When city officials first made their pitch for bringing an exclusive franchising system to private garbage collection in Chicago, they pointed to several other municipalities [PDF] that they said had boosted their recycling rates, cut garbage disposal fees, and reduced emissions from garbage trucks after implementing similar plans.
They didn’t bring up the example of St. Louis County—and understandably so.
To be sure, the layout of the unincorporated areas around St. Louis is far different from the city of Chicago’s. As are the politics, the demographics, the economics, and probably many other factors.
But a recent editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows that the county offers a telling example of another sort—how a decision to impose a franchising system over and above the opposition of waste haulers and residents has created a confusing, costly mess.
Chicago’s plan has prompted a wave of concerns that something similar could happen here. When Chicago Department of Environment commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna testified during City Council budget hearings last week, several aldermen bluntly told her they weren’t on board with the new proposal. She promised that it was by no means in its final form, and reiterated the point in an interview this week.
“While there’s been consternation and misinformation and confusion about the whole thing, over the last two months we’ve gotten tremendous input from hospitals and retail associations, et cetera,” she said. “We’ve now taken that information and we’re back with their suggestions and saying, ‘Okay, if this is an issue, how do we work with it?’ So our next step is to bring back the representatives of all those organizations, including the National Solid Wastes Management Association, and our goal in the next phase is to have a set of meetings with all the representatives and talk through what we’ve come up with and see if there are alternative ways to do it.”
The conversations will likely continue at least through the winter, but Malec-McKenna emphasized that the city is committed to the goals if not the specifics of its proposal. “Who knows what it’ll end up looking like, frankly,” she said. “But I can’t see that anybody who will say they’re opposed to increased recycling and decreased costs for consumers--well, there may be some people opposed to that--and improved environmental impact. It's kind of a no-brainer."
Propmasters, set dressers, production designers, builders, and artists will want to know about this. Deb Pastor is closing her production studio, selling props and other items including fabrics, lighting, electronics, and file cabinets. It's all "laid out department store-style." She wants them to go to good homes. Sat-Sun, 11/1-2, 10-3, by appointment 3-5 PM, 329 N. Bell, 2nd floor, firstname.lastname@example.org.
A quarter century ago Terkel was writing Hard Times, his oral history of the Depression. Among his subjects was "Eileen Barth," a social worker of the era. Her reminiscence concluded with this:
"I'll never forget one of the first families I visited. The father was a railroad man who had lost his job. I was told by my supervisor that I really had to see the poverty. If the family needed clothing, I was to investigate how much clothing they had at hand. So I looked into this man's closet--(pauses, it becomes difficult)--he was a tall, gray-haired man, though not terribly old. He let me look in the closet--he was so insulted. (She weeps angrily.) He said, 'Why are you doing this?' I remember his feeling of humiliation . . . this terrible humiliation. (She can't continue. After a pause, she resumes.) He said, "I really haven't anything to hide, but if you really must look into it . . . ' I could see he was very proud. He was so deeply humiliated. And I was too."Says Terkel today, as he recalls hearing this story for the first time, "Well, I'm saying, 'This is great!' [He cackles.] 'I gotta get that goddamned interview!' Of course it was moving! But to me, my God, that fit! Just before another guy in the book, about the WPA and his humiliation. It fit right there! It was what I wanted, even though it was she, and even though she was deeply, deeply moved--as I was!
"But it didn't matter. I gotta get that goddamned thing. So that's part of it. That's part of it. That's guile, in a way."
In a very loving way. "Eileen Barth" is Terkel's wife.
To interview is to finagle. Studs is one of us.
We turned to Studs Terkel seeking answers. Being 82 now, Terkel can take the long view of American innocence. If there was a moment when it vanished he'd have noticed.
"We lost it long long ago, for Chrissake," Terkel bellowed. "We lost it when Andrew Jackson was honored. You talk to an American Indian--Ramona Bennett with the Puyallup tribe, and her grandmother telling her, great-grandmother telling her, 'There they come along, the cavalry, with their Winchester in one hand, Bible in the other, and the Indian women holding a shawl over their kids' faces before the guns start coming at them.' Andrew Jackson. And so our innocence was lost long ago! We never began in innocence! Redford's a nice guy, but he's way off.
"Ignorance, however--that there's plenty of. It's a hot commodity, not least because it looks a lot like innocence. "That's the whole point of it too," Terkel mused. "'I don't know history. So how can I be guilty?'
"You see, we're also living in a time of antihistory. It's as though we're suffering from a national Alzheimer's disease. There is no past. We have the sound bites that come on--15 seconds of wisdom--and then it's forgotten. Kids are born, without any fault of their own, with no sense of past. There isn't any past. The kid says, 'I wasn't born yesterday,' and I say, 'You weren't. You were born this morning.' Because there is no yesterday. That's part of the horror of our day."
Herman Kogan probably hit the Azteca from time to time; before retiring to New Buffalo, Michigan, he and his wife Marilew lived on Old Town's Crilly Court, in a row house that's probably worth a half-million bucks these days. Old Town was a haven for artists a decade ago--one night at O'Rourke's tavern, you could have spied seven Pulitzer Prize winners elbow to elbow, and I played a set at the Earl of Old Town later that evening for an audience that included Saul Bellow, Studs Terkel, Nelson Algren (at the same table!), Roger Ebert, Severn Darden, Del Close, and who knows what actors from Second City who are now household words.
Beginning July 7, Monday night became folk night at the Blue Note, and "I Come for to Sing" became the granddaddy of the great American hootenanny of the late 50s and 60s.
The hipsters who hung out regularly at the club were stunned. Betty, for one, just couldn't get into it, even resented it. In the first place, she didn't make much on Monday nights: the folk crowd were lousy tippers. "Come on, Frank, let's do something else," she would beg. Almost in spite of herself, however, she learned to dig another great American musical and political tradition. Club publicity described the show's aim as presenting "a cross section of American singing from the frontier wilderness to the asphalt jungle," and it very nearly achieved that. Monday folkfests at the Blue Note became a rather surprising success. Radio's Studs Terkel emceed, narrating between the acts of a well-paced show. Half the show, in fact, consisted of Terkel's slightly jaundiced, highly learned, and mostly ludicrous introductions on the origin of each song and its impact on man's social and economic life. In 1952, however, the idea of folk music was mildly bohemian (not to use the more common 50s synonym, "subversive"); it was the crowd-pleasing audience sing-along that ultimately accounted for the great popularity of "I Come for to Sing." "Come Monday," according to an early review, "many of the jive-den set and an impressive representation of the folk song fraternity gather in admiration of the songs of another musical epoch."
The Trib reports that Studs Terkel has died. This is deeply saddening, although it's worth remembering how immensely long and full his life was; he was born in 1912, and as he put it, "the year the Titanic went down, I came up." I don't know whether they don't make them like Terkel anymore, or whether the Terkels out there don't get the same regard in a changed media environment. Either way, he's irreplaceable, and I regret that I never met him, although I did get to see him live at a Stop Smiling talk. It was a very young crowd, and it was clear he drew a lot of encouragement and energy being in front of audience of people less than a third his age.
(Update: This is a good idea: "I'll bet there's a vigil at Bughouse Square tonight. Everyone in Chicago media owes a debt to Studs.")
Studsterkel.org is obviously a great place to get a sense of his radio work. And I'm sure that WFMT, where Studs made his bones, will be rolling out hours of tribute; I hope they continue to rerun his shows on Saturday nights.
* Roger Ebert: "How Studs helps me lead my life."
* Edward Lifson remarked on Studs's life earlier this year on his birthday.
* Studs on the election, Saul Alinsky, and more, in what was almost certainly his last interview: "The idiots! They label Saul Alinksy - the great neighborhood organizer - as a subversive! He's been dead for 35 years and he was honored by the Catholic Church! He's no subversive. Neither is Bill Ayers! That Sarah Palin - you know, she's Joe McCarthy in drag!"
* Studs with WFMT's Andrew Patner
* Full interviews with Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, and Pete Seeger
* After the publication of Will the Circle Be Unbroken? on my favorite radio show, Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett; really a great interview
* WBEZ's archive
Something that probably bears mentioning--if you're interested in Terkel's work, I really, really recommend the work of a similar, local, less-well-known oral historian, Timuel Black. He's much more strictly a historian, in the academic sense, but his Bridges of Memory series reminds me of Terkel and deserves to be spoken of in the same breath.
A mathematician at Dalhousie University has used an operation called a Fourier transform to pick apart the opening chord to the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night." It's kind of a big deal because non-Beatles musicians have been trying for decades to figure out the chord, which happens to be impossible to play on a guitar. (According to the Chicago Independent Radio Project blog, Harrison let the secret out years ago, but I guess it's possible to be a huge Beatles fan and still not have heard that news.)
Turns out that producer George Martin snuck in a piano underneath the guitars, which accounts for the chord's phantom F note. I don't know if it's just my imagination or if it's an effect like how once you see the arrow in the FedEx logo you can't unsee it, but I've listened to that opening chord a dozen times today and I swear I can hear the piano clear as day now.
To give you an idea of the extent to which people have obsessed over this, here's an excerpt from The Beatles, a theory-intensive book by New York Times critic Allan Kozinn, describing just that one chord:
"A Hard Day's Night," the title track of both the album and the film, begins with a perfect attention-grabbing flourish, a stark, bright-edged, slightly dissonant guitar chord that lingers defiantly for a few seconds before the song begins. It took several tries to find the right chord, and the right colorations: they tried it distorted and plain, more dissonant and less, and even with tremolo. In the end, Lennon and Harrison settled on an intriguingly ambiguous configuration. Harrison, playing a twelve-string guitar, and Lennon playing a six-string standard instrument, played different voicings of a G suspended fourth chord--G major with an added C--while McCartney played a D on his bass. The bright, open sound they settled on was perfect for the gesture.
Last Saturday was full of fascinating Big Ten contests: Michigan fought nobly (if unsuccessfully) to ward off a Michigan State team in the mood for payback; Wisconsin showed up for the first time in a few weeks, at the Illini’s expense; Minnesota continued its mastery of weak teams getting weaker, while Purdue continued to be a model of one; and Indiana and Northwestern exchanged personal fouls and miscues until somebody decided not to lose.
Then, of course, came the nightcap between Penn State and Ohio State: Amid 60 minutes of hard hits and gritty defense, the matchup that will likely determine the Big Ten title came down to a forgotten backup quarterback versus a highly acclaimed freshman quarterback, and the erstwhile benchwarmer scored the winning TD for the Nittany Lions. (Admittedly, a few other guys were on the field too, but for the purposes of dramatic reenactment, this’ll work.) Both sides played crisp, smart, and tough football, and the outcome was literally up in the air until a Penn State interception in the final seconds.
It was almost enough to keep my mind off politics for a few hours.
This week Big Ten fans get to follow up all the thrills with … a showdown between 2-6 Michigan and 2-6 Purdue.
To be honest, though, if you're a fellow fanatic, you'll agree that even that one could be fun. (I mean, one of them’s got to complete a pass or two for forward yardage, right? Or at least allow some?) And who knows—maybe the Badgers will make it interesting and play two games in a row. And the Hoosiers might fill their stadium for their much-anticipated showdown with the Central Michigan Chippewas. And, in a recap of what’s been happening on the campaign trail for more than a year, Illinois might overtake Iowa. Perhaps erratic, injury-riddled Northwestern won’t join the ranks of Minnesota pushovers.
And maybe we’ll all be celebrating the barrier-shattering triumph of president-elect Cynthia McKinney in the next few days.
In South Bend:
Last week: 4-2
There's a somewhat less grim follow-up to last week's story about the killings that struck the family of singer and actress Jennifer Hudson, claiming the lives of her mother, Darnell Hudson Donerson, her brother, Jason Hudson, and her seven-year-old nephew, Julian King. Jennifer and her sister Julia have set up a memorial foundation to help families who have lost loved ones to violent crime. No, the Hudsons themselves aren't asking for money, since they don't need it; many others do, though. The press release says: "This encompasses their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter as well as grief counseling."
Here's the address.
Donations to the Hudson-King Foundation:
c/o Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson, LLP
Attn: William L. Abrams, Esq.
237 West 35th Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Charles Nicodemus was both a force for good and a hater. An extraordinary investigative reporter for the Chicago Daily News and, after it closed in 1978, the Sun-Times, Nicodemus was also a relentless advocate for the Newspaper Guild. He once told me why he refused to shake management's hand when a new contract was finally settled on: "The things I feel in negotiations are strong and genuine, and they have been often bitter and always emotional. Neither side gets what it wants. I never had the stomach to turn around and make nicey-nice with the other side."
Nicodemus's greatest hour at the Sun-Times may have been neither a story he wrote nor a contract he negotiated but an exodus he refused to join. In early 1984 Rupert Murdoch took over the paper, and the top editors and writers headed for the hills. Nicodemus stayed. He later told me: "To have the Tribune as the only major journalistic print voice in town would be a disaster, and therefore preserving and fighting for the quality and the existence of the Sun-Times is a moral necessity from my point of view. I had opportunities at a major western paper and a wire service, and I never in any way considered them.
"Mike Royko was a good friend. He and I had been on the middle watch together back in 1959 when he first came to the Daily News. I never forgave Mike for going to the Tribune. That's how strongly I felt about it. We didn't talk all that much once he left. And I didn't read his column all that much once he left. Mike, of course, made his famous comment that the Murdoch paper wouldn't be worth much except for--however he phrased it--wrapping fish in. There were people who left without a job, out of moral indignation. My feeling was that we can impact Rupert Murdoch. And we did. Obviously he impacted the paper, and very little of it for the good. But we were a brake on Rupert Murdoch--the staff in particular, but some members of management as well. We dragged our feet in pursuing the themes and the kind of writing that the Murdoch people wanted, and eventually someone like Frank Devine, who became Murdoch's permanent editor here, ended up editing a paper that was significantly different than Murdoch had wanted."
Devine was the Murdoch editor who in 1986 set Nicodemus loose on the central library story -- the city wanted to convert the Goldblatt's building on State Street and put a new library there. That, Nicodemus argued in a series of stories, was a stupid, unfeasible idea that was unworthy of the city -- and in the end Chicago held an architectural competition and a new central library was built instead. The Harold Washington Library Center is as much Nicodemus's monument as it is Washington's.
Nicodemus died Thursday in Boulder, Colorado, at the age of 77. I've been quoting from the column I wrote when he retired in 2000 so he could go west and climb rocks. There's not much I can add now -- aside from recalling that whenever we talked, and that was frequently, his blood was up and he was a happy warrior. A sense of idealism and a sense of grievance are the critical makings of a great journalist, and Nicodemus was one of the best Chicago's seen.
Or as a corporate PR type once said, to an exec but also into Nicodemus's voice mail, not realizing it hadn't disconnected, "You know, Charles is the kind of guy that'll call you and tell you that if you don't call back he'll send a rat to suck your blood out of your neck." She was advising the exec not to leave his home phone number.