The Bleader | Blog + Reader, the Chicago Reader's blog

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Apple CEO Tim Cook's undercooked plan to help underserved Chicago schools: $300 iPads; app development for all

Posted By on 03.29.18 at 11:55 AM

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks for an MSNBC special taped in Chicago
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks for an MSNBC special taped in Chicago

How would Apple ensure it was helping underserved communities and schools in Chicago and not just the best and brightest?

Tim Cook hesitated slightly before answering.

This was quite possibly the most challenging moment of the Apple CEO's Chicago exhibition so far.

Cook's education-themed product launch had been framed as a heroic one and he arrived at Lane Tech College Prep High School in appropriately conquering fashion. Attendees waiting in line under a slight drizzle held Apple-issued umbrellas as they walked past Apple Store-like structures erected on the school's front lawn, and hey—wasn't that a statue of Al Gore? Nope, it was the former vice president in the flesh, just another audience member who—along with a worldwide audience via livestream—watched as Cook announced the release of a new iPad and the citywide expansion of Apple's "Everyone Can Code" program.

On Wednesday, the tech giant's top executive returned for an hour-long MSNBC interview special with anchor Chris Hayes and Recode tech reporter Kara Swisher—a show that had been branded "Revolution: Apple Changing the World." Cook sat comfortably in the center of a gymnasium turned television studio on the second floor of the selective enrollment high school as several hundred students, faculty, press, and ticketed members of the public showered him with applause every few minutes.

But then MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes asked Cook a tough question. He wanted Apple's top executive to respond to a clip from an interview with a young African-American man from Chicago who expressed frustration with the way the public and private sector kept investing millions of dollars in projects like the DePaul basketball stadium while neglecting the needs of the south and west sides.

"That's a good question. We've priced this iPad as low as we can," Cook told Hayes. Because the company's devices were built to last three to four years, $300 becomes "a very reasonable expenditure." Also, he added, Apple was ready and willing to teach students all over Chicago how to code and develop apps.

That's right, on the same day that a group of Chicago youth from the #NoCopAcademy movement staged a “die-in" at City Hall to demand that the city defund a $95 million police academy to fund education, one of the richest men in America was here to tell Chicagoans that even if they were stuck in underfunded, failing, or closing schools—hey, our tablet is a pretty good value, and did you hear about our cool new computer club coming to your classroom?

Tiny Apple stores were erected on the front lawn of Lane Tech High School during Tuesday's announcement. - MITCH DUDEK/SUN-TIMES
  • Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times
  • Tiny Apple stores were erected on the front lawn of Lane Tech High School during Tuesday's announcement.

Rather than pushing revolution, the CEO’s message reinforced the dominant economic ideology—an extreme form of meritocracy and market supremacy—held by America’s elites. That ideology essentially sees no problem with the fact that Cook earned $102 million in 2017 (enough to purchase new iPads for nearly all of CPS's 371,000 students) while 34 percent of African-Americans in Chicago live in relative poverty, earning less than half of the local minimum wage.

Extreme inequality is fine, in other words, if everyone is perceived as having been granted a fair shot at gunning for the top. "Our desire as a nation is to offer equal opportunities and we haven't succeeded at that," Cook noted. "We've got to reach out to women and underrepresented minorities."

His solution is a technocratic twist on the old conservative axiom: Teach a man to code and he'll eat for life.

That's essentially the concept behind Apple's partnership with the city of Chicago. Lane Tech will serve as a central hub to train local high school teachers on the computing company's Everyone Can Code curriculum. The idea is that the teachers would learn to use Swift—a simplified programming language used to develop iOS apps—and then that knowledge will be taught to Chicago's students. Then, as the logic goes, students would be prepared for an employment marketplace increasingly dominated by computer science fields and those who know how to code.

"We have to get used to the idea of continuously retraining ourselves for the jobs of the future," Cook said. Not surprisingly, many of these said jobs would be in service of his company.

Apple is suddenly hiring in America. The Cupertino, California-based company has long been criticized for outsourcing jobs and manufacturing to China while stashing more than $250 billion in cash overseas to dodge paying into what Cook called a "crazy" tax system. It had a change of heart with the passage of Trump's tax overhaul, the one that lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent in 2018 (Cook praised the Trump plan multiple times on Wednesday as "good for America"). The company opted to shift its mountain of offshore cash from a tax haven in the English Channel back here with a one-time tax of $38 billion. That means Apple essentially avoided $40 billion of taxes.

Meanwhile, it also announced a plan to invest $30 billion in capital spending here over the next five years—creating 20,000 new jobs and a new campus somewhere in America. Call it Apple HQ2, though Cook bristles at the idea of holding a Hunger Games-like competition for it similar to the way Amazon is doing with theirs ("We’re not doing a beauty contest thing, that’s not Apple," he said).

It's possible then that Cook and Apple have long-term plans to bring their next headquarters to Chicago and this "Everyone Can Code" initiative is little more than a way to turn CPS into a kind of grandiose Apple internship program.

If that happens, the kids best equipped to succeed in Apple's brave new world aren't the ones living in segregated and poverty-stricken neighborhoods. It will be the kind of high-achieving students who've scratched and climbed their way up America's increasingly precarious meritocratic ladder to schools like Lane Tech and have the time, energy, and resources to thrive in a coding club. It will likely be the students for those whom buying a $300 iPad every few years is "a very reasonable expenditure."

For everyone else in Chicago's marginalized communities and schools? Good question.

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It's MLB opening day, so enjoy some Reader baseball coverage

Posted By on 03.29.18 at 06:00 AM

House of David baseball team members aboard a miniature train - COURTESY DAN GEIB
  • courtesy Dan Geib
  • House of David baseball team members aboard a miniature train

Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Happy opening day, everybody! The 2018 Major League Baseball season officially begins at 11:30 this morning when the Cubs face off against the Marlins in Miami; you'll be able to catch it on ESPN. The Sox season begins at 3:15 in Kansas City and also on NBC Sports Channel. And here's a gentle reminder that BatCrack Radio Delay syncs TV and radio so you can listen to Pat and Ron or avoid the Hawk.

Reader writers have written quite a bit about the Cubs and Sox over the years. But they've also written plenty about baseball fans. Here's Alan Boomer's delightfully geeky look back on some of the greatest World Series of all time, written in 1991, when it seemed improbable that the Cubs or Sox would ever play in a Series again. (Spoiler: Boomer's pick for best Series ever was 1912.) And here's Ted Cox's review of The Baseball Encyclopedia and The Bill James Historical Abstract, in which he argues that the true poetry of baseball lies in the numbers. (He may have a point. Most baseball poetry sucks.)

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Blues guitarist Joe Carter electrified Chicago’s 1950s club scene, but he never recorded in his heyday

Posted By on 03.29.18 at 06:00 AM

Since 2004 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who've been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place. Older strips are archived here.

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Watch a bartender turn a perfect pairing—queso dip with a michelada—into a cocktail

Posted By on 03.29.18 at 05:54 AM

When bartenders Adrienne Stoner (Lost Lake) and Elizabeth Mickiewicz (EZ Inn) meet up to chat, it's usually over queso dip at Lonesome Rose in Logan Square. So when Stoner decided to challenge her friend as the next participant in the Reader's Cocktail Challenge series, she had no trouble picking the ingredient: Mickiewicz would have to make a cocktail with Lonesome Rose queso dip.

Procuring the dip was the easy part. Mickiewicz stopped by the restaurant and got two orders of queso dip to go—one to experiment with and one to eat. "It comes with cilantro and tomato," she says. "You can add black beans and chorizo, but I opted out for this challenge."

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A speakeasy at a chocolate factory? What's not to love about Ethereal Confections?

Posted By on 03.29.18 at 04:00 AM

Michael Ervin, Mary Ervin, and Sara Miller of Ethereal Confections - LISA BEARD
  • Lisa Beard
  • Michael Ervin, Mary Ervin, and Sara Miller of Ethereal Confections

Willy Wonka inspired generations of kids to dream of owning a chocolate factory when they grew up—but Sara Miller and Mary and Michael Ervin have achieved it in real life. Ethereal Confections isn't a factory on the scale of Wonka's, and there's no chocolate river. But they do make their own chocolate from cocoa beans, which they turn into truffles, peanut butter cups, and bars in flavors like pistachio-cranberry or strawberry with rose petal and pink peppercorn.

Mary and Sara, now 36 and 37, became friends in college and worked in design for five years before they decided to launch Ethereal Confections as a side project in 2011. (Michael, who’s Mary’s brother and was Sara’s husband at the time, has been part of the business since the beginning but stayed mostly behind the scenes in a supporting role, which has become more active over the past few years.) They began making confections like truffles, bars, and chocolate barks with nuts and dried fruit in a shared kitchen and selling them at the Woodstock farmers’ market. Before the end of the summer business was good enough that they rented a 400-square-foot shop in the center of town. They quickly outgrew that as well. In their current location, a former restaurant, they run a cafe with panini, soup, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and cocktails in addition to their chocolate bars and confections. And once again, they've run out of space.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Here's what's next in the push to lift the ban on rent control in Illinois

Posted By on 03.28.18 at 04:57 PM

Landlords scramble to register their properties at the Chicago branch of Office of Price Administration, the federal body that oversaw nationwide price controls between 1941 and 1947. - SUN TIMES ARCHIVE
  • Sun Times archive
  • Landlords scramble to register their properties at the Chicago branch of Office of Price Administration, the federal body that oversaw nationwide price controls between 1941 and 1947.

If you're reading this and you're against rent control, don't worry: it's not coming to Chicago . . . yet. But last week thousands of Chicago voters agreed the state should repeal its ban on rent control in response to a nonbinding referendum on the primary ballot.

About 75 percent of the 16,000 voters in 77 precincts across the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, 12th, 22nd, 25th, 33rd, and 36th Wards that participated in the advisory ballot initiative voted in favor of it. They were asked either "Should the State of Illinois lift the ban on rent control to address rising rents, unjust evictions, and gentrification in our community?" or "To stop gentrification and rapidly increasing rents in Chicago, do you support the State of Illinois repealing the Rent Control Preemption Act?"

They're loaded questions, but that's how advisory referendums typically are: they make it onto the ballot due to petition signature collection by advocates seeking to change something.

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New York trio Son Lux combine sophisticated craft and overplayed pop on their frustratingly great new album

Posted By on 03.28.18 at 04:26 PM

  • Lisa Wassmann
  • Son Lux

New York trio Son Lux—singer Ryan Lott, drummer Ian Chang, and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia—move easily between pop, jazz, and contemporary classical, because their dramatic, ambitious songs draw from all three. On the recent Brighter Wounds (City Slang), their craftsmanship is beyond reproach, but jazz and classical make their presence felt only as sources of harmonic complexity—and sometimes the music's pop impulses would benefit from a shorter leash. If I'd only heard the single "Dream State," I would've written the band off entirely: its wordless vocal hook is perilously similar to the dreaded "millennial whoop," and in any case it's so overplayed and cringe-inducing that you might peg Son Lux as opportunists who care more about sync licenses for TV commercials than they do about writing good material. If that were true—and thankfully it's not—it'd be especially sad, because they're killer musicians.

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High-contrast abstraction on the gig poster of the week

Posted By on 03.28.18 at 07:00 AM


ARTIST: Bill Connors
SHOW: Facs, Dim, and Ethers at the Empty Bottle on Fri 3/30

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The Process v. Product Festival demystifies the art of choreography

Posted By on 03.28.18 at 06:00 AM

Bebe Miller's In a Rhythm - ROBERT ALTMAN
  • Robert Altman
  • Bebe Miller's In a Rhythm

The creative process tends to be a mystery for some consumers of art. At the Process v. Product Festival at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, though, audiences will get the chance to see exactly how choreographers build their work.

The festival was born out of the back-to-back scheduling of performances by Molly Shanahan and Bebe Miller, which will form the centerpiece of the festival. Over two weekends, the Dance Center will host panels, discussions, and workshops to enrich audiences' understanding of the dances.

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Steven Soderbergh's Unsane is a provocation disguised as genre entertainment

Posted By on 03.28.18 at 06:00 AM

Claire Foy in Unsane
  • Claire Foy in Unsane
Steven Soderbergh shot his new psychological thriller Unsane (which is now playing in general release) on an iPhone 7 Plus and in the unusual aspect ratio of 1.56:1. Slightly wider than the classic Academy ratio (which is 1.33:1) but noticeably narrower than the formats in which most modern movies are shot, this aspect ratio heightens the film’s sense of claustrophobia as much as the iPhone imagery heightens its sense of disorientation. Soderbergh uses the consumer-grade technology to achieve peculiar effects with depth—you can’t quite discern in the flat images the distances between people and objects—and this provides a clever visual analog to the drama, in which the heroine (Claire Foy) is never sure of whom she can trust. The technology also allows the director to execute plenty of his trademark fly-on-the-wall shots, shooting in tight corners of rooms and from extreme low angles. The formal playfulness may occasionally undermine Unsane’s narrative tension, but it keeps the movie engaging on a visual level.

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