Bleader | Chicago Reader

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Outdoor ice skating is hell frozen over

Posted By on 01.27.16 at 03:09 PM

Urban outdoor skating rinks resemble a mosh pit in reverse: a mass of people desperately trying not to slam into each other. - LIBRARY OF CONGRESS PRINTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS DIVISION
  • Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
  • Urban outdoor skating rinks resemble a mosh pit in reverse: a mass of people desperately trying not to slam into each other.

It’s five degrees on a Friday evening, even colder with the wind chill, and you’re shivering while in line to ice skate at Millennium Park. After the hour-long wait, you cough up 12 bucks to rent a pair of bladed boots that smell like a clammy YMCA, spend another ten overheated minutes struggling to stuff your feet into them, and then cram your remaining possessions into a tiny rental locker.  

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Invisible Institute wins $400,000 Knight grant

Posted By on 01.27.16 at 02:24 PM

click image A live town-hall event sponsored by the Invisible Institute last year - MARC MONAGHAN/THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTE
  • Marc Monaghan/The Invisible Institute
  • A live town-hall event sponsored by the Invisible Institute last year

The Invisible Institute is a tough concept to get your mind around. It calls itself a "journalistic production company" that develops strategies "to expand and operationalize transparency." The name itself is a joke: years ago founder Jamie Kalven was running a muckraking website, the View From the Ground, out of an empty apartment in a since demolished CHA high-rise along South State Street. To dress up the operation in ironic fashion, Kalven declared that the View operated under the auspices of the Invisible Institute, a name pulled from thin air. But it has a ring to it, and it's stuck.

Today the institute documents, investigates, and litigates, and its website even makes mention of "conceptual art projects." Kalven now has partners—such as Darryl Holliday, whose new City Bureau is "training a new generation of young reporters in the practice of urban journalism." (Some of this journalism—such as this story by Holliday—appears in the Reader.) Another ally is the University of Chicago's Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.

But what matters is that Kalven is at war against the impunity seemingly enjoyed by bad cops, and he has been for a long time. The Invisible Institute was demanding the release of any police video of 2014's fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald even before it was certain a video existed. And you've probably read about the Citizens Police Data Project, a collaboration between Mandel and the institute that led to last November's release of some 56,000 past misconduct complaints against more than 8,500 Chicago police officers. Two weeks later, a judge ordered the release of the video of McDonald being shot repeatedly by officer Jason Van Dyke. Says the institute, "In the media storm that ensued, the Invisible Institute’s data tool created crucial context about Van Dyke’s record of undisciplined complaints, revealing an alleged pattern of excessive force and racial slurs."

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Chris Crack and Vic Spencer make for an animated Chicago rap team

Posted By on 01.27.16 at 02:00 PM

Chris Crack + Vic Spencer = Chris Spencer - COURTESY THE ARTISTS
  • Courtesy the artists
  • Chris Crack + Vic Spencer = Chris Spencer

As 2015 came to a close, prolific local MC Chris Crack dropped Jacked Tape Too: Jimi Hendrix of Rap as part of his freestyle mixtape series. It includes "Bamboo in the Treehouse," which lifts its sloshed-sounding soul instrumental from "Lumber in the Condo" on Vic Spencer's great 2015 album The Cost of Victory. Before launching into his freestyle, Crack makes a few passing shout-outs, including one to Spencer: "Vic, what up." And then last week, less than a month after Jacked Tape Too, he released a collaborative full-length with Spencer: Who the Fuck Is Chris Spencer?

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'What We Carried' tells the stories of Iraqi refugees through objects

Posted By on 01.27.16 at 12:30 PM

Youlena Zaia's photos of the Haditha Dam in the 1980s - JIM LOMMASSON
  • Jim Lommasson
  • Youlena Zaia's photos of the Haditha Dam in the 1980s

Youlena Zaia fled Iraq for Syria with her children in 2005. Three years later, they fled again to the United States. It was her daughter's idea to bring the photo album—it mostly contained pictures from the 1980s, when Zaia was working as an engineer on the Haditha Dam. Now they're the only tangible evidence that remains of Zaia's old life in a world that no longer exists, when an Iraqi Christian woman could wear pants and work on a major construction project and go fishing in the Euphrates River after hours.

Several collages of Zaia's photos, along with her handwritten commentary in Arabic and in English, are part of "What We Carried: Stories by Iraqi Refugees," a new photo exhibit at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie and the Daley Center concourse in the Chicago Pedway. The exhibit showcases the work of Jim Lommasson, a photographer based in Portland, Oregon, who met with Iraqi refugees in Portland, Chicago, Boston, and Dearborn, Michigan, and asked if he could shoot pictures of the things they brought with them to America.

"The project is less about what they brought," Lommasson explains, "than about what they left behind: their jobs, their schools, their culture."

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Brother Ali shares a bill with Mick Jenkins and Rhymefest at the Harold Washington Cultural Center on Saturday

Posted By on 01.27.16 at 12:00 PM


On Saturday the Inner-City Muslim Action Network hosts an event called "The Fiercest Urgency of Now" at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. The centerpiece of the evening is a concert featuring local hip-hop heavies Mick Jenkins and Rhymefest. Minneapolis rapper and Rhymesayers standard-bearer Brother Ali headlines, which is a pretty great excuse to revisit his most recent album, 2012's Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color.

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There's a happy crab on the gig poster of the week

Posted By on 01.27.16 at 07:00 AM


Chema Skandal
SHOW: Feel the Rhythm with DJs E.N.G., Sonido Tritón, and Bryan "Selektah" Martin at Crown Tap Room on Sat 1/30

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Teen shot by police called 911 for help multiple times, peak flu season approaches, and other Chicago news

Posted By on 01.27.16 at 05:00 AM

A woman breaks into tears during the January 9 funeral service for Quintonio LeGrier. - LOU FOGLIA FOR THE SUN-TIMES
  • Lou Foglia for The Sun-Times
  • A woman breaks into tears during the January 9 funeral service for Quintonio LeGrier.

Welcome to the Reader's morning briefing for Wednesday January 27, 2016. 

  • Weather—The sun returns

The temperatures remain steady with a high of 32 and a low of 30. After a dreary and cloudy Tuesday, there will be some much-needed periods of sunshine. [AccuWeather]

  • Quintonio LeGrier, teen shot by police, called 911 three times

LeGrier, who was shot to death by Chicago police officer Robert Rialmo on December 26, called 911 dispatchers three times asking for police help before they eventually responded. Rialmo also fatally shot LeGrier's neighbor Bettie Jones during the incident. The calls were released on Monday by the Independent Police Review Authority. [ABC News]

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Extra! Extra! Bears win Super Bowl XX—again

Posted By on 01.26.16 at 04:30 PM

  • Chicago Sun-Times

The sports world's longest winning streak shows no sign of ending anytime soon. For the 30th straight year, the 1985 Chicago Bears have won Super Bowl XX, and our town has gone a little bit crazy. The Sun-Times wrapped its Tuesday paper in a "30th Anniversary Commemorative Cover Edition" fronted by a reprint of its front page on January 27, 1986, the one with the banner headline that screamed NUMBER 1! 

Inside was a "featured column" from Mike Ditka. Online there's a Sun-Times URL that is nothing but '85 Bears.

The Tribune that landed on my porch Tuesday made do with a column by Bernie Lincicome looking back on "the treasure in Chicago's sports attic that gets dusted and adored, forgiven and refreshed." Lincicome was wrestling with the truth—once inconvenient but by now somehow essential—that this most immortal of immortal teams somehow won only that one Super Bowl and nothing more. "Two or three more Lombardi trophies and they would just be shiny clutter," Lincicome reasoned. "It is tidier this way."

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Willie Donald's murder conviction is overturned

Posted By on 01.26.16 at 02:06 PM

  • Christopher Smith | The Times of Northwest Indiana

Willie T. Donald has been imprisoned since 1992 for a robbery and murder in Gary, Indiana, that he always insisted he didn't commit. Now he might be just a day or two from going free.

Donald's convictions were reversed Monday by a Lake County court, and he'll be returned to the local jail from Indiana State Prison to await a hearing Thursday, when prosecutors could say whether they intend to retry him. Donald's lawyer, Thomas Vanes, tells me he doubts they'll make up their minds that fast, but he'd be astonished if they reinstate charges.

Donald's was one of the last cases championed by the Medill Innocence Project when it was run by David Protess. Protess's fall from grace there over an unrelated investigation, and his ultimate separation from the school, led to a breach between Donald and Medill that was never closed. "It's been nearly three years since I heard from the MIP," said Donald in a letter he wrote to me in 2012. "My family have called and left messages but they never returned their calls. I don't even know the status of my case, because the MIP are refusing to contact me." In putting Protess behind it, the overhauled Medill Innocence Project (now the Medill Justice Project) closed the door on Donald too.

Vanes says Protess looked in from time to time to lend encouragement, but that Medill was never heard from again. (I e-mailed Alec Klein, who now heads the Medill Justice Project, for comment but he didn't get back to me before publication.) In addition, Sarah Tompkins, an investigative reporter who'd written several stories on Donald for the Times of Northwest Indiana and eventually married Sergio Serritella, who was Protess's investigator in the Donald case, left the Times. Vanes says its coverage became much more sporadic after that. (A Times editor says the paper checked in with Vanes from time to time, but there were few newsworthy developments.) I wrote one long story on Donald, Protess, and Medill in 2012 and lost track of Donald's case. "For the last few years it's kind of been me on my own," says Vanes.

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A new sports site launches in Chicago

Posted By on 01.26.16 at 11:22 AM

  • The Athletic Chicago

Want a taste of a new website devoted to Chicago sports? Take this link to the Athletic Chicago, a website just launched by a couple of young business partners in San Francisco, Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann, but populated here by some familiar names in Chicago sportswriting.

The founders have signed on Jon Greenberg, Scott Powers, and Sahadev Sharma, all of whom used to write for ESPN Chicago, which, says Greenberg in a hello note to readers, has evolved since it was launched in 2009 "into something pretty great." 

So the Athletic Chicago is taking on serious competition. It'll be a pay site, but you can kick the tires and read some stories for nothing.

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