Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Not to Say I told you so...

But yesterday's Cubs game included 3 errors by Cesar Izturis and a couple of misplaced balls by Alfonso "What Position Am I Playing Today" Soriano.

Man, I'd be lining up to buy this team!


Hail to the Blogosphere

I want to thank anonymous for posting a reply to my previous post. He or she help me realize that my language had not been precise enough and I hadn’t given enough back story to why I think that Willie B. Cochran’s election win, coupled with a win for Dorothy Tillman, would spell disaster for the Washington Park community in face of the impending Olympic stadium construction. So here goes. And thanks anonymous, and I hope you post again soon!

There is little evidence that big time events such as the Olympics or stadium construction have tangible economic benefits for the communities they impact. There are 3 reasons for this:
People ignore the reality of substitution when they claim that 500 million or 600 million or some gargantuan sum of money will be spent on the event or at the stadium. Families have fixed leisure budgets. Money spent on the Olympics or inside a stadium is money not spent on other leisure events or outside the stadium
The jobs created by stadium construction, the Olympics, and further stadium events will likely be seasonal, temporary, low wage, high turnover dead end jobs, unless the community mobilizes to make it not so.
The large amount of public funds (150 million from the city and 150 million just pledged by Rod “Don’t Stop Spending” Blago of state funds) used for such projects are generally diverted from more income generating activities or social services.
Losing the Great Meadow of Washington Park is a significant loss for the Washington Park community and the greater Mid-South community. That area is home to baseball, soccer, and cricket leagues, is used for summer festivals such as the Bud Billiken parade, and is an important recreational asset for as strained community. As one South Sider told me, “you take away that space, you’ll see crime double in this neighborhood.”
Dorothy Tillman has shown no skill in parleying large projects (Harold Washington Cultural Center, Jazz District, Federal Empowerment Zone) into community benefits.
While TWO started off as an organization seeking to challenge the status quo (including the university I ambiguously attend) to benefit Woodlawn residents, it has morphed into a social service organization more interested in partnership and “playing the game” then confrontational politics. As anonymous noted, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I can’t believe that TWO and the alderman that came out of its ranks is going to be able to challenge the Mayor to provide real community benefits for the Olympic project. This the Mayor’s baby, his legacy, the way he can “go out on top.” An organization that has donated money to his campaign is unlikely going to be able to part ranks with him if the benefits aren’t there.
It’s also not like there aren’t multiple construction projects going on in Woodlawn and Washington Park. The University has faced little pressure to ensure (for example) that its massive construction along 61st Street accrues real benefits to Woodlawn residents. Minority contract stipulations do not necessarily act as a proxy for local community benefits.

So that’s my worry. April 14th (I think) is the big day, and I’m not looking forward to it. Either we find out that Chicago is in the running, and we’re in for a long hard slog to get community benefits, or we find out that we’re not good enough for the Olympics.



Thursday, April 05, 2007

Chicago Politrix

We're lurching towards a run-off election here in Chi-city on April 17th. The amount I care about these things is probably somewhat disproportionate to how much I should, but I do have a couple of "dogs" in some races. The continuing labor vs. Mayor Daley's machine battle, a continuation of the summer's big box wage ordinance fight is the most exciting development in local politics since the Harold Washington administration. The 3rd Ward race, with former New Yorker turned SSA field coordinator Pat Dowell running against Dorothy "the Hat" Tillman is even more important now that the 20th Ward is represented by Willie "Bishop Brazier/TWO/Leon Finney" Cochran. If Tillman wins, then the neighborhood like most affected by the Washington Park will be represented by a front for the 63rd Street machine (closely connected to mayor daley through donations and city development aid) and crazy Dorothy. Bad news for the community, good news for those who want to construct a giant white elephant in Washington Park without resistance.

I'll let these excellent posts from Richard Carnahan and Chicagoist speak for me. Happy Holy Week
Don't Let the Games Begin, Richard Carnahan, Gapers Block
Making a New Deal, Chicagoist


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

It Takes An Outsourced Nation to Hold Me Back

Yet again, the Monk is back. This time, I have a somewhat valid excuse: Dell's wonderful outsourced refurbished computer department.

See, our family doesn't do laptops well. In five years, we've gone through three of them. Part of that comes from living in the dust/mold bowl of Guatemala, part of it comes from the "convenience" of being able to do email while eating ribs (gooey rib sauce is not good for an operating system, apparently). A bonanza of a Christmas when I received Madden football (good looking out Drew!) and a used I-Pod obviously led to our Toshiba laptop committing suicide rather than putting out the required processing power.

Luckily, one of our best friends in Hyde Park is a super-technofile (and a woman: raise your fist and march around Carol Haney!). So one Sunday after church Sarah and Carol spent some time ordering a wonderful refurbished computer from Dell. Just so you have a sense of chronology, this was early January. That Thursday, a box arrived from Dell Computers. Actually, two boxes came. With two monitors. One for a fellow in Louisana, and one for a guy in New York. Hmmm. The next day, two CPU towers arrived. Interesting. And the following day, two sound bars arrived. Now, maybe you're thinking, great Jack, you're a masters-soon to be doctoral student, you can certainly afford two computers. What's the problem?

Unfortunately, that was the attitude of the lovely Indian folks we talked to and talked to and talked to on the phone for the following week. Between staticy phone lines, stress causing me to fall into my New York accent and difficulty understanding Hindi-accented English, the fit hit the shan so to speak. To be succinct, our credit card was charged for 2 complete computer systems we did not order. And the outsourced Dell help could not get what the problem was or why we weren't checking our email.

Carol was gracious enough to lend us her tablet pc with a monitor and keyboard, so we were at least able to check email for the time being. But it did cramp my blogging style a bit, as it lacked the processor speed, etc. to do this justice. The happy ending is that we got a computer (ordered through the University: they're sucking me in further!!!) and the Monk is back.

The bigger point is that I'm not alone in being frustrated with outsourcing. There is an inherent contradiction between the dominant business model operating in the American economy and the desire for employees to "add value" to their work. The dominant business model says that to be competitive, American companies must ruthlessly cut costs, especially the costs of front line workers. Which is why wages for front line service workers have stagnated, many companies manipulate the hours and days worked of employees as if they were widgets, not people with lives, and companies like Dell outsource tech help and other customer service positions. The major problem with this focus on competition through cost-cutting (and not competition through quality) is that you can't treat labor like a commodity and expect them to add a lot of value to their work.

Cattle, soybeans, crude oil and corn are commodities. You raise them, mine them, extract them, and then put them into a process that adds value to them. There is little an ear of corn can do to add value to itself on its own. It makes sense for companies to reduce the cost of commodity inputs since one ear of corn or one bushel of soybeans is relatively the same as any other. People generally don't work like that, especially if you want your employees to provide cheerful, competent customer service. For companies to pay people poorly, schedule them haphazardly so they have no idea when they'll be working from week to week, provide them with little benefits or power over their work lives and to then expect high quality work is just dumb.

I want to be clear that the phenomenon of outsourcing is a complex one and my critique here is limited to the specifics I've outline above. I'm much more concerned about the business model and the quality of front line service jobs that facilitates outsourcing, not outsourcing itself. Well, it's good to be back. Peace

Monday, January 22, 2007

Shiny and New

(Editor’s Note: The monk is back. Postings will now regularly occur on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Stay tuned for a redesign/upgrade guided by Mike Doyle of )

Living in Hyde Park and moving through the mid-South side brings concrete reality to lofty phrases like urban renewal and redevelopment. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been impressed with the architectural beauty of certain blocks out south and how many times I’ve seen a cookie cutter cement block condo complex rising next to an abandoned brick masterpiece. I just had the good fortune of reading Richard Nickel's Chicago: Photographs of a Lost City by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams. The beautiful buildings Nickel was unable to prevent from being reduced to photographic memories and rubble stunned Sarah and I. Somewhat fittingly, I was reading John Teafords, Rough Road to Renaissance, a book about the history of urban redevelopment from the 1940s on at the same time. I was struck by the cult of newness that seems to have shaped American urban society since at least the 1940s. Cities began their decline because folks were tired of the grey or brown bricks of Louis Sullivan masterpieces and longed for shiny new Mies van derRoe monstrosities. I know I’m not the first to point this out, but the drive for newness that has removed some of Chicago’s most beautiful and unique buildings from its skyline and neighborhoods is something of obsession in American life and public policy. Public housing having problems? Tear it down. Hurricane Katrina reveal problems of race and spacial segregation in American cities? Let’s tear it down and start over. Relationship not working out? Drop her like it’s hot.

Renovation, renewal and rehabilitation are harder, sometimes more expensive and lead to unpredictable results. And I certainly don’t want to give into the conservatism of the past. But there’s got to be some way to overcome this American obsession with newness and all its destructiveness.