Saturday, January 28, 2006


The Chicago Public School system is in complete shambles and has been for as long as I can remember. The latest debacle is the recently announced closing of 4 schools with poor academic performance. All schools are in low-income and predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Will somebody explain to me how closing the schools helps these students? Will disrupting the lives of these families and sending the students to schools outside their neighborhoods improve their studies? Approximately 1,000 students and 270 staff will be displaced. The "reform plan," called Renaissance 2010, doesn't appear to address the administrative fat and mismanagement. The cuts always seem to be schools and programs. Additions and new schools are constructed in some parts of the city while other schools fester in disrepair, to the point where students won't use the bathroom because of the condition of the facilities. Repairs are deferred until there is a local news "special report" that opens the eyes of the parents. It's no wonder attendance and study habits are poor.

Is this what it's like in New York, LA and other large cities? Can Chicago's system really be "reborn" by 2010? Under the current administration, I seriously doubt it.

CPS administrators pose for photo before planning session.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Buildings on Fire - Part 1

When buildings are lost to fire, the tragedy and loss are always acute, but when landmarks burn, the loss to the community seems even worse. Fires are more common in winter, particularly in extreme cold when heating systems are over tasked, and the notorious space heater (or gas oven) are used for supplemental heat. The circumstances surrounding the tragic loss of one of Chicago’s greatest churches are more disturbing. On January 6 the Pilgrim Baptist Church on the South side of Chicago was destroyed in a mid-afternoon fire, apparently caused by inexperienced roofing contractors.

The Pilgrim Baptist Church was designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan in 1890, two of America’s most important architects. Originally designed as a synagogue, the building became a Baptist church in 1922 and is widely regarded as the site of the birth of Gospel Music. Reports stated that after accidentally igniting something with a torch, the frightened contractors called their boss and fled the scene, leaving a frantic pastor on the street as the building quickly became an inferno. Lost in the blaze was everything not made of stone or mortar, a remarkable church interior, and a priceless collection of church records and original sheet music. The most painful loss of all is the sense of place, which cannot be restored. Old buildings are more than just bricks and mortar. Sure, if enough money is raised the church can be reconstructed, but it will never be the same. There will always be that lingering feeling of “we rebuilt it to look like it did 100 years ago.” We don’t build today with the same manner and craftsmanship of a century ago. Gone too is the patina of history, the gently worn handrails and stairs, the knowledge when inside that Mahalia Jackson once sang here. As we slowly lose these old buildings we lose the physical examples of pride of place, great craftsmanship, ingenuity and history that slick photographs in coffee table books simply cannot convey. Preservationists will argue that it’s wrong to even try to replicate the building and they are correct. Best to work with what little original material is left and create anew.

Old buildings constructed of combustible materials are at high risk during renovation projects and accidents can happen. If the reports are true the penalties must be swift and severe. It is inexcusable that a contractor can be allowed to work on any building, especially one of this significance, without the training in fire prevention, emergency procedures and the common sense to call the Fire Department.

For more on this tragedy: Sun-Times 01-07-06


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Big Hurt goes West

For the last 15 years Chicago White Sox fans have had the pleasure of watching the best player in franchise history. Despite his occasional 'me first' attitude, Frank Thomas is a player for the ages. It's hard to appreciate in the here and now. Years from now, we'll talk about Frank the way we baseball fans talk about hitters like Ted Williams and Reggie Jackson.

Today, Frank joined the Oakland A's.

Most of us were not surprised to see the club part ways with Frank after the World Series. I wonder how many wished it was the end of the road for him though, so we don't have to endure a few more seasons of pure hitting for a rival team on his way to the Hall of Fame. At least he didn't end up with the Twins, which was my biggest fear. Frank 's not done, and I only hope he chooses to wear a Sox cap when he poses for that bust in Cooperstown. Good luck, Frank.

Oh by the way, I'm a huge White Sox fan. Rabid. And I didn't jump on the World Series bandwagon. I've been on board for over 30 years. 2005 was a good one.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What's in a Name?

So obviously I had to name this weblog. Not an easy task. It should be unique, clever and a symbol of my identity in some vague manner. For this blog I’ve chosen a term that I picked up years ago while reading an interview with Bob Dylan, easily my favorite songwriter and a genius, in my opinion. In the early years Dylan was notorious for conducting ludicrous, sometimes insolent interviews and press conferences (mostly in response to inane questions from reporters). Check out this Q&A from a 1965 press conference, published in Disc Weekly:

Q: Can you tell me when and where you were born?
Dylan: No, you can go and find out. There’s many biographies and you can go look to that. You find out from other papers.

Q: I’d rather hear it from you.
D: I’m not going to tell you.

Q: You must obviously make a lot of money these days.
D: I spend it all. I have six Cadillacs. I have four houses. I have a plantation in Georgia. Oh, and I’m also working on a rocket. A little rocket. Not a big rocket. Not the kind of rocket they have at Cape Canaveral. I don’t know about those kinds of rockets.

Q: When did you start making records?
D: I started making records in 1947, that was my first recording. A race record, I made it down South. Actually, the first record I made was in 1935. John Hammond came and recorded me. Discovered me in 1935, sitting on a farm. The man who discovered Benny Goodman saw me down the street. [Dylan was born in 1941].

Of course, Dylan was a little stressed out on tour in the UK in 1965. Ad-libbing nonsense was easier than keeping up a fictitious life story, as he enjoyed doing in previous years. Dylan had people believing he was a drifter and carnie from Gallup, New Mexico among other things. As time went on the interviews were few and far between, but the answers much more thoughtful. In 1978 Dylan gave a lengthy interview in Playboy. In it, great answers from Dylan:

PLAYBOY: As far as your music was concerned, was there a moment when you made a conscious decision to work with an electric band?
DYLAN: Well, it had to get there. It had to go that way for me. Because that's where I started and eventually it just got back to that. I couldn't go on being the lone folkie out there, you know, strumming Blowin' in the Wind for three hours every night. I hear my songs as part of the music, the musical background.

PLAYBOY: When you hear your songs in your mind, it's not just you strumming alone, you mean?
DYLAN: Well, no, it is to begin with. But then I always hear other instruments, how they should sound. The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up. That's my particular sound. I haven't been able to succeed in getting it all the time. Mostly, I've been driving at a combination of guitar, harmonica and organ, but now I find myself going into territory that has more percussion in it and rhythms of the soul.

PLAYBOY: Was that wild mercury sound in I Want You?
DYLAN: Yeah, it was in I Want You. It was in a lot of that stuff. It was in the album before that, too.

PLAYBOY: Highway 61 Revisited?
DYLAN: Yeah. Also in Bringing It All Back Home. That's the sound I've always heard. Later on, the songs got more defined, but it didn't necessarily bring more power to them. The sound was whatever happened to be available at the time. I have to get back to the sound, to the sound that will bring it all through me. [It may be in the Street Legal album that he made in ‘78, but the production was so weak we may never know].

So here’s a guy that’s shaped and reshaped 20th century music a few times explaining what he hears in his mind, and the term just totally clicked with me. Untamed and silvery? An unrestrained, poisonous element? Works for me.

This is the first of many Dylan related posts on this blog.

For a great collection of writing on Dylan, check out The Bob Dylan Companion: Four Decades of Commentary, Edited By Carl Benson.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

From The Beginning...

Ok, time to get with the program. I would hate to be the last person on Earth without their own blog. I do hope to be the last person on Earth that has not read The DaVinci Code, but I'll save that for another post on the joys of contrariety. For the time being, I'll focus on learning the requisite blogging skills and writing about things that please me (or really piss me off). Stay tuned......

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