to buy his way into top political office.
"There is hardly a more flawed candidate running for office in the country today," claims Quinn consultant Mark Mellman. "He's done Romney-like dismemberment of companies to his own benefit."
Rauner handed the Quinn campaign a gift recently when he said the minimum wage should be reduced by a dollar an hour. Rauner quickly backpedaled, saying he would favor a wage increase under certain circumstances.
But Democrats intend to pounce on Rauner on wage and equality issues, as well as the management of his own companies.
"He's got to establish that he's more than just a rich guy who wants to buy his way into the governorship, and that's how Democrats will portray him," says John Mark Hansen, a political scientist at the University of Chicago.
Outpacing The Field
Rauner has spent at least $6 million of his own money on the race, raising even more from other donors. He has vastly outspent his three rivals, including state Sen. Bill Brady and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, for the Republican nomination.
Rauner's leading opponent, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, lost the nomination by less than 200 votes four years ago. It appears he will come up short again.
Dillard had received backing and financial support from a number of public-employee unions. But they pulled their money out of the race last week, a clear indication they thought he couldn't catch Rauner.
The unions are unhappy with Quinn for having pushed through a pension bill last year that raises retirement ages and reduces cost of living increases. But they prefer him to Rauner, who talks openly of his disdain for "union bosses."
"Rauner scares them so much that they're swallowing hard and realizing that Pat Quinn is a better deal for them than Rauner would be," says David Yepsen, who directs a public policy institute at Southern Illinois University.
Quinn has some work to do in rallying Democrats to his cause. Illinois is a blue state — no Republican has been elected governor since 1998 — but like Democrats across the country, he has to worry about a midterm fall-off in turnout.
Four years ago, Quinn's margin of victory was less than 1 percentage point. He lost all but four of the state's 102 counties, racking up his winning margin in the populous Chicago area.
What's more, a recent poll indicated that a third of Illinois Democrats aren't certain they will vote for him this fall.
"That's a devastating number," says Durham, who conducted the poll.
Rauner, meanwhile, has proven himself to be a disciplined candidate. He has essentially no public record, but with the exception of his minimum wage comment has stayed strictly on message and pounded his GOP opponents with well-timed attacks.
"Rauner has shown two things that most of the rich guys who run haven't, which is kind of a killer instinct in terms of his campaign approach and great opposition research," says Dennis Culloton, a public relations consultant and former GOP gubernatorial aide.
Rauner will have to mend fences himself, with a majority of Republican primary voters likely to vote against him. They haven't all warmed to his moderate-to-liberal stances on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Luck Is Residue Of Work
Quinn, meanwhile, managed to avoid a bruising primary challenge that he might well have lost. And his pension law, while not a panacea, gives him a powerful argument about being able to push through difficult changes in a legislature that will remain dominated by Democrats.
Quinn sought to cut off pay for legislators until they passed the bill, which angered them but played well with the public.
"He's begun to solve the pension crisis that has bedeviled the state," says Mellman, Quinn's campaign consultant. "He had to knock some heads together to do it, but he's starting to bring the state back."
People in Illinois know that, when it comes to the campaign, Quinn will not be outworked — and he's a master at attracting free media.
"It's the toughest race Quinn will ever see," Culloton says. "By the same token, this is a guy who doesn't need millions of dollars to run a campaign. He needs a push mower, a little bit of protein and a flashlight, and he's good to go. This is a guy who can live off the land."