I want to run this one day. Photo by find a city to live in
In this week's Reader, Ben Joravsky and I write that the nine new aldermen elected in 2007 have, as a group, brought little in the way of accountability, independence, or oversight to the City Council--and in fact have helped empower and embolden Mayor Richard M. Daley at a time when he's undertaking an untested set of plans and programs likely to have repercussions on Chicagoans for decades.
Our analysis is rooted in the voting records of these aldermen on the most important matters they've considered over the last two years. All 11 were pushed hard by Mayor Daley and have potentially enormous impacts on city finances and government operations:
* another tax hike to bail out the CTA;
* zoning approval to let the private Children's Museum move into Grant Park;
* and the repeal of the foie gras ban. (Some readers have questioned our logic for including this last one. Our argument is that the way it was done--by circumventing normal council proceedure--set a new low for the way the council works, or doesn't, and may have set yet another precedent for mayoral domination of the legislative branch.)
To see a chart with each alderman's vote on each of these matters, please click here.
Aldermen offered plenty of reasons, of course, for voting in favor of some of these initiatives. Some noted that they successfully fought for changes in the budget before agreeing to sign on, and most said they had no choice but to approve the lease deals because the administration threatened to cut more jobs otherwise. They argued that they couldn't afford to let the CTA melt down, even if it meant approving another tax increase, and that the Michael Reese deal was a winner for the city even if it doesn't land the Olympics.
Then there's the argument that these votes on citywide issues simply aren't the best or most complete ways to measure an alderman's performance.
"I can tell you very few people, especially in the South Side wards that have long been neglected and lack basic city services, give a good gol dang about that yardstick," my friend "Maritza" writes at the excellent Marshfield Tattler blog, which documents her experiences in Back of the Yards.
"In fact, I suspect most voters here would prefer their aldermen have a good relationship with City Hall (even a bootlicking one), if it means they can get city services to work and get access to dollars for ward improvements. They also care about whether they ever see their aldermen and whether they feel like their aldermen are paying any attention to local needs. It all comes down to 'who will get me a garbage can?'"
These are excellent points, especially since most of the first-term aldermen were elected not because their predecessors were doing a rotten job of scrutinizing the budget but because their neighborhoods were falling apart at the same time.
We were tough on Cochran and Toni Foulkes, but Martiza gives them high marks for being responsive to the community. "I saw 48th Street get plowed this winter and we've seen the long-awaited sidewalk improvements on the 4800 block of South Marshfield," she writes in praise of Cochran. "There's almost always a 20th Ward staffer at the local CAPS beat meeting."
These are good things, for sure--but they're not supposed to be special things. They're supposed to be what 20th Ward citizens pay for with their taxes. Is the bar for an alderman so low that we should praise him or her for doing what's supposed to be done? Apparently so.
And as I said to Maritza: isn't it troubling that we can't also have a legislative body that actually functions as a check and balance on the executive branch? The point here isn't actually that aldermen should simply say "No" to Daley for the sake of it--it's that they should say "No" to bad public policy. Taxpayers should be able to get their garbage picked up AND count on their council representatives to speak up or at least ask questions before the mayor sells off city assets, circumvents the democratic process, gives away public park space, and passes budgets that CUT front-line service delivery.
If aldermen aren't looking out for citizens on these matters, no one will get ample service delivery--even though we're paying more and more for it.
Until today I thought of the Slap Chop commercial as the Too Legit to Quit of the Vince Offer oeuvre, compared to the Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em of his bananas Shamwow spot--entertaining and with a few bright spots, but nowhere near as paradigm altering. (By extension that prostitute-punching incident could be considered his Funky Headhunter.) However, that opinion has been obliterated by this remix:
Steve Porter knows how to make a funny song. It's got to be catchy, which this definitely is. After Hopper sent this my way over IM she said, "I would listen to this on the radio." I would too. I would love "Rap Chop" to be the ubiquitous car-radio blarer of summer '09.
Also note how briefly Porter deals with the "You're gonna love my nuts" line. Smart. "You're gonna love my nuts" is amateur-hour stuff. Anyone can loop Vince Offer talking about his nuts and get a laugh out of it. Porter smartly zeroes in on the truly ridiculous shit, like the absolutely horrifying bootleg breakfast replacement he serves up. Also: "Tacos / Fettuccini / Linguini / Martini / Fettini (?)." That's some lyrics right there.
Nicely done, Steve Porter. And everyone else, stop making Slap Chop remixes. Game over.
The Times Online has a list of the top 20 Twitterers in fashion and style. (I'm not one of them--maybe next year.) Seems like a decent list, although in checking out the streams it becomes more obvious how limited this particular technology is in getting across the sheer exhilaration of style--there's an extra step between you and the visual element. (Not to mention how prone it is to the lazy practice of name-dropping.) I'm also somewhat surprised they included French Vogue on the list, given that (at the time of this writing) they haven't tweeted since October. But they're French--they can get away with it.
It's no longer Swine Flu, says the president.
Fine. And pronounced "Heinie."
As in, "Fearful Americans are donning masks against the spreading Heinie."
Back to work, headline writers.
Melissa Isaacson is telling, on her own blog in her own words, the story of her little adventure at the Lisagor Awards dinner. I mentioned the episode in a post a couple of days ago, but she's done it justice in "First the Sack, Then the Plaque."
"What can we do? We have no skills," she told me when she talked, speaking for journalism's multitudes of mid-careerists who find themselves thrown over the side by a sinking industry. Is the ability to listen a skill? Is the ability to ask a question and hear the answer? Is the ability to see what you're looking at? To put a moment into words? Are these still skills -- marketable skills?
Maybe. Should be. You'd think. She wasn't so sure. At least writers as good as she is can still write books, and she has a new one out, Sweet Lou: Lou Piniella, a Life in Baseball.
Evanston's first Talking Pictures Festival opens Friday with an impressive assortment of movies, most of which had their local premieres in the past few months. Here are some select screenings:
Art institute alum So Yong Kim's lyrical, heart-wrenching drama Treeless Mountain, about two neglected young South Korean sisters who sell roasted grasshoppers to fill the piggy bank they imagine will bring their mother home, screens Friday at 8 PM at Northwestern University's Block Cinema, 40 Arts Circle Drive.
Jackie Reem Salloum's Slingshot Hip Hop profiles Palestinian hip hop artists across Isreal and the Occupied Territories. It plays Friday at 7:30 at Boocoo Cultural Center and Café, 1823 Church St.
Abigail E. Disney and Gini Reticker's Pray the Devil Back to Hell is a portrait of the women whose nonviolent protests helped end the Liberian Civil War. It screens Saturday at 3 PM at Block Cinema.
Nina Paley's animated take on the Ramayana, Sita Sings the Blues, plays Saturday at 10 PM at After Hours Movie Rentals, 911 Foster, and Sunday at 1 PM at Block Cinema.
Update: Michael Miner has a 1337 solution to the naming problem.
Today John Kass flags something I thought was sort of odd: last night, in his 100-day press conference (tell you what: next administration, I'm going to do a report on the first 95 days and scoop all y'all because I have no fear of your base-10 counting system), Obama referred, quite against the grain of the CDC and pretty much every media outlet on earth, to "swine flu" as "H1N1." Regular Kass readers will know what's next:
"It's a naming problem. And an American agribusiness problem worth billions of dollars to the pork industry. H1N1 doesn't evoke grunts and squeals and curly tails, slop and influenza."
Which is true enough, I suspect, and Kass has some rich words from Tom Vilsak to push the thesis along. Obama's fealty to the Midwestern farming industry, mostly expressed by his devotion to ethanol madness, is pretty well established. Not only is he from Illinois, Iowa still plays an outsized role in selecting the leader of the free world.
But this odd little nexus of nomenclature, our current near-pandemic, and the pork industry is actually pretty interesting, and there's a bit more at stake than the hurt feelings of Big Pig.
Grist has been doing an excellent job of following the possibility, and it's still very much just a possibility, that the mutant H1N1 strain originated in an industrial pig farm in Mexico. Tom Philpott has a good roundup on the speculation, which kicked off a hot discussion on an environmental journalists listserv, which prompted Merritt Clifton to respond with caution.
I'm from Virginia, one of the largest pork-producing states in the country, and I did my first real newspaper internship when the Raleigh News & Observer was basking in the glow of a well-deserved Pulitzer for its investigative reportage (series title: "Boss Hog") on the industry. So, trust me: even if Big Farm gets off the hook for creating a global pandemic, it's not like it's still not a hugely problematic industry and the source of lots of terrible, um, shit. Hedrick Smith recently did an outstanding Frontline on the damage done to the Chesapeake Bay by the industry (among others). If you want to see a journalist almost die on camera from virulent cognitive dissonance, I can't recommend it highly enough. So no matter what happens with Swine1N1, worth keeping in mind.
In fairness to Obama, however, swine flu nomenclature is not merely about being fair or just or not to Big Pig. If the strain in question is in fact a blend of swine, human, and avian influenza genetic material, then swine flu really isn't a great name. The NYT's Keith Bradsher has a good article on the controversy.
But I'm with Kass - screw H1N1, it has no panache. Should it turn out to be a mutt of a pandemic, born of swine, human, and bird, should we go with Gorgon Flu?
Anyway, I have it on good word that this is the source:
Back in the day DJs used to go to extreme lengths to keep the competition from knowing what was in their crates. Early hip-hop DJs would take the labels off their records. Reggae DJs pulled guns on unauthorized diggers. People were serious about keeping stuff under wraps.
Things have obviously changed quite a bit, and now DJs not only don't care who knows what they're playing, but a lot of them have started using social-networking sites to broadcast their set lists. Techno demigod Richie Hawtin has taken a massive lead in that respect by incorporating a live, automated Twitter feed into his DJ software, a version of Traktor Pro with a plug-in that posts everything he plays to a dedicated Twitter account.
I respect Hawtin as a musician and as a tech geek--he was the first major DJ to go digital--but I have a feeling if this takes off I'm going to have to unfollow a lot of the DJs in my feed to avoid getting swamped. Not everyone thinks the idea will ruin Twitter, though. "Amen to this genius invention," tweets former Chicagoan Tommie Sunshine. "No more trainspotters."