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Ramsin Canon on Rahm Emanuel

At Gapers Block, Ramsin Canon writes about Rahm Emanuel and why political strategies that are effective nationally often don't work on a smaller local scale.
What he reaped for this sin of hubris was a whirlwind of deep and abiding loathing after a series of bad decisions--firing library staff, cutting mental health centers, shutting down schools in black and brown communities, raising regressive fees, installing nickel-and-diming red light and speed cameras, and provoking a teachers' strike.

It is notable that his campaign flacks, from David Axelrod on down, characterize these as "tough" decisions. These are not tough decisions; they are decisions that disproportionately harm poor and black and brown people. Ending mental health services for the poor and working class people is a sad decision. Making the rich and powerful pay to keep those mental health services going is a tough decision.
I've read and admired Ramsin's writing for a long time now, and this is some of his best.

February 28, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)


"Royko is like his city. He has sharp elbows, he thinks sulphur and soot are natural ingredients of the atmosphere, and he has an astonishing capacity for idealism and love devoid of goo. He has written about Chicago in a way that has never been matched." - Bill Mauldin, quoted in Royko: A Life in Print by F. Richard Ciccone

February 22, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Heinz strained beets! Swan's soap! Public telephones!


I love this detail from Gordon Parks' 1943 photograph of a Harlem street scene.

February 22, 2015 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"He knew far more profanity than Scripture, and used and enjoyed it more."

H.L. Mencken, on the so-called Father of our Country:


If George Washington were alive today, what a shining mark he would be for the whole camorra of uplifters, forward-lookers and professional patriots! He was the Rockefeller of his time, the richest man in the United States, a promoter of stock companies, a land-grabber, an exploiter of mines and timber. He was a bitter opponent of foreign alliances, and denounced their evils in harsh, specific terms. He had a liking for all forthright and pugnacious men, and a contempt for lawyers, schoolmasters and all other such obscurantists. He was not pious. He drank whisky whenever he felt chilly, and kept a jug of it handy. He knew far more profanity than Scripture, and used and enjoyed it more. He had no belief in the infallible wisdom of the common people, but regarded them as inflammatory dolts, and tried to save the republic from them. He advocated no sure cure for all the sorrows of the world, and doubted that such a panacea existed. He took no interest in the private morals of his neighbors.

Inhabiting These States today, George would be ineligible for any office of honor or profit. The Senate would never dare confirm him; the President would not think of nominating him. He would be on trial in all the yellow journals for belonging to the Invisible Government, the Hell Hounds of Plutocracy, the Money Power, the Interests. The Sherman Act would have him in its toils; he would be under indictment by every grand jury south of the Potomac; the triumphant prohibitionists of his native state would be denouncing him (he had a still at Mount Vernon) as a debaucher of youth, a recruiting officer for insane asylums, a poisoner of the home. The suffragettes would be on his trail, with sentinels posted all along the Accotink road. The initiators and referendors would be bawling for his blood. The young college men of the Nation and the New Republic would be lecturing him weekly. He would be used to scare children in Kansas and Arkansas. The chautauquas would shiver whenever his name was mentioned....

And what a chance there would be for that ambitious young district attorney who thought to shadow him on his peregrinations—and grab him under the Mann Act!

Mencken's bellicose verbosity often makes his true feelings inscrutable, but I think he's being complimentary here. This piece is collected in Damn! A Book of Calumny (1918).

February 22, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Especially the Congressmen.

H.L. Mencken was no fan of zoos. But he did see some practical value in the study of zoology:
Science, of course, has its uses for the lower animals. A diligent study of their livers and lights helps to an understanding of the anatomy and physiology, and particularly of the pathology, of man. They are necessary aids in devising and manufacturing many remedial agents, and in testing the virtues of those already devised; out of the mute agonies of a rabbit or a calf may come relief for a baby with diphtheria, or means for an archdeacon to escape the consequences of his youthful follies. Moreover, something valuable is to be got out of a mere study of their habits, instincts and ways of mind—knowledge that, by analogy, may illuminate the parallel doings of the genus homo, and so enable us to comprehend the primitive mental processes of Congressmen, morons and the rev. clergy.
I don't agree with his espousal of animal testing and vivisection, but the jabs at archdeacons and Congressmen really made me laugh. That's the thing about about reading Mencken - to enjoy his acerbic wit, you often have to put up with him infuriating you.

February 21, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


His eyes are watery, his face drawn and sagging, cheeks stubbled with two days of growth. Maybe he is growing a beard, he's just started and it's still scraggly and far from full. Or maybe his looks don't matter to him, he cares more about comfort, or he's given up. But he gives no further sign of giving up; his skin is florid and lively, not pale, and he talks easily, with quiet energy, to his two companions. Two women, middle-aged or later like him, and the three talk with the warmth of those who have known each other for years, riding the train every day, knowing each other so well, though perhaps nowhere other than here, nowhere outside of the confines of this train car.

February 17, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (2)

The few things I will miss about Rosemont

Since August I've been temporarily working in Rosemont, where my company is based. This has required a long, tiring drive (85-mile roundtrip) on clogged expressways, and cramped office space. But tomorrow, I return to downtown Chicago, to a newly built office and a resumption of my daily train ride. Rosemont isn't much to speak of and I'm glad to be leaving, but there are a few things I will miss about the area.


Late lunches at Mac's Restaurant in Park Ridge, where they serve a great club sandwich and always greeted me with a smile. I always found quiet satisfaction at being their last customer of the day, before they closed up at 2:30.


Unobstructed sunsets over O'Hare.


A parking garage that was unexpectedly photogenic if I looked carefully enough.

Okay, the fact that one of the three things that I'll miss about Rosemont is a parking garage should tell you how little I'll miss the place.

February 16, 2015 in Personal, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"I already have a place to live."

I love this little anecdote of Philip Levine, who was the first in his family to graduate from college.
“When I turned college age I had to make a decision about what I was going to do about my life,” he told The Paris Review in 1988. “My high school teachers encouraged me to go to college. I stood in line at Wayne State University to enroll, and when I got up to the head of the line, this woman said, ‘Can I help you?’

"I said, ‘I’d like to go to college.’ She said, ‘Do you want a bachelor’s?’

"I said, ‘I already have a place to live.’ Because to me a bachelor’s was a small apartment.”

February 15, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Philip Levine

Sad to hear of the passing of Philip Levine, one of the few poets I'm familiar with but whose work I've always enjoyed. Here's part of "The Two", my favorite of his poems.

“And the lovers?” you ask. I wrote nothing about lovers.
Take a look. Clouds, trucks, traffic lights, a diner, work,
a wooden shoe, East Moline, poached eggs, the perfume
of frying bacon, the chaos of language, the spices
of spent breath after eight hours of night work.
Can you hear all I feared and never dared to write?

The full poem can be read here.

February 15, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"When we left our faces were shining like Micawber’s..."


At the Times Literary Supplement, Thea Lenarduzzi writes a nice report of a gin enthusiasts' event held at the Charles Dickens Museum in London, which is housed in one of Dickens' former homes. The writer mentions Dickens' 1835 article "Gin-Shops" (collected in Chapter 22 of the "Scenes" section of Sketches by Boz):

Although places of this description are to be met with in every second street, they are invariably numerous and splendid in precise proportion to the dirt and poverty of the surrounding neighbourhood. The gin-shops in and near Drury-Lane, Holborn, St. Giles’s, Covent-garden, and Clare-market, are the handsomest in London. There is more of filth and squalid misery near those great thorough-fares than in any part of this mighty city.

The gin drinking at the museum event sounds quite a bit more polite and decorous than it was back in Dickens' day.

February 15, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"As the future narrows one turns too much to the past. One sees it out of proportion, as though it matters." - Wiiliam Trevor, The Old Boys

February 10, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)


"Our American professors like their literature clear and cold and pure and very dead."
- Sinclair Lewis

Yesterday was the 130th anniversary of the birth of Lewis, who has been one of my favorite writers since I first read Babbitt back in college (on my own, not for a class), and his work was also a thematic element in Wheatyard. My narrator loved Lewis, but Wheatyard didn't care much for the writer; Lewis was the first of many points of contention between the two, even though the iconoclast Wheatyard probably would have agreed with this quote.

February 8, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

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February 4, 2015 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


“At ten we ’ops the wag; at thirteen we nicks things; an’ at sixteen we bashes the copper.” - A young boy from London's East End, quoted in Jack London's The People of the Abyss

Or, as London translates: "Which is to say, at ten they play truant, at thirteen steal, and at sixteen are sufficiently developed hooligans to smash the policemen." A grim book, but one that I'm very glad I finally read.

February 1, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)