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Monday, September 24, 2018

Ecstasy on film: Nathaniel Dorsky discusses The Arboretum Cycle, his latest work of devotional cinema, which he'd prefer you watch alone

Posted By on 09.24.18 at 06:00 AM

Nathaniel Dorsky shooting The Arboretum Cycle - DANIEL BOGDANIC
  • Daniel Bogdanic
  • Nathaniel Dorsky shooting The Arboretum Cycle

This Friday at 7 PM, Northwestern University’s Block Cinema will host one of the major cinematic events of the year with the local premiere of The Arboretum Cycle (2017), a collection of seven interconnected short works by veteran avant-garde filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky. One of the country's most important living film artists, Dorsky has been making meditative, generally rapturous movies since the early 1960s. He has described his practice as "devotional cinema" (he also wrote a book with that title in 2003), referring to the potential of movies to engender spiritual experiences. The Arboretum Cycle is doubtless one such experience. Shot in the San Francisco Arboretum over the course of a year, the work consists of silent shots of plant life, skies, and other natural phenomena. Dorsky's compositions are consistently inspired; eschewing wide shots, he forces viewers to lose themselves in minutiae. Last week I telephoned the filmmaker (who will attend Friday’s screening) to discuss the cycle. Our far-ranging conversation came to touch upon spirituality, the ethics of editing, and what it’s like to be a plant.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

East Side residents enraged by manganese pollution tear into city and federal officials

Posted By on 05.11.18 at 02:27 PM

The S.H. Bell facility that stored manganese in open piles for years abuts a residential area in the East Side neighborhood. - MAYA DUKMASOVA
  • Maya Dukmasova
  • The S.H. Bell facility that stored manganese in open piles for years abuts a residential area in the East Side neighborhood.

More than 100 people gathered at a southeast-side community center Thursday evening to hear city and federal officials talk about manganese pollution recently discovered near an industrial storage facility owned by the S.H. Bell Company. The city's Department of Public Health presented data from soil sampling conduced at 27 addresses; some samples revealed concentrations of the neurotoxic heavy metal that exceeds thresholds for emergency removal. Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the CDC were also present to outline next steps in analyzing the soil at homes near S.H. Bell. Though the meeting was meant to educate residents about what's currently known about manganese contamination in the area, the officials were quickly schooled by organized and vocal East Siders, who had little patience for bureaucratic lingo and ambiguous explanations.

Tenth Ward alderman Sue Sadlowski Garza set the tone in her opening remarks before the panel: "I'm a proud resident, and I'm also proud of how hardworking the people are here, and how much this community sticks together," she said. "We are not just the industrial hub of Chicago, but the industrial hub of the midwest. But that doesn't mean we have to breathe dirty air, drink dirty water, or have dirty soil." She thanked the audience for turning out to demand accountability from government agencies that exist to protect them. "We have to be united in this fight to ensure that we're heard, that people know the Tenth Ward, that we live here, and that we're done being dumped on, and we're done being forgotten."

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Dangerous levels of heavy metals found at homes near industrial storage facility

Posted By on 05.04.18 at 06:00 AM

The mounds of petcoke that once loomed over the Tenth Ward are gone, but manganese could be the area's next catastrophe - SUN-TIMES
  • Sun-Times
  • The mounds of petcoke that once loomed over the Tenth Ward are gone, but manganese could be the area's next catastrophe

Update: This story has been corrected to say that S.H. Bell no longer stores manganese in open piles on site and that very high levels of manganese were detected in tests taken at three nearby homes, not four.

Dangerously high levels of manganese, a heavy metal that can cause brain damage, were found at southeast-side homes near an industrial storage facility, results of soil testing released last week week by the Chicago Department of Public Health revealed.

The city tested soil samples from 27 addresses near S. H. Bell's facility, which has in the past stored manganese in large, open piles at its seven-acre property on the bank of the Calumet River. Samples at three homes showed manganese concentrations high enough to qualify for possible emergency cleanup under the Environmental Protection Agency's standards for Superfund sites. More than half of the homes had elevated levels of manganese that would qualify for emergency removal by some states' standards though they didn't reach the EPA's emergency cleanup levels at the federal level.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Not-so-happy meals: animal rights group takes on McDonald's in Chicago streets

Posted By on 03.29.18 at 01:19 PM

Demonstrators protested outside a McDonald's in the South Loop on Wednesday.
  • Demonstrators protested outside a McDonald's in the South Loop on Wednesday.

The Humane League isn't lovin' McDonald's treatment of chickens.

Citing "outrageous" animal cruelty, the international (with a local Chicago office) nonprofit launched a public campaign this week that targets the fast-food giant in its own backyard.

"Chicago is McDonald's home city, so we want people here to know what they're up to," says David Coman-Hidy, the Humane League's president.

The campaign began Tuesday with the purchase of dozens of colorful anti-McDonald's ads—slogans include "There's nothing happy about McDonald's Happy Meals"—on benches, buildings, and billboards and in newspapers, among them the New York Times and the Reader. Meanwhile, a truck hauling a supersize six-by-12-foot-high Happy Meal with a diseased chicken's legs sticking out of the packaging was spotted driving around the city.

On Wednesday morning, members of the the Humane League—including a man dressed as Ronald McDonald and a person in a disfigured chicken suit—protested outside the McDonald's in the Loop at 23 S. Clark. The group is busy Thursday with a "virtual reality and 3-D tabling event" in Wicker Park, followed by a "community launch party" at Revolution Brewing (3340 N. Kedzie) later tonight.


The idea behind the campaign, says Coman-Hidy, is to grab people's attention and pressure McDonald's into "doing the right thing" by implementing higher animal welfare standards for its chicken supply chain.

In October, the Oak Brook-based corporation agreed to new welfare standards for raising and slaughtering the chickens served in its restaurants in the form of food such as McNuggets and McChicken sandwiches. According to Reuters, those guidelines dictate that by 2024 suppliers must improve the amount and brightness of light in chicken houses, provide birds with access to perches that promote natural behavior, and test the well-being of different chicken breeds. But animal activists and organizations like the Humane League say those mandates fall short of commitments made by 100 other restaurants and companies such as Burger King, Sonic, and Subway, and fails to address their biggest concern about chicken production: birds bred to quickly grow to abnormal sizes.

"The most important thing is the the genetics of these birds," says Coman-Hidy. "They've been selectively bred for generations, and they grow unnaturally large at a rapid rate, approximately six times faster than normal chickens. They're killed when they're babies, and they suffer greatly until then. It'd be like a human toddler weighing 660 pounds."

In an e-mailed statement, a McDonald's spokesperson said: "We're committed to sourcing our food and packaging sustainably, including the welfare of the animals in our global supply chain. We believe that our outcome-based approach provides the most comprehensive way forward to measurably improve chicken welfare. We recently announced a Global Chicken Sustainability Advisory Council, a multi-stakeholder group including leading academics and animal health and welfare experts, global suppliers, and NGOs. This group will provide deep expertise, diverse perspectives, and provide recommendations for evolving our chicken welfare and sustainability strategy."

If the campaign is bothering McDonald's, there's no sign of it publicly. The company is asking the media to attend a public ribbon-cutting event at a new upscale location in Wrigleyville on Monday.

McDonald's plans to move into a new $250 million headquarters in the West Loop this year.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The 20,000-word article on bees that would forever define the Reader

Posted By on 03.28.18 at 06:00 AM

  • Illustration by Elwood H. Smith

The 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.

"It would not be terribly difficult to argue that the honeybee is a rather stupid animal by nature," Michael Lenehan wrote in his 1977 Reader article "The Essence of Beeing." He continues: "The earth is home to at least a million different insect species, probably a great many more, and of these the honeybee is easily number-one chump, the species most thoroughly controlled and exploited by humans."

Several paragraphs later, after an extensive discussion of apiarism and the habits of the honeybee, he concedes: "Of course, it would be easy to counter the foregoing assertions with testimony to the effect that bees are, in fact, quite intelligent as animals go, but to do so would require more of this silly anthropomorphic jocularity, and it is not considered good form to attribute values, motives, and powers of understanding to bees that they almost certainly do not possess. They're just bugs."

What makes Lenehan’s piece notable isn't just the education it provides on bees and beekeeping—although it's wonderfully thorough—but its sheer length. At over 20,000 words, it took up 30 pages of the November 17 edition of the paper (and this was back when the Reader was published as a quarterfold, much larger than its current format). Long enough to be a book, it eventually became one: in 1992 Sherwin Beach Press published the article as a 45-page hand-printed, hand-bound, nine-by-12-inch volume. (According to my research, if it were printed as a traditional paperback it would have been somewhere around 75 pages in length.) It also won the Westinghouse Science Writing Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Longtime Reader columnist Michael Miner wrote about the piece in 2011 for the paper’s 40th-anniversary dive into its past, calling it "the article that would forever define [the Reader]." The paper does have a history of extremely long cover stories, and I’ve heard it used to be a running joke that no one ever finished reading them. It wasn't even the longest article ever published in the Reader: in the 1990s there were several essays by Lee Sandlin that each came to more than 30,000 words in length.

I did read "The Essence of Beeing" in its entirety several years ago, though. It reminded me of the summers I spent with my grandparents when I was growing up, when I’d help my grandpa harvest honey from the beehives he kept on his Christmas-tree farm (the labels on his honey bears said "Thiel's Trees and Bees"). I learned a lot more about bees from the article than I did from my grandpa, which may be unsurprising given the sheer amount of information it contains.

Miner concludes: "In years to come, commentators were not sure what to think of this article. Penned by one of the Reader's most graceful and meticulous writers, it was unassailable as journalism. But perhaps it was insanely indulgent. Or perhaps never had a barrel of ink been more insouciantly allocated. At any rate, it was very very Readerish."

It was at that. Here's one more excerpt that jumped out at me as I skimmed the piece recently, an entire paragraph in a parenthetical:
(Bees are not alone in their low opinion of the drone's usefulness—beekeepers, who most often buy their queens already impregnated, try to discourage the presence of drones in the hive, because they eat much and contribute nothing. Even the bee breeders who sell the impregnated queens are learning to do without drones for the most part, as artificial insemination techniques become more popular. Doubtless, there is a lesson to be learned here for the chauvinist drones of the human species.)

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Why do we have parks? The answer may surprise you.

Posted By on 02.28.18 at 09:00 AM

The Sherman Park lagoon and field house - RICH CHAPMAN
  • Rich Chapman
  • The Sherman Park lagoon and field house

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.

The great thaw happened earlier this week. Perhaps you took advantage of the spring-like temperatures and spent some time in your neighborhood park getting some exercise or maybe just sitting around and inhaling the fresh air. Perhaps it occurred to you to wonder why your neighborhood has a park in the first place (and why so many neighborhoods are named after parks). In a long feature in 1990 called "Why We Have Parks," Harold Henderson, a writer who was interested in both the environment and in Chicago history, explained.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

An interview with the directors of An Inconvenient Sequel about how their movie got made

Posted By on 08.10.17 at 03:17 PM

An Inconvenient Sequel
  • An Inconvenient Sequel

An Inconvenient Truth
, Davis Guggenheim's Oscar-winning 2006 documentary, thrust former United States Vice President Al Gore back into the media spotlight. In the movie he made a succinct, persuasive case for the exponentially growing threats to our planet caused by greenhouse gas effects from carbon emissions. A decade later, Gore returns to the big screen in An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, who shadowed Gore closely across several continents to record how man-made climate change—or global warming, as it used to be called—has drastically worsened. In the film audiences see glacier melt accelerating in Greenland; watch fish swim in Miami Beach streets flooded by ever bigger tropical storms and rising sea levels; learn how the worst Middle Eastern drought in 900 years led to the displacement of 1.5 million Syrian refugees, a harbinger of that country's current crisis; and observe Gore in a sensitive meeting with high-ranking Indian government officials who insist that their nation's economic growth requires cheap, coal-burning energy plants.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

The truth about what happens when you recycle the wrong stuff in Chicago

Posted By on 07.13.17 at 12:15 PM

Some Blue Cart Residential Recycling Program participants will receive an "oops tag" on their cart if the contents include non-recyclables. - DEPARTMENT OF STREETS AND SANITATION
  • Department of Streets and Sanitation
  • Some Blue Cart Residential Recycling Program participants will receive an "oops tag" on their cart if the contents include non-recyclables.

Here's the deal: Do not put plastic bags, food, wood, clothing, cords, hoses, propane tanks, or construction waste into your recycling cart. And this warning goes out to my neighbors: Don't put cat litter in there either!

In an attempt to address confusion about what can and can't be recycled, Chicago's Department of Streets and Sanitation is testing a new, more streamlined public information campaign in hopes of boosting the city's dismal recycling rate; less than 10 percent of Chicago's waste is currently diverted from landfills. In a pilot program rolled out along several routes on the south and southwest sides, which have some of the lowest recycling rates in the city, Blue Cart Residential Recycling Program participants are receiving mailers with instructions on proper recycling and "oops tags" on their carts if items that can't be recycled are discovered by haulers. The contents of the contaminated cart will be picked up by garbage collectors and sent to the landfill instead of one of the area's three recycling facilities. 

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

EPA chief Scott Pruitt visits lead contaminated East Chicago

Posted By on 04.20.17 at 03:01 PM

Workers remove lead-tainted topsoil from the yard of an East Chicago home near where U.S. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt met with area residents and community leaders Wednesday. - SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES
  • Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • Workers remove lead-tainted topsoil from the yard of an East Chicago home near where U.S. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt met with area residents and community leaders Wednesday.
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt met with residents from the lead-tainted West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Indiana, on Wednesday. The small community has been embroiled in a Flint-like catastrophe after high levels of lead were discovered across the public housing facility. Last summer, residents were notified that they had been exposed to heavy metals for years and would need to find new places to live. Only a few families remain.

Pruitt's visit comes at a time when rank-and-file EPA staff are revolting and just a few days after news reports revealed that he was considering closing the local EPA regional office in Chicago. A week earlier, a spill at the U.S. Steel plant in northern Indiana sent chemicals spilling into Lake Michigan.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Some East Chicago residents fleeing lead contamination are being moved to Chicago’s ‘toxic doughnut’

Posted By on 04.04.17 at 02:07 PM

Akeeshea Daniels and her two sons are among the families scheduled to be relocated from the lead-contaminated West Calumet Housing Complex to Chicago's Altgeld Gardens, nicknamed the "toxic doughnut." - ALYSSA SCHUKAR
  • Alyssa Schukar
  • Akeeshea Daniels and her two sons are among the families scheduled to be relocated from the lead-contaminated West Calumet Housing Complex to Chicago's Altgeld Gardens, nicknamed the "toxic doughnut."

Akeeshea Daniels pulls an emergency relocation letter from the East Chicago Housing Authority out of a thick folder of documents. She points to where it says that the city of East Chicago has hired movers "to transport your belongings." The destination? Altgeld Gardens, the far-south-side public housing development once dubbed Chicago's "toxic doughnut" because of its proximity to landfills, sewage treatment plants, and toxic chemical factories—a surprising destination for a family fleeing a home contaminated with lead and arsenic.

The upcoming relocation of roughly 50 families—Daniels's included—from the lead-contaminated West Calumet Housing Complex is the latest chapter in an ongoing crisis. In August, East Chicago mayor Anthony Copeland sent a letter to West Calumet's approximately 1,100 residents informing them that they were being exposed to toxic metals in the ground around their homes. They needed to move, Copeland wrote, and the public housing complex would be demolished.

The majority of residents have now left, but those who remained received emergency transfer mailers on March 20; around 30 families were told that they would be moved to Illinois, although at least nine families have since found permanent housing elsewhere.

But the news that at least three families would be moved to Altgeld Gardens, with its decades-long history of fighting the disproportionate impact of pollution on its residents, came as a shock to many.

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