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Sep. 30 2009 — 2:24 pm | 20 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

Olympics in Chicago? Please Please Please No.

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Two days before they announce the winner of the 2016 Olympics, the IOC has apparently not yet decided on a city. I know, I’m sure it’s hard; billions of dollars are at stake, after all. Years of work and whole careers are on the line. Large, powerful corporations are in the mix. And so in the off-chance any members of the committee are sitting in a Copenhagan hotel room surfing the web in an 11th-hour grab at opinions far and wide, let me add the emphatic voice of a humble young non-expert novelist to the cacophony: IOC, please don’t choose Chicago. Please, please, please, for the love of God, don’t choose Chicago.

More specificially: We don’t have enough money, our schools could probably use several billion dollars, you will necessarily bulldoze/destroy/gentrify an enormous swath of our city, the funding of the proposed village seems impossible and made up, the Tribune’s poll says that we’re totally on the fence (who wants to be in a relationship like that?), and as far as we can tell, you will end up costing far more money than you will generate for our economy.

I will be the first one to admit to a faint and difficult-to-define happiness at the initial thought of Chicago’s national and international profile continuing to swell in the wake of Obama’s victory. The Olympics would focus the world’s eyes here for the next seven years, and to me, that seems like a good thing. Property values would go up, jobs would in fact be created. I personally like swimming and watching swimming. But it takes about five minutes of thinking and reading to realize that Olympic budgets always, every time, swell far beyond what they are supposed to be. Add Mayor Daley’s pledge of taxpayer money to any shortfall, and you’ve got yourself a hot mess in the city of broad shoulders.

Two months ago, my wife began coming home from work with horror stories of what happens when public funding runs out. She’s a social worker, and because of the Illinois budget crisis over the summer, she and all the other employees at the nonprofit community center where she worked (those who weren’t laid off) were forced to turn away mentally ill clients who’d been coming for treatment and care, every day, for twenty years. I understand that state budgets and city budgets are different things, and right now it’s somewhat difficult to point to direct links of causation between this money and those services, but the point I’m making is a general one: the debates are all well and good in the abstract, but when it comes down to it–and this is how it often seems to come down–the arrival of the Olympics in Chicago will be an economic boom for some people and a Herculean gut-punch for many others. By “others,” I mean the city’s already-marginalized populations.

Why do that? Why send your giant machine to us? Or maybe I should turn my head and say it to Chicago people instead: why do this?  Why ask for them to come? I just don’t get it. Professional sports are not underrepresented here; stadiums abound; despite being shamefully underrepresented in the media, hurdling is alive and well in our many local high schools. Just the other day I saw someone swimming in Lake Michigan; just the other day I saw someone do an interpretative gymnastic-dance routine on the corner of California and Diversey.

Maybe not the last thing, but still, IOC, I don’t get it. I don’t get you and what you want. This is a city, and on the streets of this city, people’s lives unfold. There are poor streets and there are rich streets, but they’re streets, and it’s a city. It’s not a playground.

via Some Chicago residents hoping Olympics bid a bust – Yahoo! News.

Sep. 1 2009 — 1:15 pm | 2 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Seriously…what’s it like to be Rod Blagojevich?

It’s September, and that means one thing: classy political memoirs.

After myriad television appearances, radio shows and news conferences since his arrest on corruption charges, the seemingly omnipresent former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has made the case for his innocence again, this time in a 259-page memoir that offers small glimpses of both his rocky tenure and his upcoming criminal defense.

It sounds to me as though one of America’s weirder public sociopaths is in rare form throughout his upcoming memoir, The Governor, which I will not be reading but which I will most definitely pick up and handle and peruse next time I’m in a book store. When it comes down to it, I can’t deny my voyeuristic fascination with the man, and I admit that I would like to read some Rod Blagojevich prose (even though the book was probably ghostwritten); perhaps somewhere in the subtext or the syntax, here or there, barely visible, are some new clues regarding the mysteries of his shifty identity. Maybe–I can only hope–he can’t quite suppress the whispers of his uniquely splayed and unknowable worldview when he puts pen to paper.

Most Chicagoans came to know Blagojevich through images and sound, tube and radio: by looking at his boyish face, by hearing his Chicago voice. When I first moved here, it was through signage: Blagojevich, while governor, liked to put his name on every kind of state-controlled piece of property, and often used his control of the state’s infrastructure as a kind of subliminal, never-ending marketing tool. In 2005, when Chicago’s open-tolling system was first coming into existence, the massive sign above the highway told me that the new system was brought to me by governor Rod Blagojevich–and once I could sail through the tolls without stopping, I appreciated him for it. As a self-promoter, Blagojevich has always understood what qualities make him unique, and he’s always pushed them.  Hard. The act of just sounding out the man’s name, upon seeing the text, is interesting on its own. How about a few jokes about the dude’s weird hair? A good laugh. And suddenly you realize: I’ve been thinking about Rod Blagojevich for 20 seconds, and that’s why he does his hair that way.

Based on his book-tour itinerary, he’s going to be getting plenty of TV time in the next month, but we can probably guess, with a high degree of accuracy, how each of those appearances will go: he’ll stick to his message of overall innocence and he won’t be knocked off of it; he’ll make some jokes that are a little funnier than you’d have predicted; he’ll blame other people for trying to sell the republic; he’ll be an amazing populist; and ultimately, he’ll do some serious damage to the pool of possible jurors for his criminal trial. It’s hard not to see this book as an important step in the long-term exit strategy Blagojevich began planning well before he awoke last year to find FBI agents pounding on his Ravenswood Manor door.  For starters, an omnipresent Blagojevich increases the chances that his jury will be stocked with people who neither read nor follow politics–in other words, it increases the chances that his charm will overcome arguments in the courtroom, and those are the best odds he’s going to get. Far better than his odds during his impeachment, voted on by a roomful of people deeply versed in insane Iago-ing of the Illinois government during his time in power. But secondly, and perhaps more paradoxical, is the money Blagojevich has and will continue to make from the promotion of his new unique characteristic–exposed political criminal and guy who might be in the midst of a nervous breakdown.

So here’s what I think is crazy: he’s going to end up with more money, vis a vis his explanation and denial of the crime he attempted to commit, than he would have had he actually committed the crime. Back when he was busted, it was widely reported Blagojevich was looking for a few hundred thousand dollars and a sweet sinecure in exchange for the Senate seat. “Six figures” was the phrase bandied about in the news last March, when Blagojevich sold the manuscript to Phoenix Books. And even though at first I thought the book would sell less copies than Ron Artest’s debut rap album, now I’m not so sure. Today, a week from its release-date, the book is #1 in Amazon’s “State and Local Government” category and sitting at #3340 overall. If his website and his public speaking and his Elvis covers add up to some dollars, he’s going to come out even. Maybe better.

In The Governor, not only does Blagojevich use the book as a platform to compare himself to King Lear, Othello, and Julius Caesar, but he also goes for the cycle with an “I’m a lot like the mythological figure Icarus” maneuver. He seems to stop short of comparing himself directly to a god, or God, but there will be more books for that, once he deals with the irritating legal system properly, frees himself from the shackles of Illinois martyrdom, and finally lands a daytime talkshow. (The CW would give him one, right? You know they would.) Using Icarus sounds just about right for Blagojevich’s rhetorical goals, but I think Proteus would have been the more honest comparison–a better representation of the entity known as Rod Blagojevich. Why? Because if I’m wrong, and justice is served, and someone who casually attempted to sell one of the more powerful political positions in the world does end up in prison, he’ll end up fine, too. He’ll write another book. It will be bad and ridiculous, and it will do quite well.

via Rod Blagojevich book blames others — chicagotribune.com.

Aug. 26 2009 — 11:56 am | 4 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

What Are Wisconsinites Doing with All Those Favre Jerseys? Donating Them.

I’m a Wisconsinite who’s lived in Chicago for four years, and in that time I’ve noticed an unusual amount of Packers clothing on the backs of the city’s homeless. I’ve never thought too much about it. Now, based on Favre’s exit from Packerland, I understand, and I’ll be looking for the same phenomenon next time I go to Madison.

A Wisconsin radio station is asking angry Packers fans to reconsider dumping their Brett Favre gear. Two talk show hosts at WTDY in Madison are collecting old Favre sportswear and donating it to the homeless.

Kudos to the hosts, though, for thinking about it for a few seconds beyond the knee-jerk fantasyland of the sport-world simulacra.

via Station donating Favre jerseys to homeless | StarTribune.com.

Aug. 18 2009 — 4:27 pm | 2 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

As a Packer fan, I’m (surprisingly) somewhere around ‘Who cares, Favre’?

The fated day has arrived.

Brett Favre’s latest retirement lasted all of three weeks.

The three-time MVP has done about-face for the second time in as many years and will play for the Vikings this season.

Rolling around as I am on the west coast, I can’t quite write as much as I could, although the world of football writing has no doubt already seen enough Favre-babble to last for eons. For now, I’ll just say that I grew up with the man starting the games I attended 8 times a year–age 12-28–and right now, I only feel a strange detachment and indifference, combined with a vaguely numb curiosity of watching him run out onto the field at Lambeau dressed in his purples. Maybe it’s reading an article about a dude showing up to an Obama speech with an assault rifle, maybe it’s being cowed by the miraculous beauty of Oregon. Maybe it’s being very high on Aaron Rodgers? I’m not sure, but Woodson said it best: I don’t care.

via What retirement? Favre coming back with Vikings – Yahoo! News.

Aug. 17 2009 — 3:13 pm | 4 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Where do badass vigilante mayors reside? Milwaukee.

It started with an urgent plea for help late Saturday night as he walked to his car after a State Fair outing with his family.

And it ended with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett lying in a pool of blood with a broken hand after he rushed to confront a pipe-wielding suspect officials described as a “vicious thug.”

via Man arrested in attack on Mayor Barrett – JSOnline.

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    About Me

    I'm a fiction writer and editor living in Chicago. I grew up in Wisconsin, traveled here and there, and settled in Chicago a few years ago. I have two books out: Trouble, a collection of short stories, and The Cradle, a novel. I teach creative writing at The University of Chicago's Graham School and I also teach a graduate workshop for Northwestern University's MFA Program, and like to occasionally write about books and craft.

    Beyond my profession, though, I'm interested in contemporary life in the Great Lakes Region, and how this part of the country fits into the rest--politically, culturally, or NFC-Northily.

    Hence, Notes from the Flatlands.

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