Wednesday, August 30, 2006

You are Not Here

Check out the pictures on Chicagocarless.com of the new maps inside Marshal Fields soon to be Macys.

Problem 1: It’s Randolph Ave? It’s Washington Ave? Since when?

Problem 2: You are not actually where they claim you are.

Problem 3: Where’s the information desk? You know, the place to go to make complaints and ask questions? Not there.

When Mike of chicagocarless and I walked through Marshal Fields, we were cutting through to get to his hallowed home at Marina City to pick up a camera for a work assignment and to see how the transition from Chicagocentric icon to New York transplant was going.

Apparently not so well. It seems that Federated in lieu of hiring a proofreader stocked up on bright red markers. What makes Chicagoans like myself most nervous about a local icon being converted into a franchise of a national chain is what Federated has avoided so far: the downgrading of an important local institution into a excessively profit driven outpost of faceless corporatism. Marshal Fields, the store, the man, the family and the Marshal Fields Foundation have long histories of supporting community development and organizing efforts in Chicago. (some of Saul Alinsky’s earliest work was financed by Fields IV). Federated seemed to be making strong steps towards the goal of maintaining and improving the viability of a local institution. You would think the internal store maps would be a simple detail.

Apparently not.

This is the embodiment of every Chicago-centric anti-Macy-ite’s worst nightmare. From the day it was announced that Marshall Fields would become Macys, the whispers were of the tolling of the funeral bells for a Chicago icon.

You know, if they can’t even get the street names right or the location of their own information desk, maybe the doomsayers were right.

The transformation of the bulk of Chicago’s commercial areas into Anytown Strip mall is entering its endgame.

There’s always Woodfield Mall, I guess.

Peace

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Will He Ever Stop, I don't Know

I know my loyal trio of readers and those who stumble upon this blog looking for Shaolin kung-fu websites have not had enough of the discussion surrounding the recently passed big box wage ordinance. An interesting article in the August 21st edition of that lefty rag, Crain’s Chicago Business ( http://chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/mag/article.pl?article_id=26335&bt=Target&arc=n&searchType=all) points out that Target especially, and perhaps even Wal-Mart, may well reconsider their collective decision to pull out of the Chicago market after the passage of the ordinance. The article points out three facts that big box retailers will have to consider:

Big box stores have saturated the suburban market and have few growth opportunities there.
City dwellers will generally travel to stores between 2.5-5 miles away from their home.
Given #2, Target is potentially missing millions of dollars in sales in neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, Hyde Park and the far Southwest Side (Beverly and Morgan Park).

I am loathe to say I told you so, but on the face of it, these facts lay out a pretty convincing case for why I supported the big box living wage ordinance. The outcomes, despite what opponents and proponents claimed, are far from pre-determined. It is not 100% certain that if the City Council and the Mayor stick up to the threats of Target and Wal-Mart what the retailers will do and what the effects of their actions may be. Potentially, they could avoid the city of Chicago. Just as likely is that they would crunch numbers such as those presented in Crain’s and see that it makes sense for them to take on the extra cost of doing business in Chicago, even with slightly reduced profits. Again, it is worth “running the experiment,” especially if it means higher wages for low wage workers.

The Our Town column in the August 4th Chicago Reader (can’t find it online, sorry) details the political machinations surrounding the big box vote. What is most interesting is that it relieves me of the spectre of “paternalistic white liberalism.” Apparently, Mayor Daley has a suitcase full of black pastors he trots out to pressure the council into voting his way. I would be fascinated to see the churches these pastors lead and see how many of their parishioners actually live in the surround neighborhoods.

Hopefully, that’ll be it on the Big Box for a while.

Peace

Goebbels in a white dress

I stumbled onto a fascinating article about Zury Rios Sosa, the daughter of indicted war criminal Efrain Rios Montt, the former evangelical dictator of Guatemala in the Chicago Reader (see it here: http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/stories/jerryweller) who is married to Congressman Jerry Weller. The article focuses on drug trafficking and the potential conflicts of interest stemming from the relationship and Weller’s work in Congress on the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House. It notes that he has studiously avoided saying anything about the deteriorating security and public safety situation in Guatemala or really anything at all about the country.

Many may see this as a congressman wisely distancing himself from a potential conflict of interest, since, well, he is sleeping with the 3rd in command and chief public spokesperson (think Roy Blount or Charles Schumer) of the largest opposition party in Guatemala. Perhaps. There is a quote, buried at the end of the article that offers an alternative explanation. Carlos Gomez, who works for the Foundation for Human Rights in Guatemala says this: “it is the FRG (Rios’ party) that opened the door to drug trafficking and organized crime in Guatemala. So he can’t attack the same party as his wife.”

The line from the generals, colonels, and other officers who perpetuated the genocide of the 1980s in Guatemala to the leaders of the drug gangs, kidnapping crews, and murder for hire syndicates of the new century is about as straight as Lance Bass is not. The FRG, Rios Montt’s personal vehicle for political party, is neck deep into the booming drug trafficking economy in Guatemala, so much so that the FRG’s president, Alfonso Portillo, was opposed by both liberal and conservatives in Guatemala, a rather unusual political occurrence. For better or for worse (in sickness and in health…) Weller has entered the world of the Guatemalan mafia.

Admittedly, these are strong accusations, and in the absence of footnotes or official sanction, they seem a bit farfetched. For a large proportion of educated Guatemalans, the information presented here is taken as point of fact, much like we in the US take for granted the political power and connectedness of the Bush or Kennedy family. One incident is illustrative. Violence against women has reached epidemic proportions in Guatemala City. Before a march against this violence in 2005, unknown assailants killed a woman and cut up her body in a number of pieces and placed the pieces along the route the march was to take in a grotesque carbon copy of the military regime’s intimidation tactics of the past.

It may seem unfair to accuse Zury Rios of being a narcolady. At the very least, (and its not a little) she was, is, and potentially will continue to be, the chief dissembler and apologist for her father. Rios Montt is a fascist with a messianic complex that would make even the most ardent neo-conservative democracy promoter blush. By all accounts, he is so convinced of his own righteousness and indispensability to the nation of Guatemala that laws put up in his path are regarded as biblical trials and tribulations that the righteous man must overcome. The article in the Reader only hints at Zury’s defense of and advocacy for her father during the shameful riots (known as Black Thursday in Guatemala) engineered by the FRG to force the courts to allow Rios Montt to run in spite of the law prohibiting him from doing so. Zury was the screeching apologist for the mobs of paid, manipulated, angry, drunk “protestors” who were part of an attempt to gain the election for Rios Montt by re-creating the atmosphere of fear the pervaded the country during the 1980s and 1990s. Zury was her father’s Goebbels, using the airwaves to attempt to build up the atmosphere of fear and anxiety that would translate into a win for her father. It didn’t work. Guatemalans refused to give into fear (as many of them would say to interviewers after voting) and Rios Montt is finally finished as a political force in Guatemala.

It is my suspicion, reinforced by a missionary friend who has been close to Rios Montt and his family for years, that the old man is a dottering figurehead who has no real day to day control or input into the FRG machinations. This makes Zury Rios’ role in the deteriorating situation in Guatemala potentially even more nefarious and makes Weller either look na├»ve or complicit.

The controversy surrounding this political marriage goes beyond the usual “conflict of interest” line pursued by the Reader article. Weller’s greatest act of public service may be that of turning American interest towards the FRG, Zury Rios, and the mess they are making of the land of the eternal spring.

Peace

Monday, August 28, 2006

Riding that Plane...


I’ve got a lot of catching up to do from my two week baby hiatus, so forgive me if my commentary is not as immediately topical as it should be. I was not so cocooned that I was unaware of the brouhaha surrounding the plot uncovered in England or the subsequent clamp down in security. The way things are going, within a few years we’ll all have to change out of clothes and into standard issue robes before getting on our planes blindfolded. Patrick Smith, who writes the “Ask the Pilot” column on Salon.com is highly critical of what he perceives to be massive overreaction in airline security (check out his columns from 8/10, 8/17, and 8/25 here: http://dir.salon.com/topics/patrick_smith/). In his words, terrorists don’t even have to actually do anything to cause chaos and panic: they just have to threaten to or talk about doing it.

The rash of plane delays, rerouting, and other snafus that have occurred since the plot was uncovered, plus the arrest and subsequent exoneration of two separate sets of Arabs selling cell phones (no, they weren’t going to blow up the Mackinac Island Bridge) does appear to lend credence to Smith’s critique, which he sums up by saying:

Meanwhile, the ultimate and destructive irony is that we've responded to news of the infiltrated terror plot not with increased confidence -- confidence in knowing that most would-be bombers are unskilled fanatics whose plans are prone to failure, and confidence in our abilities to outwit such people -- but with yet more fright and self-defeat.

In other words, the only thing we really have to fear is how our fear causes us to overreact and cause us major problems.

I’m hard pressed to disagree with Smith, but at the same time, I’m reluctant to pish-posh the terrorist threat as well. Not because I’ve drunk the “clash of civilizations” kool-aid, but because I just don’t know. Some of my existential doubt stems from watching the events of 9/11 from 1,000 miles away. I wasn’t in the states on 9/11 and I have no idea how it felt to be under attack. I do know that I was angry and upset, and was really hoping that some (small) person would pick a fight with me on the bus, so that I could whip someone’s behind as a substitute. Some part of me thinks that if I had been in the US, I would have taken things more seriously. At the same time, some part of me thinks that I’m better off for having avoided the emotional pressure cooker that was the US after 9/11.

I don’t know if there are hordes of “Islamo-fascists” out there with the desire, capability and means to do great damage to America. I know what happened on September 11th and in Bali, Madrid and London. I also know that thousands of Americans and other Westerners have been kidnapped, killed, and otherwise terrorized by Islamic, Arabist, anarchist, and communist terrorists and guerillas since the 1960s without the declaration of global war on terror. I don’t know (besides the scale and geographical location of the events of September 11th) what is so fundamentally different now.

My suspicion is that a large measure of my doubt comes from disbelieving the messengers of doom. Alberto Gonzales and Michael Chertoff and whatever other alarmist Bushite that steps in front of the microphone have long lost credibility with me. I know terrorist threats exist. I also know we’ve stopped a good number of them and that it is patently obvious that the Bush Administration has manipulated the timing and tenor of announcements for political gain. Part of my skepticism has to do with other factors influencing my distrust of the Bush Administration. But it can not all be laid at the feet of lefty paranoia. Remember, Bush had a 90% approval rating after 9/11 and hardly anyone (the Boondocks’ Aaron McGruder and Noam Chomsky are notable exceptions) questioned the rush to war. The politicizing of the war on terror and the headlong, headstrong, and foolish charge into war with Iraq evaporated much of that goodwill in a divisive oven of partisan hate. I remain grateful to the men and women of law enforcement that have kept us safe thus far, but still wonder what’s really going on.

And if I can bring my toothpaste on the airplane this Thanksgiving.

Peace.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Providence at Provident

For those of you who read my blog who aren’t related to me (that might just be you Mike Doyle), I haven’t posted because my wife just gave birth to our second daughter Anastasia Patricia on August 15th. I’m not so into the networld that I had to do an immediate post to show the world our beautiful little girl, I did it by phone and e-mail. And no, I’m not such an exhibitionist that I have to post pictures of her, either.

But I do want to give much love and respect to the staff of Provident Hospital of Cook County. Because of the University of Chicago Hospital’s decision not to take our form of insurance, we stumbled upon Provident in the hopes of merely getting a pregnancy test to qualify for Illinois’ All-Kids Program of mother-child health insurance. Turns out that Provident is one of the few hospitals in Chicagoland to offer nurse-midwives in their maternity unit. That, plus the friendly staff’s assurance that we would not have to pay out of pocket to deliver our child made Provident the obvious choice.

Provident is a public, Cook County Bureau of Health Services system hospital. Sarah and Anastasia were quite possibly the only white patients. The physical plant of the hospital is not state of the art and the cafeteria is not gourmet. It is clearly an underfunded and overburdened health care institution. With all that being true, we could not have asked for a better experience. The midwives were extremely competent and caring. The nurses were excellent. The support staff, such as the security staff, dietary services staff and just about everyone we ran into throughout the corridors of the hospital combined competence and exemplary customer service skills. I left Provident feeling extremely blessed by a group of people dedicated to providing top-notch service in a challenging environment.

As we near the Cook County Board election and budget battles, I want as many people to know as possible that the money (not) lavished on Provident is money well spent.

Peace

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The End of A Dream


Whatever may be the case in Cuba (Christopher Hitchens thinks it's a coup :read here http://www.slate.com/id/2147243/), Fidel's removal from power is the last act in the tragedy that is the Cuban Revolution. I want to write a longer post about the situation, but I also need a picture for my profile, so here it is.

Bask in the glory of what was and the potential and the myth and the glory days of what could have been.

Peace

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Color Blind on the CTA

I can’t tell you how many people (at least 2-3 groups per week) get on my GREEN line train heading south instead of the ORANGE line train heading to Midway at the Roosevelt stop. I’m trying to avoid the obvious “aren’t people stupid” line here and figure out what goes wrong. Because believe me, for most of the people who make this mistake, it is apparently a HUGE mistake with massive consequences, judging by the looks on their faces when they figure out where they are actually going. I once saw a comedian on Comedy Central who mocked white people’s fear of getting on the wrong subway train to Harlem or the South Bronx as if they though people where just waiting on the platforms there to stab lost white people. I think the same idea applies to coming south on the East 63rd Line. If anything, I’ve found people to be over helpful to potentially lost white folks. (yes I do know where I’m going).

So what is the problem? Is it the confusion of two trains coming through? Is it improper signage? Is it the bland and confusingly general announcement (your attention please, and outbound train from the loop will be arriving in approximately one minute) delivered in a voice that if repeated enough would force Jack Bauer to crack? Is it inexperience? Maybe the CTA should paint the train’s entire outer body with their respective line’s colors as they did with the pink line.

On the other hand, maybe people are really just not that intelligent. The orange line trains have (granted, somewhat small) orange signs on them that say Midway (the name of the airport for the non-Chicagoans) with a little plane logo. The green line trains have green signs that say Ashland/63 in white lettering or white signs with green lettering that say East 63rd. No orange. Nothing about Midway. No planes.

Oh yeah, I can see why it’s so challenging.

Peace.

Down Goes Lieberman!

Do check out the following posts from Salon.com's excellent War Room blog about the Lieberman defeat. Reading them as a whole is an excellent anti-dote to the talking heads spin on what happened. The sickest part is how opposition to Mr. Lieberman is being spun as anti-Semitic and that Jews (like Christians) must vote Republican because they're pro-Israel. (As opposed to the rabidly pro-Arab Democrats). Here's the only thing I have to say to those who see "left-hatred" or "leftist McCarthyism."

What would Republicans do if one of their sitting Senators was a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, anti-Iraq war, pro-union backer of President Clinton?

An example is the primary election in Michigan, where pro-choice moderate Joe Schwartz was defeated by a pro-life candidate supported by millions of dollars of outside money.

Hmm. What's up Mr. Pot? I'm the kettle. Guess what, you're black too!

Peace

http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/2006/08/08/lieberman_concession/index.html

http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/2006/08/08/poll/index.html

http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/2006/08/08/anti_semitism/index.html
http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/2006/08/08/lieberman/index.html

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Oh the CTA!

"..no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." -Title II, Americans with Disabilities Act
As my readers (I assume that Greg, Christine and Sarah are still the only three) know, I work at a rehabilitation hospital. My co-workers all use wheelchairs and we often ride the CTA together. We exclusively ride buses.

Title II of the ADA mandates that public services must be accessible to people with disabilities. The CTA's compliance with Title II is frankly pathetic. Let's go through a point by point examination of how the CTA claims it is working towards compliance in its March 2006 "CTA Accessible Buses and Trains."

1. "As of April 29, 2005 CTA reached 100% accessibility on all of its bus routes. All CTA buses are equipped with lifts or ramps."

I know that this is technically true. All CTA buses have some sort of mechanism for assisting those who use wheelchairs on to a bus. To say that there is 100% accessibility on CTA buses is laughable. 100% accessiblity means that 100% of people who are in wheelchairs can get on 100% of buses operating on regular routes. I have traveled with my wheelchair using co-workers 10 times. 3 times we waited at least 15 minutes for the driver to figure out the ramp. Twice the bus driver flatly refused to pick up my co-worker, claiming that the lift or ramp didn't work, even before trying. Twice the bus driver let the ramp off in such a way that my co-worker had to pop a 75% wheelie to avoid running into a mail box or fire hydrant. 3 times it went smoothly. Let's be generous and say that my experience is something more along the lines of 50% accessibility. The excuses of a bus driver not knowing how to work the lift or ramp or mechanical failure do not elicit much sympathy from me. Would a driver leave the bus depot without knowing how to operate the blinkers, AC or gear shift? Do they not check at the beginning of a bus's run to see if everything works?

2. "88% of train cars have accessible doors and there are at least 72 rail stations with elevators or ramps."
It is admittedly a complicated procedure to make the L accessible. But CTA congratulates itself on making 72 stations accessible, seemingly at random. New service schedules (such as the Pink Line) often make transferring and getting to work even more complicated for people who use wheel chairs because the Loop L is about accessible as the top of a Mayan pyramid. Accessibility on the L should be a priority, but it is not for the CTA.

Read this longer paragraph:

3. "There are times when a bus will be too crowded to board or where customers already in the priority seating decline to move. A bus operator can only request -not require- other paying customers to vacate the priority seating. Customers with disabilities face the same option as anyone else when a bus arrives without room to board- wait for the next one."

Condescending- yes. Filled with wriggle room for a non-compliant CTA bus driver to make excuses- you bet ya. Customers with disabilities do not actually "face the same option as anyone else" when a bus driver or passengers are uncooperative. We who do not have a disability can wedge ourselves into a spot standing and can balance ourselves. Title II and common decency suggest that a little more proactive approach would be in order.

The CTA needs to be 100% accessible for people with disabilities. It's not.

Peace

Monday, August 07, 2006

Creep-o-rama or What is Adult Entertainment

Do you ever read something and just feel tainted? I just read a supremely creepy article by Claire Hoffman in the LA Times about the dirt bag Girls Gone Wild founder. Here's the link to the article:
http://www.latimes.com/features/magazine/west/la-tm-gonewild32aug06,0,2664370.story?coll=la-home-headlines. Discretion is advised. It's deeply disturbing.

I know that many think that Girls Gone Wild (I confess to only ever seeing the commercials on late night TV for it) is relatively harmless and that the women and girls who get filmed are sort of "asking for it" or just joyfully expressing their sexuality, but when you read Hoffman's piece you are bound to have two reactions:

1. Mr. Girls Gone Wild is a sleaze ball
2. Claire Hoffman is an incredibly brave woman
3. Porn and adult entertainment is not harmless fun.

Joe Francis is a perfect example of how the porn industry objectifies women to the point that it sex becomes intertwined with violence and degradation. Mr. Francis is unable to deal with any woman who is outside of his notions of women as dumb exhibitionist sluts who just need a bit of encouragement (via liquor, promise of fame, and cheap gifts) to become pliant sex objects. I've become more and more dismayed at how mainstream porn is. The very title "adult entertainment" is a misnomer that attempts to mainstream the objectification of women as sex receptacles and sex as an arena for power, submission, and cheap thrills. Adults do not need to watch others have sex to be "entertained." Adult entertainment is a rock concert where the entire audience is singing along, feeding off the energy of a great band. Adult entertainment is a beach party where the beer is flowing freely, the waves are just high enough to have fun, the grill is giving off some fine scents and the volleyball games are hot as the sand beneath the party goers toes. Adult entertainment is sitting around a table with old friends, making wisecracks and inside jokes, with or without the props of card games, tobacco or alcohol. Adult entertainment is made and enjoyed by people who are secure in who they are and what station they are at in life and don't need the accoutrements of a fantasy world of some wacked out misogynist to have fun.

Please don't get me wrong. I have nothing against sex or sexuality. Sex is the greatest gift that the Creator gave to humanity. But porn is not fundamentally about sex, sexuality or the mysterious connection between two people that we all enjoy. It's sexual crack: a cheap thrill that is a mere shadow and shade of reality that inevitably leaves one worse off for the experience. It is about power and the reduction of women and men into mere animals engaged in a mere biological act of dominance and submission.

Peace to all


Consequences

An interesting piece on the consequences of the war in Lebanon

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/08/07/jumblatt/index1.html

File Under: Good Idea that Will Never Happen

The fall out continues from the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance here in Chicago. Mayor Daley continues to threaten a veto and Target is pulling out of a planned development on the South Side. The point Mike Doyle at Chicagocarless.com raises is the crux of the matter: a local ordinance such as Chicago’s runs up against the regional and decentralized nature of American political economy. We don’t know the costs and benefits of a “big box free” Chicago, but it seems we’re going to find out.

The executive director of NeighborSpace, the organization I’m working with this summer and during the year as an intern, had an interesting solution of sorts to the controversy. In Chicago we have what’s called Open Space Impact Fee Fund. Certain developers building in certain areas that will negatively impact open space or increase building density are required to pay into an open space fund. That fund can then be used for any open space related project. NeighborSpace often has applied for funds from this source for land acquisitions and other projects.

So why not have something similar for big box stores called the Big Box Impact Fee? Every new Wal-Mart or Target development would pay a certain amount of money into a new fund that was run independent of City Council influence, much like the Open Space Fund. It would be used in the community area (not the aldermanic ward) that the big box store was opening in to fund job training, business development, or commercial area revitalization programs.

It seems that Wal-Mart and Target would be most amenable to such an approach. What Wal-Mart and Target fear is not the increased costs of doing business that a wage ordinance brings but the precedent and the change in power dynamics it brings. Big box stores in the Wal-Mart mold survive and thrive because they have a large pool of desperate people who need any work they can get. Wal-Mart and Target hold the upper hand in the labor market. They are more than willing to bear increased non-wage costs (see the promise to run shuttle buses from Chicago to suburban Wal-Marts) to maintain the power status-quo. An impact fee, even if it were similar in costs to higher wages, would likely be readily accepted by the big boxers.

Short a regional or state level big box wage ordinance, creative proposals such as this might be the best way forward.