Category Archives: Chicago

A Strong and Belated Opinion About the Lucas Museum

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Urbs in horto

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art isn’t coming to Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is very angry about this. Rahm wants you to think he’s angry because Chicago lost a great opportunity for a new public cultural attraction. He also wants you to think that a small group of killjoys ruined Chicago’s chances to accept a very generous gift from George Lucas, the very same man who very generously gave the world Jar Jar Binks.

I love this story. I love that our bullying mayor and the billionaire behind Howard the Duck  could line up the Chicago City Council, the Illinois Legislature, and the Park District, and then get whupped by a troubled advocacy organization, Friends of the Parks. Score a win for the little guys!

mayor1percent-600Or..the little guys didn’t win, and nobody got beat.  Rahm isn’t angry about missed opportunities. Rahm is angry because he needed a win, and he lost. There is one thing our racially divided city agrees on: Rahm sucks. The only thing interrupting news stories about the dire state of our schools are news stories about gun violence and police brutality. He invested his last two ounces of prestige for a legacy project and blew it.

Worse for Rahm, he sided with a raging egomaniac who likes to take his toys and go home. Here’s what got overshadowed in the coverage of the museum: George Lucas, the chinless former wunderkind writer of Willow, quit. Was there a lawsuit to stop the museum? Yes, but it never actually went to trial.  All of the legal action in the case was the city trying to get the case dismissed, and a federal judge allowing it to proceed. The city tried to get the case thrown out twice, and then engaged in some extravagant legal tricks to argue that the case shouldn’t be in court in the first place. Chicago is pretty good about keeping things out of court, usually by paying huge settlements to people brutalized by cops. So I guess you could see why Rahm thought this would work.

The mayor and the writer of Captain Eo insist that the case was about Friends of the Parks preserving a parking lot. Who would want to do that? Surprising answer: no one. The mayor wanted to get his 9.5 fingers into lakefront property that is protected as a public trust. Friends of the Parks argued, and the judge agreed, that building the museum would primarily benefit a private entity, namely George Lucas’ Death Star-sized ego in edificial form. It’s not about a parking lot – it’s about preserving the lakefront for public use. And Friends of the Parks hoped that the parking lot could be returned to public use sometime before the 297 year lease on the museum ran out.

Let’s talk about the ego of the man who brought us Strange Magic.  Who offers a museum with the huge condition that it be built on a waterfront? Even if you think it was dumb to preserve a parking lot, is it any less dumb to offer to build a museum and be completely inflexible on the location?   As the Tribune pointed out “We wonder whether Lucas appreciates the irony that he could hold his 2013 wedding on Promontory Point only because Chicago for nearly two centuries had protected that stretch of lakefront from the kind of development he now demands for himself at another lakefront site.” Not surprisingly, San Francisco rejected this sort of ultimatum, which is why Lucas brought his toys to us in the first place.

Yes, three other museums make up the “campus” on the lakefront, and when the Bears play at home Soldier Field becomes the Museum of Minorities Concussing Themselves. Tiny Dancer said, “museums belong on a museum campus,” apparently forgetting about the non-campused Museum of Science and Industry. And the Art Institute. And the Chicago History Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Chicago Children’s Museum. He really wants to forget about the Chicago Children’s Museum. That museum caused all sorts of controversy when it wanted to move onto public land in Grant Park until – wait for it – it was quashed by Mayor Emanuel in 2012. At the time, he reasoned that it was better to keep the museum in Navy Pier “as a strong pillar in the redevelopment vision” for Chicago’s best place to get shit on by seagulls.

Perhaps Rahm could’ve stuck with this idea for redevelopment when the genius who brought you Tucker: The Man and His Dream came knocking. The mayor could have suggested building the museum on the Michael Reese Hospital site. There are two big advantages there: it’s not far from Lucas’ fantasy site, and the city has owned it for seven years. Just look what we’ve done with it:

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The property was bought when Chicago’s previous petit autocrate, Mayor Daley, decided that we really needed the 2016 Summer Olympics. We dodged that bullet, but taxpayers are left holding the bag for the original $91 million plus another $43 million in interest if isn’t sold soon. Instead, Mayor Emanuel came up with a different plan to build the museum on the site of the current McCormick Place. This plan would have required $1.2 billion in state funds. In Illinois. In case you haven’t noticed, state funds in Illinois aren’t easy to come by. And oddly enough, this violated one of the rules of the original site selection committee: that it not cost any money to Chicago taxpayers. 

Let’s pretend that Father Michael Pfleger forgot about the $200,000 George Lucas gave his church in 2014 when he questioned the motives of Friends of the Parks.  Why not move the museum to a site the city already owns and give a boost to development in area south of downtown for a change? It can’t just be because the idea man behind Red Tails had his heart set on being near the water, can it?

Now that the project is dead, we’re supposed to bow our heads at the lost tourists, tax dollars, and jobs the museum would’ve brought. Boosting tourism, taxes, and jobs sounds a lot like the argument Daley used to hype the Olympics and the one used to build sports stadiums, both of which rarely work out well for cities.  First, people have a finite amount WattoHSof money. The dollars spent buying a replica Hayden Christensen Oscar at the Lucas Museum can’t also be spent on whatever the hell it is you buy at Navy Pier. Second, all the traffic caused by the whimsical Phantom Menace: Racist Alien Caricatures exhibit will probably keep other people from going to the Shedd Aquarium. This is already true: visiting the museum campus is a nightmare during a Bears game. But Soldier Field is a Park District building, and the Bears lease it for $6 million a year. The Park District can use it or lease it out for other things the rest of the time. Chicago could wait until 2313 for the same access to the Lucas Museum.

I’m not the sort of creative genius who could bring you Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, like George Lucas, and 70% of Black Chicagoans don’t think I suck. But I have an idea: what if Rahm redirected all of his docile allies and the cajoling, bullying, and lawyers, into repairing Chicago’s infrastructure and making people less afraid of being shot? I bet tourists would like that. You know who else would like that? Chicagoans. We could also go for having enough police on the streets and having a reasonable expectation that they were accountable. A new museum would be nice; nicer still would be families not fleeing to the cultural desolation of the suburbs because our schools might not open in the fall. It wouldn’t be as visible a legacy as a new museum, but it would be a great story about the failing Mayor who fixed Chicago – the guy I voted for twice. Maybe Rahm could get George Lucas to chip in – the guy wrote an ok story long, long ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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These Clowns Totally Prepared Our Kids. Just Not How We Wanted.

When my eldest son was pre-school age, my wife and I went on a tour of the University of Chicago’s Lab School. It was a formative experience. Here’s what we learned from the mom hosting the tour:

(a)arts classes don’t matter
(b) there is no homework and no grades in the elementary program
(c) the food of  Asian children smells funny
(d) that children with physical disabilities often “feel more comfortable somewhere else”.

I remember that last line clearly. One thing was emphasized over and over again on the tour: : students at Lab were constantly “evaluated for fit” during their careers to make sure they could continue on. Fitting in is important. And you can only do that if you eat appropriately fragrant food, learned piano on your own time, and please – don’t limp. I

You would think this would remove all sorts of kids from consideration at Lab. Heck no. Each person from the school took pains to say how diverse the school was. Mayor Emanuel sends his kids there, as does recently resigned Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Diversity: when kids of local and federal officials are at your school. At one point on our tour, I asked our host if “diversity” meant actual economic diversity, or just racial diversity. All I got was a blank stare. And an elbow from my wife. It was a dumb question: the diverse student body at Lab is filtered through a screen of eye-watering tuition: more than $30k a year, plus an expectation that you’ll “donate” more to the school. If a Potemkin village had a school, it would be like Lab.

clowns

The Potemkin Village might also choose Gems World Academy, a school so fancy that it exists in a residential area of Chicago I didn’t know existed – because there’s only one road in and out. I found myself in the lobby a few months ago. On a table near the giant touchscreens was a brochure extolling the diversity of the school, and focusing on their “core values,” which include “global citizenship.” Gems and Lab’s competitor, the Latin School, also wants to “shape leaders” for a diverse world. Francis Parker seeks to create “citizens and leaders…in a global community.” Francis Parker is also where the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Forrest Claypool, sends his kids – though he tries not to talk about it. I don’t know why it’s a big deal, it’s totally ok to run a public school system without actually having kids in public schools.

These elite private schools have tuitions higher than the per capita national income of all but 20 countries (I checked). But that doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about the global community. Just not the whole global community. The good parts. The parts without smelly food, limping weird kids, and poor people. And the students they’re turning out are absolutely prepared for a global community. But it’s a gated community.

For schools that make such strong claims about diversity, it’s awfully hard to get data on their demographics. And it seems to be impossible to get information on their expulsion, suspension, and attrition rates -their filters. Of course, if they published it, it might cause a minor scandal, like the when data from Chicago’s charter schools went public. That was especially embarrassing, because even while filtering out the difficult kids, they still didn’t do much better than the traditional schools – the very places where those filtered-out kids land. Charter schools. For parents who want choice. But not informed choice.

All of this makes me feel incredibly smug, since my kids go to a Chicago public school. No filtering here! Well, except for the fact that it’s a magnet school. Getting into a magnet school lottery required some work: a year before my son was to enter kindergarten, we attended information sessions, did research at the library, and filled out a bunch of forms. It was pretty confusing, and I’m a native English speaker used to dealing with public bureaucracy. And the end result is that my kids’ school is much wealthier and whiter than nearly any Chicago neighborhood school.

Nevertheless, our school is facing cuts like every other publically funded school, including the charters. Forrest Claypool, former Cook County Board member, head of the park district, and the CTA, appointee of our angry little Democratic mayor, is asking parents to to lobby the Democratically-controlled state legislature for education funding. You would think a veteran Democrat serving as CEO of the largest school system in the state would take the lead on that. But why should our leaders lead? This is Chicago. Claypool’s predecessor is going to jail, so he’s actually an improvement.  Meanwhile, the Speaker of the Illinois House, who has been in power almost non-stop since 1983, and the Governor, still test driving the office he bought last year, are in an epic pissing match. So this seems unlikely to end well.

Meanwhile, my sons get to ride the listing ship of public education. Nothing is the same year to year. Programs start and then are eliminated. Same with staff. Young teachers have kids and leave for the suburbs, because there’s no guarantee they can get their kids through the lottery process. Oh, and there was that teacher’s strike.

My wife and I sent our kids to public schools for a lot of reasons, but chief among them was this: we knew it was going to be a bit rough navigating the system, and we knew they’d meet people who weren’t like them. We thought that going through CPS would prepare them for adult life in the actual global community – tremendously diverse and more than a little challenging at times, but ultimately rewarding if you pay attention and invest some effort.

It turns out we were right about preparing them for adult life, but we had the context all wrong. In Chicago, a fair amount of money can buy you a gleaming existence free of the systemic failure, difficult people, and occasional unpleasantness everyone else contends with daily. Those without the means do their best to play within the system, selecting among bad choices and watching the value of their efforts steadily decline.

When I think about it that way, I figure that we probably didn’t do a great job preparing kids for the world, but we did a stupendous job of preparing them for America.

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How to Die, the Chicago Way

Everyone knows that Chicago has a murder problem. Gun violence and my city are practically synonymous. More importantly, we have a problem talking about Chicago’s murder problem. The Tribune starts out each week with a murders-per-hour recap of the weekend. What insight does this provide? None. Most shootings and homicides happen over the weekend – it’s like mowing the lawn. The Tribune also makes sure to compare the current pace of shootings and killings year-on-year. So does the Sun Times.  What do you do with this data? I don’t know, but I like numbers in my news. Murder: it’s like following the Dow Jones!

Being shot is how you die in Chicago, right? Nope. Chicago’s murder rate doesn’t even put us in the top 10 of murders per capita in America. In your face, Kansas City! Of course, the Daily Beast points out that it might be that our paramedics are getting better, or our gunmen are getting worse. So that’s encouraging.

At 407 murders (2014) for a city of 2.7 million, killing in Chicago is a more popular thing to talk about it than it is to actually do (even if you accept that the numbers are cooked). Murder happened to just .015% of Chicagoans in 2014. Put another way: the Cubs have won the World Series twice in their 112 year history. That’s about 2% – 133 times as much. If I threatened to kill you if the Cubs win the World Series this year, would you worry? Of course not! Because you know the Cubs are a tourist trap, not a baseball team, and tourist traps have no reason to win the World Series.

Murder is the Chicago way to die, but it’s not the way most Chicagoans actually kick the bucket. So what is? I wanted to know, so I poked around on the Department of Public Health’s mortality statistics page. You want to die like a Chicagoan? Here’s how:

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Watch a ballgame, drink a bunch, and enjoy some deep dish pizza.

Well, maybe not those exact things, but the combination of alcohol, a low fiber diet, and the three hours of inactivity associated with watching baseball are excellent indicators for colo-rectal cancer, which kills more Chicagoans per year than homicide. My three part investigative series Your Ass: The Killer Behind You, will be published in the Trib this fall.

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Act like wanna-be academic, short-term US Senator and former Chicagoan Barack Obama.

Lung cancer killed almost 6,000 Chicagoans in a four-year period. Obama has had a hard time giving up the habit, even though one cigarette takes 11 minutes off your life. Of course, if those 11 minutes were to be spent at a Cubs game, you might choose to smoke.

Combine numbers 1 and 2, and give yourself nearly every behavioral risk factor for a stroke.

Death by stroke has been a celebrated Chicago tradition since it provided the demise of Al Capone, Chicago’s most famous criminal never elected to public office. It doesn’t seem like a particularly tough way to die for the guy behind the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but neither does going insane from syphilis, which also happened to him.

capone

Close the garage door, leave the car running.

You know what’s weird? Spike Lee has rejected my script about people in Chicago dying in poorly ventilated garages.   Unintentional injury kills thousands of people, and the leading cause is accidental poisoning. I suspected the popularity of Italian Beef might have something to with this, but it turns out it’s just boring old carbon monoxide poisoning and drug overdoses.

Eat more salt. Eat more of everything. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most distinctive way to die in Illinois is kidney disease. If you combine kidney disease with the number one cause of kidney disease, diabetes, then you kill a whole lot of Chicagoans.

Ok, fine. Be a male gang member and get involved with the local drug trade.

Why fight the stereotype? If you want to get offed, this is the way to do it. Half the homicides in Chicago in 2014 were gang-related, and 350 of the 393 victims were men. An awful lot of them involved narcotics. After reviewing this information, I have a bold public policy recommendation: limited legalization of drugs, provided they’re bought by women and sold through street gangs, which must be all-female. I bet a lot of things would change if every punk had to give his girlfriend the money to score some smack.

Choose your friends poorly and fight with your family.  

Lots of people in Chicago are killed by their partners, and about half of all people murdered were killed by someone they knew or were related to. This Thanksgiving, look around the table and think about which of those people will kill you when shit gets real. Oh – and if one of your nearest and dearest gets offed, you’re going to want to lay low for a while. A connection to a murder victim increases your chances of being murdered by 900%.

The Chicago Police are worried about who you spend time with. In their characteristically poorly thought-out and tone-deaf way, they suggest that you “be smart about with whom you hang out.” CPD knows that formal grammar really speaks to the kids. The cops also suggest that “before allowing someone in your car, ask if they have illegal drugs or guns with them.” Good idea.  The little jerks in our soccer carpool better fess up.

There’s one other way. 

Be a young Black man. Murder victims in Chicago are overwhelmingly a very small subset of the population:  Black men ages 15-34. It’s the leading cause of death for that cohort.

I’m not saying that we cover homicide and gun violence in Chicago like sports scores and stock market averages because it happens to Black people. Oh yeah. That’s exactly what I’m saying. There were 52 homicides in Chicago last month, and I can’t name the victim or the perpetrator of one them. But I knew there were 52!

I can, however, name the perpetrators of a number of recent rampage shootings. This essay from NPR points out that if those 52 Chicagoans were killed all at once, the story would be covered as a mass shooting and get full national press coverage complete with profiles of the victims and perpetrator.  We have a “homicide problem” in Chicago, though, and so a few dozen killings a month aren’t a surprise. Mass shootings, though. Those are terrifying and darkly fascinating aberrations.

Unless, of course, you understand “aberration” to mean diverging from normal. Because mass shootings happen all the time, and they’re getting more frequent. Early this summer, mass shootings were averaging one a day. Makes you shudder to think about what normal might be, doesn’t it?

Thanks to the chaos in Mexico, America has only the second highest homicide rate among wealthy, developed countries. But it seems pretty clear that lots more people are going to die the Chicago way.

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I’m Happy to Pay Chicago’s Surcharge on Stupidity

I’m a Chicagoan, and I’m about to face an increase in property taxes, while the city prepares to make $200 million in cuts to the very public schools my kids are enrolled in. Also, on January 1, 2016 it seems pretty likely that my sales tax will be increased by 1% to 10.25%, which means I will start the new year with the satisfaction of paying the highest sales tax in the nation.  As of July 1, I’m already paying a tax on Netflix. The city raised hundreds of millions of dollars from me and my neighbors by shortening yellow lights and entrapping us with otherwise useless red light cameras.  Illinois has the highest state and local tax obligations, the second-highest real estate taxes in the nation, and among the least fair tax systems. Fun fact: Illinois is called the Land of Lincoln not for the president, but for Lincoln Smith, who made a killing running three card monte at Rush and Division back in the day.

You’d think I’d be outraged about all of this., but I’m not. Like everyone else in my city and state, I’ve done a cost-benefit analysis and given the choice between paying attention to all of this and paying higher costs for worse public services, I chose the latter. It’s like an ignorance surcharge. I’m a stupid person, and it’s not worth it to make myself smarter. Thinking and learning make my brain hurt!

You. Fork it over.

You. Fork it over.

One of the things I would rather not think about is the property tax increase. It’s coming because the city, abetted by the state, completely mismanaged the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund. The cock-up didn’t start recently. If I were paying attention, I would’ve noticed that they’ve been mismanaging it for 20 years. Here’s an article from three years ago, describing what was then already a celebrated mess. I didn’t read it, though. It has numbers and graphs. I also don’t want to ponder the broader fuster cluck of public pensions in Chicago or Mayor Rahm’s plan to save the city with a giant casino, so I’m not going to. All of this math and finance is interminably boring and depressing. I’m a Chicagoan. It’s July. I’ve got the Sox and Cubs for interminably boring and depressing – and they have the upside of the opportunity for public drunkenness.

I’m a big dummy, and I’m sort of a racist. You know what numbers I pay attention to? The numbers of shootings that take place over the Fourth of July weekend. Shootings of minorities, that is. They’re overwhelmingly the people who get shot in Chicago, and I join my neighbors in comparing how many of them are shot this year vs. previous years. You know, like they were batting averages. We’re not following shootings because we’re scared. We’re following it so we can advance our armchair sociological theories about poor minorities! Don’t believe me? Read the comments section on this article.  Or my neighborhood discussion board. We’re stupid, and worried when the depravity we associate with the (Black) South Side seems to be happening on the (White) North Side. This raises the biggest fear we morons have: declining property values. What will happen if our neighbors flee to the unlimited breadsticks of the suburbs and minorities move in next door?

I've got a theory about this.

I’ve got a theory about this.

I’m too stupid to trouble myself about big picture social problems in Chicago – things like gross inequality, segregation, or failing public education. I’m also too dumb to be worried about aggravating factors like the lack of funding for infrastructure, public transportation, mental health facilities, etc. Smart people might look at these things and think that they’re precisely the sort of thing that our public officials should deal with. But we’re not smart people. When we consider someone for public office in Chicago, the most important question to ask is “are they related to another elected official?”  There’s only one other enterprise in Chicago so tied up with family connections: the mob. If I were smarter, I’d probably make something of that.

I get the stupid politicians that stupid people deserve. Our recent mayoral election was between a dissembling bully and Santa Claus’ slightly less munificent little brother. I’ve got the low expectations of a moron, and my public officials sometimes even fail to meet those. Chicago has the most corrupt politicians in the country. The federal judicial district for northern Illinois has more public corruption convictions than any other in the country – and this is a nation that still includes New Orleans and Albany. In 2013 alone, there were 45 corruption convictions. From 1976 to 2013 there were 1,642!

As a nitwit, I’d rather pay higher taxes than demand more from my public officials. It’s a convenient arrangement, because all of this corruption is expensive as hell. A couple of political scientists figure that it costs Illinois about $500 million a year. The hired truck scandal cost Chicagoans $15 million a year over 10 years. Illinois could potentially knock 5.2% off its budget if it weren’t for all the patronage hiring and bogus contracts. The number I don’t want to think about most is this: in the decade to 2014, the city of Chicago paid half a billion dollars to settle misconduct lawsuits against our police. That’s apparently enough to build “five state-of-the-art high schools and more than 30 libraries, (and) repave 500 miles of arterial streets.” Schools? Libraries? That sounds like stuff for smart people.

I don’t want to know about this, and luckily, our news doesn’t tell us. Like most Americans, I get my news from TV. Less reading. And our local news does a terrible job of covering local politics and government. In a typical 30 minute broadcast, one study found that exactly one minute was dedicated to politics. And thank God, too. Covering stuff that’s going to cost me money and impact my quality of life might cut into the seven minutes of sports and weather coverage. Here’s what I want in my news: information I could get by guessing that tomorrow will be like today. The weather will probably be within a few degrees and the Cubs probably choked in the 6th. Once that’s covered fill in the rest with ads for storm windows and coverage of people who got shot. Done and done.

Given the choice between paying more attention and paying a few extra dollars a year, I’m taking the latter. People say that you get what you pay for. I pay for not having to pay attention to any of this. Seems like a good deal to me.

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Should I Vote for Chuy Again?

I didn’t vote for Rahm “Tiny Dancer” Emanuel Tuesday night. I don’t like his lack of transparency, his fondness for privatizing public education, and probably dozens of other things. I generally just don’t like him. So I voted for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and made lots of jokes about throwing my vote away. Ha ha. It turns out that Tiny Dancer is going to face Chuy again in a run-off in April. Tiny Dancer failed to convince 51% of Chicagoans to vote for him. Let me say that a different way. Tiny Dancer failed to convince 51% of the 32.7% of registered voters that showed up– or ~237,000 of ~464,000 – to vote for him.

He usually only extends one finger

He usually only extends one finger

Here’s one thing the voters did agree on: Chicago should have an elected school board. Close to 90% of voters supported the idea. Well, 90% of the voters in the 37 of 50 wards that had the issue on the ballot. Not all of them did, because the Chicago City Council prevented the issue from appearing across the city.  Nevertheless, surveys show that the idea is popular among Chicagoans.

Let’s set aside the fact that changing the nature of school board is a matter of state law. And we should set aside the fact that Bruce Rauner, who is enjoying  the Governor’s seat he bought last year, is against it. Let’s also set aside that this is Chicago, home of the Cubs. We like hopeless wastes of time. Oh, also: the irony of wanting to vote for another local office when we’re barely bothering to turn out to vote for the current offices in the first place.

I get the idea: an elected school board would put a check on the power of the Tiny Dancer.  We need an elected body in Chicago that could reign in his autocratic ways and give a voice to the people! Time for a civics lesson, neighbors. We have an elected body. It’s called the City Council. It has 50 aldermen, each of whom are elected every four years. It’s a giant rubber stamp for the mayor. In the first two years of Tiny Dancer’s term, the council voted with him 93% of the time. From April 2013 until November 2014, this slipped – to 89%! At the time, his approval rating among Chicagoans who weren’t aldermen was at around 35%. Does the City Council know something we don’t?

My former alderman, confused about what “tabling” meant

No, they don’t. Let me explain. Have you ever met a Chicago alderman or seen them speak in public? I have. These aren’t the most articulate people in the world. They’re not the smartest. They’re not the people you’d want setting economic or fiscal policy. Probably wouldn’t want them working on issues of criminal or social justice. They’re also not strong on issues of ethics, leadership, or vision. If they walk and chew gum, they might trip. What are they good at? Inheriting their father’s seat. Also, if there’s an abandoned car in front of your house or the muffler shop on the corner didn’t shovel the sidewalk, they can help with that. Oh, collecting big pensions. They’re great at that.

Mostly, though, they’re good at getting re-elected. Even with Tuesday’s record number of run-offs, I’d bet that most of the incumbents will win. Because, you know, there’s an abandoned car. Why would anyone think that another elected body in Chicago would behave differently than the one we currently have? Are candidates for elected office suddenly not going to need to raise money, be subject to the influence of special interests, or not need a job (or lawyer) for their kid? Since we’re going to have to change the state law anyway, can we mandate that candidates for the school board not be dissembling, mendacious, pocket-lining windbags?

I’m going to guess not. So why did the guy I did vote for, Chuy Garcia, support the idea? Because it’s what a city that increasingly dislikes its current mayor wants to hear. It’s what the teachers’ union wants. And it’s an easy position for Chuy to take, because it’s a state issue. You know what else is an easy position for Chuy to take? He supports keeping the city council at its current size. Chicago has one of the country’s largest city councils, and we could save millions if we cut it in half. But Chuy isn’t going to say that, because to do so might threaten the jobs of Chicago aldermen, and if he becomes mayor, he’s going to want some of that hot, hot, rubber-stamp action. Chuy told the Sun Times that the current size is important to the body “functioning” as a legislative body. I don’t know what one has to do with the other, nor if the guy with an outside chance of being our next mayor knows what “functioning” means.

You know what else is an easy position for Chuy to take? He wants to hire 1,000 more police. Tiny Dancer said the same thing in 2011, but didn’t do it. Chuy hasn’t said how he’s going to pay for it. But it’s what many in the city that’s suffered an appalling number of shootings wants to hear. And it’s what the police union wants. Chicagoans probably don’t want to hear — as this article points out – that more police not only means more money, it also means more arrests. Neither mayoral candidate wants to talk about measures that also might reduce crime: more intrusive policing and more people ratting out their friends, neighbors, and family members.

Then I go like this and $35 billion appears

Then I go like this and $35 billion appears

I voted for Chuy. But here’s the thing: Chicago has an unfunded pension obligation of $35 billion, or as I like to think of it, a per capita obligation of almost $13,0000 per person. I spent two days looking, and I can’t find anything concrete about Chuy’s plan to fix it  – to say nothing of how he plans to pay for the Christmas morning he’s planning for Chicago if he gets elected.

This matters — not because I’m some conservative that thinks government should run like a business – but because I’m a parent and a property owner in Chicago with two kids in public schools. I want lower crime, more jobs, better schools and infrastructure that moves better than an old man’s urethra. I want them for today, and I want them 20 years from now. But more than anything else, I want to live in a city that realizes these things cost money. A giant debt and an abysmal credit rating threaten our future. Being billions of dollars in the hole means life as a taxpayer is going to get even more expensive and we’re going to experience fewer city services, not more. The pension problem is there precisely because let elected officials make promises they couldn’t fulfill based on math they didn’t (or more likely, couldn’t) do.

I guess what I’m asking for our is that our candidates be realistic. But then I realize, why bother? Our citizens aren’t interested in being realistic. Go Cubs.

 

*thanks for reading this blog. I hope you’ll subscribe and use the comments section below to tell me why I’m wrong about Chuy. Because I hope I am. 

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*This* Is the Thing That Chicago Public Schools Is Doing Equitably?!

My wife and I are very proud of the fact that our two kids go to a Chicago Public School. Chicago has one of the best public school systems in the country. Or it will once the city secedes from the rest of the United States. We were super excited for this school year to get underway, without the threat of an imminent strike or lingering ill will and uncertainty about massive school closings.

Maybe there wasn’t one big story that overshadowed this school year in the way that we enjoyed in 2012 and 2013. Or perhaps we’re just in a lull before Rahm privatizes or closes every neighborhood school in 2016. Or maybe it’s that we’ve overlooked the big story of this year: every CPS student now gets a free school lunch.

This is classic nanny state garbage. Who is the school to try and feed my kid a pre-packaged mass-produced lunch? I demand choice! I demand the right to feed my kid whatever pre-packaged mass produced lunch *I* choose, not what some bureaucrat tells me. I know what’s best for my boys. And what’s best is that they sport at least a B-cup by 6th grade. I don’t want my sons to know the agony of being appointed to the committee for itty bitty…oh, it’s too painful. It’s hard having boys.

How do I know the school is going to take into account my children’s many food-related allergies, religious beliefs, cultural taboos, and special needs? My wife and I carefully planned their regimen of homeopathic vaccines, raw milk, dried tiger penis (and not the fake stuff), and kombucha colonics. I’ll be damned if CPS bureaucrats are going to ruin all of our hard work.

But the lack of choice is not the only thing bothering me. The new initiative is wholly funded by a federal program that ends individual students’ applications for the program. Instead, because so many families in CPS are low-income, the whole district will qualify for free lunches. The old system required the lunchroom staff to keep track of which kids qualified for free or reduced lunch, and I’m sure there were kids who felt stigmatized by being identified as needing the program. But no more! The children of the affluent will be treated exactly the same as those with financial difficulties. All kids will be equal in the cafeterias of the Chicago Public Schools.

And there’s my problem. We are in CHICAGO. These are kids in PUBLIC SCHOOLS in CHICAGO. Chicago, famous for being among the most segregated cities in the country. Chicago, where I can ignore appalling gun violence because it doesn’t happen near me. There are two things every Chicagoan loves: gross inequality and that other thing. Do you know the best way we’ve found to preserve inequality in Chicago? With our public schools! What’s the point of being a privileged white family in CPS if we’re going to be treated like those families whose depressing stories always lead the evening news?

Up until now, CPS was preserving inequality beautifully. Forty-one percent of CPS schools are more than ninety percent African-American. Sixty-eight percent of the system’s African American students go these homogenous schools. Close to 90% of students in CPS come from low-income families. A federal commission report noted that poor urban students “are getting an education that more closely approximates school in developing nations.” (source for all of this) CPS wants my kids to eat lunch like kids who might as well be going to school in Somalia?! I didn’t fork over all that money for infant French literature classes and MENSA preschool for this! If I wanted my kids to grow up in some desolate isolated backwater, we would have moved to Tinley Park!

Sure, CPS already treats all kids equally in that it  does a lousy job preparing all of its students for college. But it does an especially bad job preparing the poor and African-Americans. And it does a great job of making sure white kids go to the best high schools in the city. Fewer than 10% of CPS students are white, but they took better than 40% of the spots at Walter Payton and Northside College Prep, gems of our system. That’s the kind of inequality that I expect from the City of Big Shoulders. Of course, it could be that those white kids were just better prepared – helped by the fact that when the district has some extra money to throw around, it gave it to the whiter schools on the north side.

Here’s the other crazy thing about this new free lunch program: part of the justification for the program is that it will end corruption. WHAT?! This is CHICAGO.  In COOK COUNTY.  Which, last time I checked, is in ILLINOIS. No one with any integrity holds public office here. Every so often, someone of character and rectitude wades into the waters of local government. In mere seconds, their bones are stripped clean of morality and character by the piranhas of our political culture. They vanish below the surface, their bloated corpses becoming part of the effluvia of public office, rotten and ignored until their skeletons wash up years later and engineer a cush job for their offspring.  We have a finally balanced ecosystem of corruption in Chicago. You can’t go messing with it. Take away the piranhas, you get crocs. Take away the crocs, you get sharks. Try to deal with the sharks, you get sentient liquid metal assassin robots from the year 2031 by Governor Skynet. We put one governor in prison because he was selling drivers licences and he was replaced by a governor who tried to sell EVERYTHING. People complained about Daley because he closed ONE tiny airport. Rahm closed FIFTY schools!

The previous school lunch program was only defrauded by administrators, staff, and parents. By local standards, that’s not so bad. With the relaxed standards, everyone is going to get in on this — and then how am I going to guarantee that my kids are going to get more?

 

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Gun Violence is No Problem in Chicago – Maps Prove It!

Fourth of July Weekend has just passed, and the big local story is the amount of gun violence that occurred over the weekend, with 13 killed and 58 wounded. There were 21 shootings on Sunday alone. Or at least as far as we know — Chicago police have a hard time with math. Or maybe vocabulary, since it’s not clear that they understand “murder” to mean an act which includes beatings, burnings, or suffocation. But why be negative? Chicago has only had 1,217 shootings this year (as of this writing), compared to 2,185 during this period last year. That’s great news – especially for the 968 people who would also have been shot if the rate stayed steady!

But the really good news is what every Chicagoan knows: if you live on the north side or are visiting as a tourist, all the parts of Chicago you’re likely to see are totally safe. Take a look at this map of where the shootings were over the 4th of July weekend:

fourth of july shooting map

 

This correlates with the general pattern of shootings in Chicago over the last few years:

ShootingsHeatMap

During the Fourth of July weekend, If you were north of Madison Avenue and east of Western, there were only three shootings. Just three! And if you click on that first map further, you’ll find that all three people were shot while sitting in their cars very late at night. Which leads me to a big safety tip: if you’re sitting in your car very late at night and someone demands to know your gang affiliation, ask them what gang they’re in then declare that very gang to be your favorite gang ever. Gang members aren’t very smart (they also have no style), and really just want affirmation that they’ve made a good choice.  But like I said, you’re not going to see any shootings. I know this because a clever guy used data from Flickr to generate this map, where red indicates areas heavily photographed – and therefore visited by – tourists:

Locals and Tourists Chicago

This shows another thing that Chicagoans know: tourists really like the Magnificent Mile, where they can photograph such cultural attractions as American Girl Place and the Apple Store that are TOTALLY different than the American Girl Places and Apple Stores in whatever God forsaken town they’re visiting from. Well, different in that their sales tax isn’t pushing 10%. Tourists also go to Navy Pier, the one place in Chicago where it is certain that you will not get shot AND not have to worry about seeing an actual Chicagoan.  Navy Pier: it’s everything you love about a cruise ship – claustrophobic, noisy, expensive, and filled with people in ugly clothes – but attached to land!

I was thinking about the maps above, when I heard about a report on arts funding on Chicago Public Radio yesterday. Here’s a map of arts programs in Chicago:

Ingenuity_StateoftheArts_BaselineReport-18

 

How is it that there’s a lack of arts programs in the same neighborhoods where there’s a prevalence of gun violence? Are artists just chicken? Or does everyone get itchy trigger fingers when they can’t make murals or macrame? But wait! Where were the 53 Chicago school closings last year? Oh, yeah. Here:

school closings

Again, if you stay north of Madison and east of Western, you only saw 7 of the 53 schools that Rahm closed. Putting this all together really shows off Rahm’s genius: Chicago has been relatively free of school shootings because the Mayor closed schools in places where you’re likely to get shot. Thanks, Mayor Rahm! It was really smart to force all those Black and Latino kids to switch schools. Blacks and Latinos are much more likely to be victims of shootings, so it’s important to keep them moving around. That’s just smart thinking. I have no idea why only 8% of Blacks and 2% of Latinos say they’d vote for you again. Ingrates.

While you have a much better chance of getting shot on the south or west sides, you have a much worse chance of getting a good cup of coffee. At least according to this map, developed by a coffee fan, who could only find a half dozen decent coffee places on the entirety red, orange and green “L” lines south of the Loop:

plan_chicago_l1

I know when I need my morning cuppa and I can’t get my Intellgentsia dark roast with just a skooch of milk, I get all shooty. Who wouldn’t? Certainly not the Gangster Disciples, who control most of the south side and are known to love only to two things: coffee and homicide. And they’re all out of coffee. Worse, there’s no place to eat! That’s right. Chicago is a famous restaurant town, but on the entire south side of Chicago, there’s only two places worth eating at, according to Eater.com: one in Bridgeport and one near Calumet Park (which I’ve actually been to! Hipster cred!) Things are only slightly better on the west side: just 6 restaurants west of Western are worth visiting. You can imagine how this makes the Vice Lords feel. Who wants to lord over a place with nowhere to eat that still somehow features the most overweight people in Chicago?

All the more reason you should tell them they’re your favorite when they confront you in your car at 3 am. Poor guys. But the lack of good coffee and complete absence of restaurants just reinforces what I said at the beginning. You’re not going to going anywhere near where the shootings are, so who cares?

If you want a much more serious look at the homicide rate in Chicago, I recommend this fascinating post. I have no connection to the author. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Latin Kings Are Such a Letdown

Hello Latin Kings!

It’s me again, your friendly neighborhood resident. You may remember from my earlier letter, which I hope you had time to read between your probation hearings. The weather is finally warm again, and you and I both know what that means — you don’t have to wear a parka over your colors, and you don’t have to take off your gloves to do all of your pop-capping. Yes, it’s Gang Season in Chicago again, my favorite time of the year. There’s so many great rituals: your moms on TV crying about how you were a good boy, Mayor Rahm looking like a chump, invisible turf wars, and a bunch of fools with bad haircuts standing around on the street doing pale imitations of tough guys. We should make commemorative shirts or something.

20140427_144332[1]I hope you won’t mind my asking for a favor; something you can do for me in the next few months before you get shot or go to prison. No, I’m not suggesting marksmanship classes again, though I really think you should reconsider.  If not that, have you considered archery? Since your aim is for crap, at least you could do your murdering with style. Have you seen the Hunger Games? It’s kids killing kids, just like you do, but with the flair – the panache – of bows and arrows. Plus, you’re the Latin Kings. It suits you. Maybe you could hold a tournament or something, like in Robin Hood.

Ok, I can understand that you’re not keen on marksmanship or archery. So can I ask for something easy?  Could you stop with the tagging? Sometime soon, you’re going to be gone, and I’m going to have to look at all of your tags throughout my neighborhood. Some of my neighbors call it “graffiti,” but I’m not going to use a fancy Italian word to describe it. There are people in the world called “graffiti artists” who are actually involved in some sort of artistic expression – do you know Banksy? Your stuff is just vandalism. Look at the picture at left. What is that? A bunch of scribbles, what appears to be a crown, and…a sword? It also looks kind of like a ring pop. You’re not even trying! Where’s the colorful cartoon letters like in the opening of the Fresh Prince? I have an advanced degree, and I look on the walls you’ve tagged and I have no idea what the artist is trying to say. My five year old creates more evocative drawings. I find no sense of scale or balance, and it’s really not much to look at. Maybe you should practice at home on a pad before you go out next time.

graf2I know that spray paint is hard to get in the city these days, but do you have to work in black all the time? Sometimes I think the tags are just done with a big Sharpie. Why risk arrest and fines if you’re not going to make a serious effort at expressing yourself? Frankly, the stuff I’ve seen lately is super repetitive. Just crowns and stars, and what I guess could be charitably called stylized letters. Are the Latin Kings just frustrated calligraphers? It’s nothing to get violent about.  Sometimes, I think you worry that no one will know that the crowns mean Latin Kings, so you also put “LK” next to them. You may not be much of an artist, but at least have confidence in your work. You didn’t see Picasso write “this is a baboon” next to that statue in Daley Plaza, did you? Take the opportunity to say something about the Latin Kings – do something that shows some individualism. If you’ve got to write, why not come up with a slogan slogan or motto to go with the crown? How about “Life is Short. Make it Shorter” or “Speak Poorly and Carry a Dime Bag?” You can thank me later.

You know who was really good at writing on walls? The Egyptians. Have you been to the Valley of the Kings? It’s really incredible. You should go sometime when you have some money and get off parole. Oh. Never mind. Anyway, think about it:  the Egyptians didn’t have modern tools, much less Sharpies and spray paint and they made much better stuff than the Latin Kings have ever come up with. Also, they didn’t just stick to one medium. You guys seem relatively well organized, and there’s apparently thousands of you. Why don’t you build a pyramid or a sphinx or something? Do you think anyone is going to be studying your civilization in a couple of millennia? All those dead Latin King leaders, and not a single giant temple or golden sarcophagus. It’s kind of a pity. The Egyptians made carvings of Gods with the heads of dogs and birds, and you’ve got  a ‘95 Civic with mismatched body panels and an ill-fitting spoiler. Hardly the stuff of a good museum collection.

I feel bad for the Latin Kings. Gangs used to be romantic, like in West Side Story or even cool in a menacing kind of way, like in Colors. Now you guys are just boring and predictable. I mean, the weather gets warm, and you get all shooty. You hardly control the market in drugs and guns anymore. Crack is over, and pot will be legal everywhere pretty soon. Any Yosemite Sam can buy an AR-15 or put a Glock 9 under their shirt and walk into Starbucks legally. As near as I can tell, the Latin Kings business is turf wars and score settling. Where’s the upside on that? Worse, where’s the style?

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Welcome to O’Flanigan’s Brauhaus + Nigiri Bar

Welcome to  O’Flanigan’s Brauhaus + Nigiri Bar!

Our Story

We’re three college friends who met in an Ayurvedic yoga class. Kori majored in Czech folklore, Tyler in Gamelan performance, and Apple designed her own degree in Xicana studies. While working in food service after graduate school, we’d get together to talk about doing something to support the causes we were most passionate about: social justice, indigenous rights, and gender equality. Opening a restaurant was the obvious next step. With the confidence and money of our parents, we were on our way.

At O’Flanigan’s Brauhaus & Nigiri Bar, our passion is authentic integrity. We seek to challenge and transcend the limits of culinary convention, while maintaining a sense of fun in our rustic and homey light-industrial location. Our emphasis is on sustainability and agro-consciousness, without sacrificing quality or accepting the gendered identity of the American food supply. We think you can see our authentic integrity in everything we do, from the vintage taxidermy behind our mahogany bar to the rich hop aroma of our Indiana Pale Ale, to our creative dishes like our bacon-fat pomme frite. 

We believe that food should be honest, sublime, and adventurous. Our authentic southern BBQ is hand smoked, hand pulled, and lavishly sauced with natural corn syrup, heirloom tomato sauce, and our own blend of herbs and spice mixes. Our salmon is never farm raised. Rather, we source our wild salmon from a fishery that uses a gentle fencing technique to pen the salmon in a confined environment making them easier to catch. The open source non-GMO chicken we feature in our savory vindaloos, pot pies, and guisados is never treated with bovine growth hormone, because we think you can taste the difference. That’s authentic integrity.

O’Flanigan’s is the place where concerned and adventurous global citizens can embrace a local diet. Simply put, support for the global environment and support for the local producer go hand in hand. In keeping with our locavore aesthetic, we source all our wine from Midwestern vineyards, so that you can enjoy a delicious Michigan City Malbec, Springfield Shiraz, or Bloomington Beaujolais elegantly presented in a traditional Mason jar. And don’t forget dessert! Our pastry chef’s post-modern technique perfectly complements our poignant main courses, seamlessly culminating the dining experience with sumptuous specialities that are gluten, dairy, and amino acid free.

Of course, we’re about more than food. O’Flanigan’s Brauhaus + Nigiri Bar is the perfect destination for your special occasions and good times with friends. Grab one of one of our craft-brewed malt liquors, sit back, and enjoy our  35 big screen TVs that recreate the atmosphere of an authentic sports bar. For the music fan, every Wednesday evening we have Chicago Blues Night featuring the most authentic blues from the 90s and today.

When you dine with us, you can soothe your conscience knowing that you’re dining in a restaurant that’s as concerned as you are. We carry our passion for authentic integrity to our role as corporate citizens. We believe in investing in the community. That is why we support Greens for Brownsa non-profit that empowers African children with the skills to hydroponically grow heirloom salad greens. We are also a participating training site for the Farm to Table project, where undocumented migrant farm workers learn the necessary skills to bus tables. To see those people turn their childlike wonder into fair minimum wage skills makes all of our hard work worthwhile.

We also have free Wi-Fi.

 

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I Demand More Standardized Tests

Teachers at 2nd school boycott ISAT
Activists say they know of 1,000 kids at 57 schools who are also skipping the test.
-Linda Lutton, Chicagopublicradio.org, February 1, 2014

This is an outrage. I can’t believe that Chicago Public Schools parents and teachers would act like this. I’m already deeply concerned that this is the last year for the test in question, the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). What if public schools in Chicago actually started testing less? It’s too horrible to think about.

I demand MORE standardized testing for public school children. Because I love tests and test scores. I need tests – and so do you.

How did we pick a school for our kids? By looking at test scores. How do we evaluate the quality of a school? Test scores. I don’t know if my principal is doing a good job, so I better go look at our test scores. Sure, in Atlanta and DC you can buy test scores, but in Chicago, the only way to get test scores is via sweet, wonderful standardized tests.

You, me, and everyone we know carefully researched schools’ test scores around the time our oldest kids turned three, if not before. Well, this is true for those of us who stayed in the city and opted for public schools. The rest of our friends got so frightened looking at their neighborhood school’s scores that they decamped for the burbs or sent their kids to private schools. Private schools aren’t big on standardized tests. We know they’re good because they cost a lot. Also, because the Mayor and the President – both of whom are really concerned about inequality – sent their kids to one.

We pored over that big catalog of school info we got from the library. Checked out the schools test scores online. Looked at websites that compared schools. Not a single one of these resources compared schools based on how happy or well adjusted the kids were. That’s what counseling and Zoloft are for! Worse, we got our minds turned inside out because the State of Illinois and the Board of Education changed standards often enough that it was impossible to make apples to apples comparisons between schools. Of course, in doing so we totally bought the idea that standardized test scores are a useful way to compare schools in the first place. Because we LOVE test scores.

We don’t usually say that we love standardized tests. We use our clever secret code. For example, we can say that we want our children to be “challenged” in school. So clever. We don’t mean challenged like Malala Yousafzi or like the kids on the West Side of Chicago who have to cross gang borders to get to their new school because their neighborhood school was shut. What we mean is that our kids are super smart, super creative, and super artistic. They’re like Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, and Steve Martin all rolled into one. They’re Mega-Steves. And Mega-Steves need a special type of environment in which they can thrive. To be clear: it’s not that I think my Mega-Steves should be tested, but I want all the other kids in the school tested to make sure my Mega-Steves will reach their full potential. 

It’s ok, no one but we affluent white people here. We can be honest. Once all of our kids are in a school, we will speak up and announce that we’re against testing. After all, if it weren’t for the time spent on testing, our kids would have time to learn more about music, poetry, and other arts. In the current curriculum, we simply don’t have time for those things. We have to focus on STEM subjects. And that’s as it should be. STEM makes for nice salaries. Arts make for nice hobbies.

This isn’t just for our kids. Standardized test scores are important for the community. Communities do best when they share the common bond of rising property values. Property values in Chicago rise based on the test scores of the local school.  Without testing, property values fall. No one can get a second mortgage to add 900 square feet to their kitchen. They leave, their house goes rental, and suddenly the Starbucks and Forever Yogurt decide to open somewhere else. What will stop this? More standardized test scores.

When high school rolls around, you can bet that we’ll be looking at standardized test scores again. All of us who love test scores love high schools. In addition to the mandated tests, we can also look at data from the SAT and the ACT. There are so many good numbers to obsess about – and that’s before we get to the most important thing: college placement data. There is no way I’m sending my kids to a school that isn’t ranked well by US News and World Report. How are they going to get into a top five business school and earn a six figure salary?

I just want them to be able to afford a nice house in a neighborhood with good schools.

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