Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I’ve always been a nostalgic kind of guy. I enjoy romanticizing the previous iterations of my life.  There is irony in this.  I am a history professor that loves to preach to my students that ‘THERE WAS NEVER A GOOD OL’ DAYS’  It is not much different in my own personal history. Yet, I often romanticize time periods of my own past that I realize were not necessarily good times. Evidently I’m a paradox.

Let’s venture into this strange nostalgia.

  1. Though I was undoubtedly nostalgic at an earlier period in my life, I would say my 9390178-largeoddest nostalgia occurred when I was in college.  Inexplicably at 19, I began to view my high school days through rose-tinted glasses. This made absolutely no sense.  When I was living high school, I hated high school.  I deeply romanticized a time that should not have been nostalgic.
  2. After college was graduate school.  Surprise, surprise; at 23 I could not get enough of college memories. Now, this made more sense. College was a great time; much better than high school! Plus, in comparison to undergrad, graduate school was trying. My desire to succeed began to really take over my life. The pressures of grad school just made any blemishes on my college experience pale in comparison.
  3. I got my advanced degree in 2002. I went looking for a job. Then I found a job.  Oh boy.  My student loans needed to be paid back.  Hmmm… maybe grad school, with it’s bookishness, it’s intellectual stimulation, it’s trips to the library and wide-open schedule wasn’t all that bad after-all. At 27, as a working stiff, the thought of once-stressful grad school made me nostalgic.

From 1999 (grad school) to 2008 (career),  Chicago was my home. Though my university was by no means small, the big city was a bit of a culture shock. My initial nostalgia chicago-image-1for college probably  had as much to do with the location of my university as it did with parties, classes and social life.   The entity of Chicago just added to the stress of school and career life.  Chicago was bills. Chicago was truly being independent for the first time.  Chicago was living with my fiance, paying rent on time, dealing with bad landlords and constantly  taking in stray cats.  All the eras of my life seemed simple compared to Chicago.

Then, in 2008, my wife and I left Chicago. We moved to Oak Park, just to the west of the city.  We bought a  house one block over the Chicago city limits.  My two small daughters were born, and then they started day-care (that bill was like a second mortgage!) Oak Park hasn’t been utopia. Taxes, house repairs and play-dates keep us busy and sweating. Still, I would not want to live anywhere else.  I love our community, our neighbors and our friends. Oak Park is much more home than Chicago ever was.

But, just because a place isn’t home doesn’t mean I can’t be nostalgic for it.

A couple  months ago, I turned a Chicago nostalgia corner. I was given the opportunity to teach the ‘Chicago Urban Experience’ course at RMU, and began to really think about Chicago.  What is the identity of Chicago? How does Chicago shape you? I wanted my students to think about these questions. So it only made sense for me to ask the same questions of myself.

One day, I was on the train reading Neal Steinberg’s memoir about his life in Chicago. Then, GR-Ashland2-10it hit me: That feeling of nostalgia. The feeling put a silly smile on my face. All of a sudden, I find myself doing something unexpected: I am looking around and absorbing Chicago. I look at the faces on the train. I look out the window on the El at the neighborhoods going by.  I pay attention to the beautiful architecture of the loop. Heck, I even enjoyed a Chicago hot dog the other day. The people, the culture, the history of Chicago are wonderful!  This class reminded me that when I lived in Chicago, it wasn’t just stressful, it was also incredibly exciting!  The restaurants, the friends, the unknown. These things are now my romantic past, and the thought of them warms the cockles of my heart.

‘Sweet Home Chicago’. Yeah, I guess it really was that.

 

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Cold Comfort

Posted: February 11, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

February is abysmal.

It follows, then, that February in Chicago must be even worse; cold convulses the city with a collective case of the shivers.

<> on January 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

But anyone can complain about the weather. A creative thinker considers the good that can come of bitter temperatures capable of burning the skin, attacking the eyes, and freezing the nasal passages.

Only one good thing comes from hardship—the determined effort to persevere and protect one another. During winter, Chicagoans band together in ways both practical and profound.

Cold conjures our hibernating kindness:

Bus drivers wait when they see someone hurrying to catch the bus.

People huddle together under warming lamps on CTA platforms, bedecked with colorful scarves and hoods and hats resembling the sturdy pigeons burrowing into their own feathers.

cold

Drop a glove on the train, and someone will kindly pick it up and return it to you, an act of courtesy courageously alive, even in the 21st century.

Small talk comes back to life, curiously reanimated by the cold. We are compelled to confront the severity, offering consolation and encouragement:

Stranger #1,” Lord, it is frigid!”

Stranger #2, “My face is frozen.”

Stranger #3, “It’s just terrible.”

Stranger #1, “But this winter hasn’t been too bad.”

Stranger #2, “No, not really. And a warm up is on the way, too.”

Stranger #3, “Thank goodness.”

Chicago’s charming hometown weather expert Tom Skilling guides us through the season, arming us with more information about winter safety than an arctic explorer would need.

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The forecast for Saturday is a low of 1 degree (without considering a considerable wind chill), up to an afternoon high of 13 degrees.

This calls for the good whiskey and a full day indoors, making warm soup and baking sweet cookies, a consoling and comforting plan to weather any cold.

As a bonus, during February in Chicago, no one will ever make fun of your silly hat.

hat

Prepared to tackle the tundra!

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

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Students love double-sided handouts!

Field trips transform an ordinary school day into an adventure. I’ve always adored field trips, even more so now that I get to select when and where we’ll go. At this point in my career, I’d be in favor of a field trip every other class, but relying on students to show up to class is a tough enough, let alone asking them to find their way somewhere else. As savvy and self-assured as college students pretend to be, most of them have no idea how to transverse this city, which only makes field trips more necessary. Although I am limited in my (happily flaneur-esque) wanderings with my students to a rather small walkable circumference of the downtown RMU campus, there is plenty to see and do that meaningfully enriches their studies.

I favor a walking tour, accompanied by a demanding handout with question after question to guide their experience. Lest these excursions sound too prescriptive, I do ask students to create their own questions, and occasionally allow students to make the entire assignment. I am not surprised by the enormous differences between my assignment (a double-sided page of probing questions) and that assigned by students: go to the place and take a selfie. The perspectives of an instructor and a young college student are often separated by a wide chasm. Indeed, many 18-to-20 year-olds are just beginning to gain experiences of any sort. They are still invested in the visit, not necessarily concerned about doing something worthwhile once there. Here I am reminded of a friend’s regret that when he visited Ireland after freshman year of college, his 19-year-old self spent the entire trip drinking in the pubs. He had been to Ireland and essentially seen little of the country. I am certainly not one to underestimate the importance of pub culture, but there is a bit more to Ireland than a pint of Guinness, including the one they pour in the scenic bar at top of the terrific Guinness museum!

Field trips are made more necessary by the continual infiltration of technology in the classroom. At least while walking to a new destination, my students must look up to find me in the crowd. Sometimes it seems as though the entire population needs to be encouraged to look up! I walk much more briskly than they do, on purpose. A teacher ought to push students to keep up, in any way possible.

Lurie GardenMy most recent field trip involved visits to gardens along Michigan Avenue as part of a “Parks, Gardens, and Green Spaces” topic for the English 325: “Writing for the Community” course I’m currently teaching. These gorgeous spaces are a living embodiment of Chicago’s motto “Urbs in Horto” (City in a Garden), another new “fun fact” to share with my students.   Stops included The Lurie Garden, created in 2004 by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol design team, The North Garden at the Art Institute, designed by Laurie Olin and opened circa 1980, and the South Garden of the Art Institute, created by Dan Kiley and opened in 1962. These three gardens, all in close proximity of RMU campus, offer unique places to reconnect with nature in the heart of the city. These trips augment the assigned reading “Great Cities, Great Parks,” by Douglas Vaira in which he ranks Chicago’s Millennium Park as one of the country’s “Best Destination Parks,” but just steps away from RMU!

CalderinNorthThe students immediately express a preference to one of the spaces. My favorite moment from yesterday came when one of the students entered the remarkably serene space in the South Garden and said, simply, “Wow.” This place remains my favorite, as it features a bubbling fountain that almost successfully drowns out the sound of the passing traffic on Michigan Avenue. The sunken garden also features a canopy of interlocking tree branches that form a shady ceiling, lighting the garden in dappled green and gold.

After any field trip, students invariably ask where we’ll go next, a mark of resounding success if there ever was one. As higher education continues to espouse the virtues of experience-based education, I’m glad for the opportunity to lead my students out into the wide, wonderful world, encouraging them as they find their way.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.
This year’s mayoral election must be one of Chicago’s strangest with but one more day left. What’s so strange? Well, we’re having our first run off in a long time, though most experts felt the incumbent would easily win in the first round. Obviously they were wrong.
Also strange is how very different the two run off candidates seem to be. The incumbent, Rahm Emanuel, is an extraordinarily experienced, nationally known, hard driving, brash, arrogant, steam roller type while his opponent, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, is a largely unknown, mid level Chicago machine foot soldier with no special achievements to his name, nor any shining personal skills that would explain his sudden leap to prominence.
Strange too is that “Chuy,” though new to center stage, immediately came out swinging. Unfailingly aggressive, he got lots of media coverage, and initially polls showed he wasn’t far behind Rahm. In the television debates, he easily scored points criticizing Rahm on a host of issues such as ignoring the neighborhoods, relying on speed cameras to generate revenue, and arranging pay for play schemes. Now, the strange thing is less “Chuy’s” aggressiveness, but rather Rahm’s muted, laid back, almost boy scout responses, a complete about face from past behavior. High hat’s out, demure is in.
Though surprisingly successful at first, “Chuy’s” campaign started to flounder a bit as editorials began criticizing his stand on the City’s financial crisis, criticism richly deserved. For “Chuy’s” position sounded and continues to sound bizarre, even ridiculous, as if it was the brainchild of a comedy team writing political satire for a Second City skit.
“Chuy” has said many times his policy is that he has no policy. Why not? Because he can’t offer one until he or an “Official Commission” can objectively examine the City’s “books,” implying Rahm’s budget ain’t legit. Then, several weeks ago, “Chuy” stated flat out at a BGA presentation that the “books are cooked.”
But “Chuy” offers not a shred of proof, nor does he retract his charge. Why then make the claim? All this seems strange, does it not?
Nonetheless, “Chuy” continues arguing that an “Independent Commission” must be created to assess the “books.” Yet he never discloses who he thinks should be on the Commission, what its charge should be, or how the Commission will be chosen. He also fails to explain how the Commission’s recommendations will be implemented. What if, for instance, “Chuy” disagrees with the Commission’s ideas? Chuy’s not talking.
Emanuel’s approach to the budget issue, though definitely a cut well above “Chuy’s”, also leaves much to be desired. Rather than discussing his budget proposal, he prefers listing his first term achievements and blaming Springfield for failing to give the City more money.
So the strangest thing about the election is why neither candidate will say much about the budget crisis, far and away the most important issue confronting the City. An obvious answer is that it’s unpleasant for no easy solutions present themselves.
Certainly this makes sense. However, I believe another factor helps explain the mystery namely, public union influence on City politics. “Chuy” complains about the evils of “pay to play” but neglects mentioning that public unions are the most important group engaging in pay to play schemes. The enormous pension liability the City faces is the number one reason the City’s broke, a liability incurred through elaborate pay to play schemes between our pols and the unions. Are the unions willing to renegotiate these agreements? To date they’ve said no.
Despite his oft expressed call for greater transparency, “Chuy'” never mentions his candidacy is closely linked to the unions though they contribute significant monies to his campaign and promise to supply a large army of voters. Might this be why “Chuy” doesn’t like to discuss cutting services or reducing pension benefits? Could his union ties help explain why his comments about the schools often sound like a CTU handout?
Rahm faces the opposite problem–many unions oppose his re election bid–but union influence also explains Rahm’s reluctance to discuss the budget crisis. Why? Because he fears stirring up the unions, especially the Teachers Union which he infuriated during his first years in office. Karen Lewis, the President of the Teachers Union, screamed bloody murder and vowed she’d teach that high stepping blow hard a lesson he’d never forget. And he hasn’t. Unbrashed, he now minds his manners, eats his oatmeal every morning, and makes very sure he says nothing that might upset the unions, that 5,000 pound guerilla in our living room we’re never allowed to mention.
Thus a major reason we’ve witnessed such a strange even bizarre election season is that the candidates refused to discuss the City’s budget debacle. Only feel good, gee whiz, nice guy issues are allowed. Why? Largely because of union pressures, with “Chuy” running as the union’s candidate, while Rahm campaigns terrified of mentioning service or pension cuts, lest the unions go after him like fleas on a dog. Surely Rahm is by far the better candidate and deserves to win–“Chuy’s” budget views are literally laughable– but the strange and frustrating nature of the election casts a pall over the City’s future.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.
Rahm’s bombs fail to hit their intended target–the four challengers running to unseat him and become the next mayor of Chicago. Instead they hit Rahm himself causing considerable damage to his carefully crafted image while significantly enhancing the fortunes of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Rahm’s most formidable opponent.

Thus the obvious question is–why did he get beat so badly? Though the election proved more complicated than the media Duncan And Emmanuel Promote Education Dept's Summer Reading Initiativesuggested, a Garcia inspired consensus explanation quickly emerged. It claimed that Rahm was a narcissistic, ego manical, cold, abrasive, power crazed, ambition besotted hard head who loves doing favors for big shots and ignores the little guy–a high flyer who hob nobs in D.C., raises millions in L.A., touts Down Town, and thumbs his nose at the neighborhoods, oh, and doesn’t care for unions. Biggest piece of proof: he mindlessly closed 50 schools on the South Side! Yes, 50 schools! On the South Side!

But a translation is necessary. South Side isn’t simply a geographic designation to be contrasted with its geographical antipode– North Side. No! South Side means African American Chicago. It means black and thus not white. Or, since we’re talking politics, not geography, let’s get serious: shutting 50 schools on the South Side means racism. Period.
So Rahm is not simply an ego maniac, he’s a racist ego maniac. Well not exactly a racist because in fact he comes from an very liberal family (in the 60s, his mom participated in the big civil rights protests going to the South to work for voting rights legislation) and Rahm has always called himself a liberal. And as everyone knows, Rahm was President Obama’s first chief of staff, even getting the President to campaign for him during the last week of the election. Still while he’s not George Wallace, he did close those schools while never closing a single white school, and politically speaking, that equals racism.

Since we mentioned schools, let’s also note that at the beginning of his term, he came down a bit hard on teachers–but again, a translation is necessary for teachers don’t mean teachers, exactly; it means the Chicago Teachers Union. 476915_630x354Moreover, in this case, it means Ms. Karen Lewis, who is one very sharp, very clever, very funny, very media savvy person and the Head of the Teachers Union. In provoking Karen Lewis, Rahm met his match. Looking back in retrospect, from that point on, Rahm’s fortunes tumbled. Like a Russell Terrier, Lewis wouldn’t let go and Rahm knew not how to deal with her.

Now the media had an even better story to tell: Rahm was a hard headed, big shot elitist who ignored the neighborhoods, had racist policies, wasn’t exactly cordial to the unions, and regularly got bested by Ms. Lewis. To further improve this neighborhood, little guy theme, slighting the Hispanic community was added to the cauldron of complaints–and we’re off to the races, which helps explain why “Chuy” decides to put his hat in the ring.

So that’s the consensus view of why Rahm bombed. While this account obviously makes sense, I don’t buy it for the rather naive and obtuse reason that I tend to be color blind and feel that issues are more important than race and ethnicity though surely there’s some relation between one’s race and one’s views on issues. But it’s not one to one. Thus explaining Rahm’s bomb using the little guy big shot theme doesn’t completely work.

My take is different; it focuses on issues and, indeed, focuses on one issue alone. The issue which I believe explains why Rahm bombed is the fact that Chicago is in dire financial straits and will likely go bankrupt if it fails to put together a serious–meaning painful– plan to address this reality. For instance, the Public School System is 1 billion in debt. And folks is screaming at Rahm for closing 50 run down half empty schools. Yet rather than strongly defending his actions, Rahm starts stuttering and flies to L.A. or NYC for a campaign fund raiser whose loot will be used to pay for a 2015 30 second ad criticizing “Chuy” for favoring a tax increase in 1986. Looney Tunes, methinks.

The real point is that Rahm claimed to be the tough guy capable of making the tough calls but the record shows he dodges them never coming clean on how desperate is the City’s plight along nor does he offer a plausible proposal to address it. Instead, he tells stories how he fixed some CTA track lines (good for you, Rahm) and got the schools to lengthen the school day (again good for you)–both, certainly, worthwhile achievements. But compared to the financial crisis he never mentions, these successes pale in significance. Rahm proceeds as if it’s business as usual. But it’s not. So I think the real reason Rahm bombed is that lots of folks believe Rahm simply fiddles while Chicago burns.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I love The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) a whole bunch (I’ve decided to ignore the new Ventra Card system debacle). Chicago is one of the few cities in the United States with a reliable, expedient system of public I-Heart-Public-Transittransportation, a fact for which I am immeasurably grateful.

At its best, public transportation provides convenient, reliable service for city dwellers, and that is essentially my experience. Complaining about the occasional outage stpatstrainwould only serve to prove how reliable CTA service is. Each year, I might expect to endure about ten truly difficult experiences. These encounters are usually on holidays. For instance, St. Patrick’s Day rapidly devolves into a glittery, green nightmare. Particularly busy weekends present unique challenges; the Crosstown Classic means encountering both drunken Cubs and Sox fans on The Red Line. Under special circumstances, the trains can get exceedingly crowded. The blizzard of 2011 was pretty interesting, but much worse on car owners. Thus, 350 days a year, I get where I need to go without hassle.

The efficiency and scope of the CTA is marvelous. I’m always discovering new ways to get to point B. My commute to work is an easy thirty minutes on one train. My neighborhood is on the Blue Line which runs into the city in one direction and straight into O’Hare with service 24 hours! Additionally, my neighborhood provides access to six handy bus lines: Fullerton, Diversey and Armitage for East-West travel; Kimball, California for North-South travel, and the good ol’ Milwaukee bus cuts at a diagonal from my neighborhood along the train lines, for more on-off access. The addition of bus tracker, trip planner, and other transit apps makes getting around easier than ever.

I don’t have to do anything when on the train or bus, so don’t. Typically, I don’t read on the train, still it pleases me to see so many Chicagoans reading. I don’t listen to music. I just sit. I think about my day. On the way to ct-prj-0610-cta-mapwork, I plan my classes in my head. More often, I observe the people around me. I hunt for clues to unlock the secrets of who they are. They reveal themselves to me through gestures and actions. Most get up and offer a pregnant woman a seat, though some do not. Unseasoned tourists perpetually block doorways, infuriating regular riders. Children obey their own instincts, touching everything and asking incessant questions. Young mothers play charming games or outright ignore their children. Strangers bend down to pick up a forgotten umbrella and pass it through the doorway to its rightful owner. The public is a curious entity, and I am happy to study them, briefly, while I head where I want to go.

December is a special time for CTA love, thanks to the seriously fantabulous phenomenon known as the CTA Holiday Train. Knowing such a thing exists is enough to make ctaholidaypeople happy. A ride on The Holiday Train provides enough holiday cheer to get Chicagoans through mid-January. Ordinary train cars are transformed by colored lights, wrapping paper, candy canes, and elves. There are even advertisements for services offered in the North Pole. I haven’t even mentioned that Santa and his reindeer ride on an open-air train car. He shouts, “Merry Christmas” while cruising through the tunnels and gliding under and over the streets of Chicago. The CTA is insanely awesome. Here are the pictures to prove it.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

We humble men and women of the good ship RMU Eagle are justly noted for our very admirable commitment to teaching students in a wide range of subject areas and for our miraculous ability to successfully steer students through immense oceans of ignorance until they acquire the skills they need to master the area they’ve chosen to specialize in; however, I must report that I now find trying to understand current developments in my area of expertise an increasingly difficult challenge.

Let me attempt to explain what I mean. For some unknown reason, I’ve always been interested in politics. I can remember reading newspapers and magazines at a reasonably early age looking for info on politics be it about issues or individuals–presidents in particular. The names of every member of Congress were known to me as were all the Supreme Court Justices. Usually, I also knew the names of all the individuals who served as members of the President’s cabinet. In high school, I wrote articles about politics in the school newspaper and participated a bit in student government. I continued following politics in college, and majored in political science. When I went on to graduate school, my goal was again to get a degree in political science, though I varied my concentration a bit by specializing in political philosophy.

Now as I leap forward an immense amount of years and enter the sunset of my career, I believe I have a fairly solid grasp of my field, even as my interests broadened after leaving graduate school, but increasingly I realize that developing a firm grasp on current political developments seems more difficult than it was in the past. I’m not sure if this is because my brain is slowly and sometimes, to my immense dismay, quickly unraveling, or because, instead, political developments today have become more complicated than they were a few decades ago. Of course a third possibility is that both factors are at work.

Let me give you, you heavenly Turtle gourmets, a relatively simple example of the frustrations I run into analyzing the current political landscape. Let’s say my goal is to determine how our famous city of broad shouldered hog butchers is fairing at present. Well, candor compels me to confess that I’m having an absurdly difficult time answering this question. On the surface, things seem fine. The lakefront looks great; in fact it’s never looked better. North Michigan Avenue appears to be thriving, buses around town seem full, more people are going to movies; they’re also starting to buy more cars, and reports indicate that the housing market is finally opening up.

On the other hand, the city’s budget gives some cause for concern. Once again on the surface, our mayor, Rahmbo, the Extraordinarily Magnificent, submitted a budget for next year that didn’t cause budget experts to sound anxious alarms. Yet whether the alarms should have gone off is a question which lingers, given the enormity of the pension problems the city faces, and the public school system’s very substantial debt–by substantial I’m talking about a billion dollar debt with rating agencies recently downgrading Chicago issued bonds.

Rahm-Emanuel-007

These issues sound relatively objective and adult, but I’ve not yet mentioned another factor, one quite bizarre and surely not brand new, which plays a mighty role in the governance of our so called toddling town. I’m referring to the disturbing fact that Chicago’s been governed (run) for over a 100 years by a one party machine organization making our city one of the most corrupt in the country. The machine knows no real outside control which helps explain why the city’s finances seem so shaky for the machine cuts deals which often benefit itself at the city’s expense.

A wacko example of such dealings hit the front page of the Sun-Times last weekend, though it had been already been in the papers several times over the past two years. The story involved a major league law suit that our mayor initiated against owners of the Park Grill Restaurant located on the edge of Millenium Park. Why did Rahmbo the Extraordinarily Magnificent sue the Park Grill owners two years ago in a case that’s already run up over 2 million dollars in legal fees, and has seen part of the suit go all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court where a majority of the justices ruled against the city?

Park Grill at Millennium Park in Chicago.

Park Grill at Millennium Park in Chicago.

The altruistic reason the mayor gives for the suit is that the restaurant’s owners won a sweetheart deal from the city because they’re clout engorged cronies of Chicago’s ex steward–yes, I mean they’re close pals of our beloved, revered, and respected ex mayor, originally of Bridgeport, who now resides somewhere along the corridors of the trendy well healed precincts of North Michigan Avenue. Yes, he said Yes, and again yes, yes! Yes, the Right Honorable Richard M. Daley approved an absurdly favorable deal for the Grill Restaurant owners which included The Grill getting free utilities for between 20 and 30 years, and paying peanuts in taxes on the revenues the restaurant earned over this extended period of time. But why the over qualified, immensely talented, and hugely public spirited current Chicago mayor is going for blood here is a question I can’t answer since deals like the one given to the Park Grill owners represent a 100 year Chicago tradition. All anyone can say for sure is that Rahmbo, the Extraordinarily Magnificent, has made this suit a priority item.

These old fashioned realities combined with new political developments is what makes analyzing current politics increasingly difficult. I believe that most of the difficulty is rooted in the introduction of new strategies for dealing with government budgets which make it easier for politicians to evade or ignore budgetary constraints, at least in the short run. The odd thing is that a phenomenon which in the past seemed very objective and real–namely individuals and organizations knew whether or not they were solvent– no longer appear so clear cut.

Moreover, the higher the level of government, the less budget numbers assume an objective status. To me, this change goes a long way towards explaining why Congress had so much difficulty negotiating a reasonable budget agreement which would have avoided shutting down the federal government, even though the shut down lasted for a very short period of time. As far as our legislators are concerned, when push comes to shove, the government–especially the federal government– can always take on more debt particularly when the government can borrow at rates it keeps artificially low.

And this is also why relatively intelligent folks like myself now find keeping up with political developments much harder than they were in the past.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I’m moving in June, as my seriously misguided landlord is raising the rent by $200 a month. I will not go down the rabbit hole of my anger towards that man, at least not in this post. What I want to talk about is my deep devotion to my neighborhood, the matchless Logan Square. When people discover that I am looking for a new apartment, they sometimes ask me if I plan on staying in the neighborhood. I fight the urge to respond with incredulity. I know the joys of life in an authentic neighborhood, so I couldn’t even imagine living anywhere else; Logan Square is my home.

Logan Square is the friendliest place I have ever lived. My two closest girl friends in Chicago, Leah and Hanna, live within easy walking distance, and I happily and regularly brighten their respective doorways. Other lovely friends live in the area (Matt and Kris and both Ryans), a brood of people who I have come to call my “Urban Family.” We host holiday brunches and celebrate birthdays. I have quotes tacked above my desk at work. One from Oliver Wendell Holmes reads, “Where we love is home.” It occurs to me now that my neighborhood is part of my Urban Family, too.

I am warmly welcomed at my local haunts. The regularity with which people lean over to kiss the world’s best bar owner, Maria, is positively extraordinary. I have often conjectured that if a person from a foreign country stumbled into the Whirlaway, he would get the impression that kissing customers is the cultural norm. Maria hosts potlucks and cook-offs and cookouts to which we all contribute food cooked from favorite family recipes. I expect Bryce’s sister to bring “funeral potatoes,” and Katie to bring phenomenal baked goods. When a loyal customer has a birthday, Maria provides the cake. I am missed at Dunlay’s if I don’t go often enough. A favorite waitress recently gave me a hug because it had been too long since she’d seen me. I delight in being a regular and greeting other regulars, whose names and stories I know, an aspect central to the neighborhood experience.

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I adore the small circular park in the center of the square, which features The Illinois Centennial Monument. The Urban Family picnics there in three seasons. We eat and drink and read and talk, and we are not alone. Neighborhood acquaintances say hello, then enjoy the park with bocce sets and Frisbees. The park buzzes with life. There are events and gatherings, film screenings, rock concerts and street fairs. The dates for this year’s Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival are already marked on my calendar. Something called “The Culture Coach” pulled up last summer and treated us to performances by Flamenco dancers and offered impromptu Mambo lessons. My friends and I were just relaxing in the park, and voila: spontaneous dancing!

The neighborhood provides everything a person needs. The Logan Square branch of The Chicago Public Library bustles with neighborhood activity. Gwen, the lady who works at the circulation desk, personifies welcome, cheerfully helping patrons and calling them by first name. I voted early there this past fall, where I found a long line of my hard-working, civic-minded neighbors at 6am. The neighborhood garden, known as the Atlgeld-Sawyer farm,  was started by my charming neighbors Margaret and Johanna, and members of the Urban Family volunteer as part of the compost team. The Farmer’s Market will be moving to its outdoor location soon, where I’ll expect to spontaneously encounter at least one friend each Sunday. I recently got my bike, Orangina, spruced up at Boulevard Bikes. When I asked the woman fixing my bike, “do you want to hear something weird?” She and her coworkers instantly said, in unison, “yes,” another sure sign that Logan Square is where I belong.

When I got hurt, neighbors rushed to my aid. A man whose name I don’t know put his arm around me and comforted me while he phoned the police. A woman I’d never met introduced herself as Drea and wiped blood off me with a wet towel fetched from nearby apartment. Another woman brought me a glass of cold water. They stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. I suspect that I pass these kind strangers on the streets of my neighborhood, at least I like thinking they, and others like them, are around me all the time.

The neighborhood gets a lot of great press, which is reflected in the rent increase, but only residents know the genuine value of a place. There is inestimable wealth in the true community of people I know and love in my neighborhood, my home: Logan Square.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

A few days ago, I ran across this classic Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:

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I think there could be two interpretations here: One, Calvin always has a bit of the restless genius about him, and he understands that graffiti is an art-form with theory and technique, though the square librarians don’t agree.  Or, two, Calvin loves to break the rules, and he is too young to understand why others don’t help him.  He is the epitome of a destructive kid who has no real respect for other peoples’ mindsets, mores or properties.  His open interest in graffiti, that purportedly most rebellious of destructive activities, proves the point.

banksy

Banksy is amazing.

The City of Chicago would likely view Calvin’s interest in graffiti as the first sign of juvenile delinquency. The official website of the city defines graffiti as “vandalism” that “scars the community, hurts property values and diminishes…quality of life.”  Though these are pretty harsh words, I believe that most people would agree with this statement.  The works of Banksy and Basquiat aside, few people see high art in everyday graffiti.  Graffiti is associated with youth; with urban culture; with spray-painting nihilists. Chicago leaders want to punish these kids, and perhaps even punish their parents.  Maybe that will solve the problem.

Maybe not. What ex-Mayor Richard Daley and Mayor Rahm Emanuel ignore is the historical ubiquity of graffiti.  This is not a Chicago problem.  This is not a modern problem.  Tagging is a human tradition, and if anything, it seems to be diminishing.  Look at the Ancient Romans. Their cities had graffiti everywhere.  Nowhere is this more memorable  than in the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Both these Roman towns have been preserved in a time capsule of volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius’ eruption of 79AD.  Under blankets of ash, archaeologists have discovered perfectly preserved physical artifacts: jewelry, statues, money, religious idols, and artwork.  Some of these artifacts are unforgettable for their beauty; some for their lewdness (Pompeiians seemed to have had a bit of an obsession with the male sexual organ.)

Graffiti in Pompeii

Graffiti in Pompeii

X-rated or not, the findings at Pompeii and Herculaneum are incredible windows into the past. Vesuvius entombed first century urban Roman culture, and graffiti was evidently central to that culture. Roman citizens enjoyed recording all sorts of graffiti wherever they saw fit, and much of it did not have any of the artistic intentions of today’s taggers.  Instead, it is closer to a running record of everyday events and average citizens’ thoughts. Some of it is mundane, as when someone simply scrawled in the gladiator barracks, “On April 19th, I made bread“.  Alternatively, some graffiti is poetic, as one message within a tavern proves: “Lovers are like bees in that they live a honeyed life“.  There are some bragging graffiti artists as well. One wrote, “If anyone does not believe in Venus, the should gaze at my girl friend“.  Then there are vulgar scribblings.   My favorite is the simple, “Secundus defecated here. Three times“. 

The vulgar graffiti is not just shocking; it is the most important graffiti for us to pay heed. Why?  Because, it provides 21st century people the opportunity to see Ancient Romans as they really were.  It illuminates that they were not all philosophers, or emperors, or senators.  They were living, breathing, defecating humans.

It may have been the Classical age, but not everything was classy.