Recent Comments

Re: “The dwindling ranks of Team Mr. Wolfson

When the piece's intent morphed from a soft-focus item on an "unsung" profession into a statement that the profession itself didn't afford a decent living, the newspaper had to vet the numbers as well as the man who was being adduced as evidence. The former concept could have stopped at basic math: how much does the average Skokie sub make, and given the number of days a sub typically works each year, is that a decent living? But the minute Wolfson becomes the poster-boy, the newspaper is on the hook to verify his claim to legitimacy, and he's on the hook to provide what it asks for. And let's further separate the issues here: Wolfson's gambling doesn't vitiate his claim about substitute teaching; it just complicates his role as sympathetic figure. It sounds like this should have been a well-researched Reader cover story instead.

Posted by noah on 07/25/2013 at 4:34 PM

Re: “And on the second day, Eggers writes about Wrigley

The Wrigley field piece was hackneyed. Between it and the no-follow-up note on ChicagoSports.com about Peter Gammons' radio comment that Wrigley's a "dump" that needs $200 million in fixes, I don't know what to think about the place, and nobody's helping me.

Posted by noah on 06/10/2011 at 12:40 PM

Re: “Two mayors, two Chicagos

The Original IAC's reply to my second post doesn't convince at all. He says that because (he assumes) Englewood residents have given up on their neighborhood, they should be offered housing vouchers and integrated schools. Take these propositions to their logical conclusions: If you move some folks out of Englewood with vouchers, what do you do for those who remain? Ignore them? And to integrate schools, doesn't this require a somewhat arbitrary and thus unfair selection process? And do you require one student from a good school to attend an Englewood school to maintain balance? Or do you simply deprive Englewood schools of their good students? The ethical implications are serious.

And now let's talk about those lucky residents who get to get out or students who get to attend a better school. What if the families they represent aren't solid -- one parent, drug use, domestic abuse, gangs? What if the adults aren't well-educated? Will they have have better luck simply because they have a voucher or a new school? Or is this like watering only the leaves of a tree?

And how can you doubt the innateness of human self-segregation? You see it the minute there are more than two of us in a room. You see it in school from kindergarten through college graduation. It's so pervasive, it's like breathing air. It's as natural as its opposite is -- curiosity about "other" -- and it becomes a matter of law only when it takes the form of institutionalized discrimination. Otherwise there'd be an amendment preventing the frat boys from laughing at the Dungeons and Dragons geeks at college.

Recognizing the naturalness of some kinds of self-segregation frees us to grapple with the pernicious kind and frees us to distinguish organic, viable social programs from the mechanistic and arbitrary. Do you want me to knock on 100 doors in Englewood this weekend? I'll ask each person, "Which would you prefer, a voucher to move up north or an Englewood with good stores, good schools, fewer gangs and good jobs?" I'll happily hand vouchers to the minority who want out if you'll see to the majority who would gratefully remain.

Posted by noah on 05/23/2011 at 4:48 PM

Re: “Two mayors, two Chicagos

I'm going to call a respectful bullshit on Mr. Bogira's calling bullshit on my post. You are exactly right that all of America has neglected the issue of the urban poor. But your interpretive mistake is revealed precisely in your choice of words: keeping blacks "in their places." The "place" that we should be pushing for is "up the economic ladder." At that point, where you live is less important; and as I pointed out, with economic wherewithal, it's easier for people to live wherever they want -- in an integrated neighborhood or one that's more homogenous. In fact, when people live in very homogeneous neighborhoods but are economically sound and happy with life, we don't call this "segregation," do we? And we don’t agonize over it. This further suggests that the issue is really an economic one, not geographic.

I think you are right that when the poor are ghettoed, there is an additional layer of practical and emotional disincentive to improving their lot. But the logical answer is in making their ghettos not be ghettos any longer. Viewing integration as a tool rather than an end result forever ignores that it's hard, clumsy, expensive and somewhat against human nature to integrate people. Do Englewood residents want to live in Ravenswood Manor? Or do they want to prosper in a thriving Englewood?

I didn't mean to sound bigoted or ethically cynical or lazy in saying that segregation is in human nature. But we don’t need to be afraid of this fact. And I'm not offering an excuse for doing nothing. I'm suggesting a way to sharpen our focus on our noble goal, which is to bring the poor to the better "place" of economic self-sufficiency and happiness.

Posted by noah on 05/21/2011 at 1:13 PM

Re: “Two mayors, two Chicagos

This piece makes the mistake most of liberal America (of which I am a proud member) makes: it thinks segregation's the problem. Segregation isn't a problem in and of itself. Humans instinctively segregate themselves, even from other people they respect. It's human nature. No, the problem is that Chicago's segregated black neighborhoods are full of poor people, who are poor because they're undereducated and beset by other social disadvantages that were originally the result of institutionalized racism and now are self-perpetuating almost regardless of government effort or neglect.

If we bemoan segregation, we miss the point and the chance to help the needy. If black neighborhoods were vibrant, clean and economically thriving, the residents would have a chance to be more accomplished -- and vice versa: it's a virtuous cycle. (By the way, to achieve this, we'd also need to radically change our laws on guns, drugs and prostitution, because our backwards approaches to all of these only make them more entrenched in poor neighborhoods, including poor white rural "neighborhoods.") And if blacks increasingly became accomplished, we'd see – as a by-product – more integration of neighborhoods.

Think about it. When a person of a different race or significantly different ethnicity moves next door to you -- even you, the bleeding-heart liberal -- you worry slightly. Your worry doesn't have to do with the person's skin color or language, per se. It has to do with a concern that that person's habits are uncomfortably unlike yours. Again, this is pure anthropological human nature. Now if, say, that black family turned out to be like yours – functional, educated, considerate, economically sound – suddenly you'd feel no concern. "Nice neighbors. Like us." Right?

So my point is: stop thinking of segregation as wholly unnatural or a *root* problem in our society that must be addressed before others or whose solution is possible in isolation. Segregation is human nature -- but so is intermingling; so what prevents integration is not the persistence of segregation but the persistence of poverty. You might say that we're more color-blind than we think but also less comfortable with the effects of economic segregation than we realize.

To help our ghettos we need to stop focusing on segregation and focus instead on economic empowerment. At that point, segregation will take care of itself, to the extent that human nature encourages it..

Posted by noah on 05/20/2011 at 2:04 PM

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