Media of the moment

An ongoing series on books, movies, and music I’ve encountered recently.

A Clockwork Orange. Had been putting this off based on what I’d heard of its disturbing content, but finally bit the bullet for the sake of the AFI 100. Typically impressive Kubrickian cinematography and dark satire.

An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz. Kaleidoscopic narrative of a violent Chicago summer. Kotlowitz embeds with people and families affected by gang violence, illuminating the humanity within tragedy.

Captain Marvel. Brie Larson was a great choice.

Minding the Gap. Stunning.

A Star Is Born. Admire Bradley Cooper’s dedication and Lady Gaga’s talent.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. Paired with Sapiens and Homo Deus, this book made me at once immensely proud of humanity and profoundly disturbed by it.

Three Identical Strangers. Wild, stranger-than-fiction story.

Pretty Woman. My first time, despite having seen the “jewelry box laugh” scene and shopping montage as parodied in Dumb and Dumber. This wasn’t ’90s Julia Roberts at her peak, but she was on the way up.

Asleep at the win

cubs-win

This is the story of how I didn’t see the Cubs win the World Series.

I married into Cubs fandom, so I wasn’t emotionally invested in their 2016 World Series run. Still, like everyone in Chicagoland, I followed them throughout those playoffs and every game of the World Series.

Until the bottom of the ninth of Game 7. Cleveland had tied it at 6 before the rain delay hit. It was late, I was so tired, and had no idea how long the rain delay would last. I’m out, I told my wife. Let me know if they win.

Part of me didn’t want to stay up for an unknown time only to watch the Cubs squander this golden opportunity. At that moment, momentum was against them but toward me getting some sleep.

So I did. I actually fell sleep too. Then about 45 minutes later my wife barged into the bedroom: “They won! They won! They won!” Yaaayyyy, I said groggily. I was happy about it. Of course I was: how could anyone except Cleveland fans not be? I came out to watch the celebrations, but soon returned to bed.

I watched the highlights the next day, but never got a full sense of what the 10th inning was like in real time until I watched it on the full-game DVD. It was fun to see the full context around Almora’s crucial tag-up and Rizzo’s ecstatic arrival on third, and how close Edwards Jr. was to clinching it.

The winning out is always fun to watch, but the aftermath reinforced how much less satisfying away wins are to watch in any sport. Though the Cubs fans in the crowd roared mightily after the final out, I wish I could have heard a packed Wrigley Field explode at that same moment. I think I would have stayed up for that.

Fly the L flag

On my way to a concert last night, I noticed the flag-like design of the Chicago L train platform and tracks when viewed from above:

Track, platform, and the space in between. “The space between” being, in essence, what public transportation is.

Life as a CTA rail operator

“In that motorcab was my serenity.” Another great Chicago story from WBEZ’s Curious City: what it’s like to operate the L trains.

Ain’t no road just like Lake Shore Drive

And there ain’t no road just like it
Anywhere I found
Running south on Lake Shore Drive heading into town
Just slippin’ on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound

“Lake Shore Drive” by Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah

I’ve had occasion to drive into or through downtown Chicago several times recently, which is unusual. A few times it was for medical reasons, another for a conference in the Loop, and last Friday for a morning seminar at the University of Chicago.

Each time I do it I’m reminded of how beautiful Lake Shore Drive is.

If you’ve never been to Chicago: the city sits right next to Lake Michigan, and Lake Shore Drive runs north-south along the lakeshore. Except some museums, Navy Pier, Soldier Field, and one swanky skyscraper, it’s mostly beachfront and parks the whole way, so whichever direction you drive it (or bike or run it) will give you an amazing view of Chicago’s famous downtown architecture and the expansive lake at the same time.

On Friday I drove almost the whole stretch of the LSD, from the far north side to the far south side and back. Heading southbound, I think the scenic part of downtown begins at the Oak Street bend where the Drake Hotel sits. (Which to me always calls to mind the crucial Bible from the Drake Hotel in Mission: Impossible:  “They stamped it, didn’t they? Those damn Gideons.”)

And northbound from the University of Chicago it’s scenic pretty much the whole way. You can watch the skyscrapers get bigger and bigger until you’re almost among them.

I don’t know how many other cities have anything comparable to Lake Shore Drive, so I’m happy to have it.

Pattern-spotting in a Chicagoland alley

Though the cold, wintry weather has extended into April this year, the other day the sun beamed and the temperature jumped into the 60s. I decided to take a break from work and go for a short walk, and I soon ambled down one of the countless back alleys that cut through Chicagoland.

(Here’s the fascinating story of how Chicago became the “alley capital” of the United States.)

I noticed right away there was a wide variety of patterns on the garages and buildings that lined my walk, so I started snapping pictures of them:

A Hopey Changey Library

Somehow I missed this story on how the forthcoming Obama Center (above) will be challenging the “scam” of presidential libraries. The author, who wrote a book on the topic, lays out how:

The National Archives and Records Administration—which operates presidential library-museums for every president from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush—won’t be operating either for Obama. His private Obama Foundation, not the government, will own and operate the museum. And there really won’t be a presidential library. The Obama Foundation will pay for NARA to digitize unclassified records and release them to the public as they become available, but the center’s “Library,” which may or may not house a local branch of the Chicago Public Library, will not contain or control presidential papers and artifacts, digital or otherwise. Instead, according to a NARA press release that called the museum “a new model for the preservation and accessibility of presidential records,” those records will be stored in “existing NARA facilities”—meaning one or more of the agency’s research or records centers across the country.

Is this good or bad?

The notion that a federal presidential library would contain no papers, and not actually be federally operated, is astonishing. But to those like myself who have advocated for years—without much success—that it’s time to reform the broken presidential library system, it’s also an important positive development, and one that could be revolutionary.

Oh.

Though I’ve been to several presidential museums, I don’t think I’ve ever been in the library portions of them. I wonder how this will play among scholars who actually need access to the records. Will it be more convenient or less convenient for them to be separated from the “flashy, partisan temples touting huckster history” (LOL)? We’ll see, I guess.

I do like the idea of including a branch of the Chicago Public Library. That won’t assuage all the other local concerns about the Obama Library, but it would go a long way to keep what can easily become an isolated, self-contained operation connected with the community that feeds it. All the better it will be for the former Reader in Chief.

Not sure if any of the other modern presidential libraries incorporate public libraries, but that would be a mutually beneficial new trend.

America in Five Cities

It dawned on me recently how the names and locations of the top 5 most populous cities in the United States tell the story of the nation:

New York, in the east, with the English name, representing the history of our relationship with England.

Los Angeles, in the west, with the Spanish name representing the history of our relationship with Mexico.

Chicago, in the north, from the Potawatomi for “wild garlic place”, representing the history of Native Americans.

Houston, in the south, named after Sam Houston, president of the Republic of Texas, representing the history of the Wild West.

Philadelphia, in the east, Greek for “brotherly love”, representing the ancient origins within the founding of the nation.

This has a nice round feel to it. That is, until Phoenix comes for that fifth spot

Recent Views

More photography here.

Flying above Idaho, returning from Portland. I usually don’t take pictures from airplanes, but I’m a sucker for mountains, especially ones as pretty as these. They sparkled:

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Chicago at sunset, as lonesome and resolute as the celestial orb overlooking it:

Chicago-sunset

William Fitzsimmons concert. I liked the natural quadrants that formed outward from the violinist, and the colors exaggerating those divisions:

2016-04-28 20.39.05

Not Fine: On Library Amnesty

Chicago Public Library is embarking on a fine amnesty drive this month. The last one seemed to work really well for everyone:

The library reported receiving 101,301 overdue items, valued at about $2 million, and waived $641,820 worth of fines. The late materials ranged from items only a few weeks overdue to one book that had been due since 1934.

It’s really great that past amnesty programs worked out well for CPL, and I assume for other libraries that do them. Getting that material back benefits everyone, and the uncollected fine money probably won’t make much of a dent since fine revenue is usually a pittance in most public library budgets.

But I’m of two minds on this.

On the One Hand…

If you’ve got overdue fines or books, just suck it up and return them. I promise you the librarians will love to have you back. Your guilt will be assuaged and you won’t feel like a scofflaw when you come to the library to browse. (Also maybe don’t ignore the emails and calls reminding you your items are due soon. Someone could be on the hold list for that book or DVD, so just pull an Atticus Finch and imagine how it would feel to be that person.)

On the Other Hand…

If CPL or any other library wants to engender goodwill among patrons and get their material back, they should abolish overdue fines altogether and just bill the patron for a “presumed lost” book or lock their account after a certain amount of time, as many libraries have done.

giphy.gifI’m just a measly librarian with no power over budgets (and who doesn’t speak for his employers, past, present, or future), so woe unto me for dictating policy. But I don’t want for library staff to be high priests, absolving the masses of their bookish sins for a few weeks every couple of years. The public already owns the collection, technically. Nickel-and-diming patrons for what is largely just forgetfulness is what has earned librarians the stereotype of the shushing curmudgeon sitting upon their Reference Throne.

Librarians are stewards of the collection, not owners. Part of that stewardship involves ensuring fair access to material for all patrons, which is why libraries use fines. But the biggest collection in the world won’t be used to its greatest extent if its patrons are hesitant to check things out.

The books and movies and CDs and magazines on the shelf are just waiting to be used. Let ’em fly!