December 13, 2008

Winter blahs

The winter blahs are a particularly bad problem when you're living in Chicago. Victims report wanting only to sleep, eat, and kill time on the internet. I've heard it called "hibernating," which is a good way to describe it.

There are only two ways to cure my own winter blahs. One: take a long vacation to someplace less blah-y. Arizona and Colorado come to mind.

Two: exercise. Even though it's only 12 degrees out and already dark by 4:30, get those wooly clothes on and go shuffle around outside until you think your face is about to fall off. Then come back home and have a big hot chocolate.

It worked for me in Ann Arbor, and it's working for me now in Chicago.

November 20, 2008


“We’re not Little Rock and we’re not Texas,” said Rick Bayless, a friend of the Obama family, who owns Frontera Grill and is among the city’s celebrity chefs. “It’s easy to put on your cowboy boots and eat all that barbecue. You can’t do that from Chicago. We’ve got a lot of muscle and it’s far too complex of a place for that.”

Goddamn right, and amen to that.

October 05, 2008

Cubs lose

The Cubs, true to form, got swept out of the playoffs again.

To the LA Dodgers: you're welcome.

I suppose I'm lucky this year. Living in Chicago, it was impossible not to notice the buzz around the Cubs, and many times I was tempted to get on the bandwagon and pour my heart into the team like I did back in 1984. I was thirteen then, and the Cubs were up 2-0 in their best-of-five series with the Padres. Only one more game, and the Cubs were in the Series. But the Cubs lost three straight and I learned what it was like to be a Cubs fan. It was painful. And the pain wasn't worth it. Why did I have to feel so bad about a stupid baseball team that I wasn't playing for or employed by in any capacity? Stupid Cubs.

I've been a very distant Cubs fan ever since. Because of that, I haven't felt the pain of 1984 again -- the agony of 2003 and the five outs was visited on the hard-core fans, and not on me. I didn't need to spend a month recovering, all because of the stupid Cubs. And again this year, it's not me that's writing paragraphs like this:

Pathetic. Nothing short of pathetic. I hate this team. I hate every player. Every single goddamn one. I have never in my life been this disgusted with a Cubs team. This is not the lovable losers-they’re just a bunch of fucking losers. I’m tired of this wait until next year crap. All of you on this team can shove it.

Now, I know that I'm running a risk by being a very distant and lukewarm fan. When the Cubs finally win the World Series, I won't share in the ecstatic joy that the hardcore fans will bathe in. I'll miss all that. But hey, I'll probably grow old and die before the Cubs ever win the Series. Heh, heh.

You can't hurt me, stupid Cubs.

June 05, 2008

Obama, the Chicago guy

Via Michael Froomkin comes this great piece from Rick Perlstein, the author of Nixonland. Anyone doubting that we've made some progress in race relations should read some of these letters written by white Chicagoans during the civil rights era. Read their letters, feel their fear. (And note, please, how often their racism was defended by appeals to "property rights" and "freedom.")

Our history of racism makes it delicious that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for President. But his nomination is delicious for more reasons than just race. After so many years of ceding the nation's political culture to candidates who feel compelled to identify themselves with rural Texas or Arkansas or some other Southern locale, I'm thrilled that Obama's acknowledged political home base is the city of Chicago. And after so many years of ceding our political culture to the rednecks, it's refreshing that Obama is obviously an intellectual who couldn't bowl his way out of a paper bag. It's about time! Of course, all of this is useless if Obama loses to McCain, but I'm still hopeful that that won't happen.

Now, I shall set forth upon my cultural rant -- apologies in advance:

Start with politics. The free-market and social conservativism that dominates our political discourse needs to be checked. Our long love affair with conservatism has led to the middle class disappearing, our bridges collapsing, our cities drowning, and our civil liberties evaporating. Our military is in Iraq on false pretenses, waging a war of choice, and may now be settling in for the very long-term. These depressing political developments have been aided, if not caused, by a political culture that has privileged the yahoo and the redneck over the erudite, urbane, and intellectual.

What do I mean by that? Consider that for decades, politicians won by ridiculing "effete intellectuals" and more recently, "latte liberals." Reagan the Rancher beat Mondale the Minnesotan. Bush 41 beat Dukakis in part because the latter seemed more urbane, and thus more wimpy -- mostly because of that unfortunate tank helmet, but also because Dukakis looked like the product of civilized Massachusetts. Clinton turned the tables on the Republicans by being more rednecky than both Bush 41 and the witty but non-redneck Bob Dole. That Gore and Kerry both came close to beating the most anti-intellectual president ever suggested that our national infatuation with yahoos continued, but that it might have limits.

Conversely, I challenge you to name a successful national politician who won by casting his opponent as an uneducated redneck. Who mocked his opponent's Ford F150 with the gun rack. Who held up his Starbucks proudly while denouncing his opponent's preference for Diet Coke and fries.

I thought not. Intellectualism hasn't fared too well in American politics of late.

I'm not saying that the right wing doesn't have its share of intellectuals. In fact, the left has long envied the academic output of the partisan right even as they denounce the specific arguments for endless tax cuts as ideological extremism. Despite George W. Bush's appalling lack of curiosity and aggressive anti-intellectualism, the real damage of this presidency has been done by the highly-educated David Addingtons and John Yoos in the administration who use their skills to push pernicious policies: the "unitary executive", the GWOT, signing statements, deregulation and tax cuts. These days, everyone across the political spectrum wants their own Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation.

What I'm saying is that as we've been seduced by the politics of the right wing, we've also been seduced by the culture of the redneck. I don't think this is a coincidence. They often go hand-in-hand. The pejorative term "redneck" conjures up images of people more zealous about the literal truth of the Bible than about their own reason, more attached to their pickup truck than to the health of ANWR, more committed to their hatred for gays than to their appreciation of diversity. These are the cultural markers that right-wing Republicans have been celebrating for decades.

Moreover, these cultural markers are sadly much more visible in rural areas than they are in big cities. This site stereotypes the difference too much, but there's a core of truth to the general claim that liberalism flourishes in big cities and withers in the hinterlands. If you doubt this, look at the map: there aren't red and blue states; there are red rural areas and blue cities. John Kerry won every city in the country with more than 500,000 people.

Republican campaign success over the past twenty years has hewed more or less loosely to the formula: praise the the rural and the redneck, villify the educated and and the urban. Thankfully, things are changing. We'll have to see how Barack Obama does in November, but this time around, my money's on the intellectual guy from Chicago. Delicious.

Why Chicago wants the Olympics

Chicago Stays in Running After Early Vote to Decide Host of 2016 Olympics

. . . .

The transportation along Lake Michigan, where some of the Olympic sites would be located, needs to be improved because there is no link to rail lines, the evaluation said.

“We are going to study the report and we’re going to learn from that and correct all the deficiencies,” The Associated Press quoted Chicago’s bid leader, Patrick Ryan, as saying.

This, folks, is why Chicago's fight for the Olympics is a good thing.

February 05, 2008

Where I stand on the Hyde Park question

Warning: what follows is actually just a long-winded plug for a blog I stumbled upon today: Hyde Park Progress.

Is the Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park a good place to live, or is it a place to commute into because you wouldn't dream of actually living here? From 1989 until early 1993, I lived in Hyde Park. I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, and my memories of the neighborhood were great. So great that ever since I left the U of C I've been trying in various ways to get back. In 2006, I succeeded. I'm now one of the few U of C emergency medicine residents who actually chooses to live in Hyde Park.

I still love the neighborhood. But. . . since I moved back, the rosy glow of old memories has worn off. I've started to notice Hyde Park's flaws. Yes, it does have flaws. There are, I now admit, rational reasons why so many people who study and work at the University of Chicago don't choose to live here. The best reason, by far, remains the fact that Chicago has so many world-class urban neighborhoods. You've got to pick the one you like the most. I will never argue that living in Bucktown or Lincoln Park or the West Loop sucks.

But, we were talking about Hyde Park's flaws.

As much as I love Hyde Park, my return to the neighborhood has convinced me that it has problems. In no particular order, they are:

  • Not enough commercial activity. A lot of folks complain about the lack of retail, but the problem extends beyond that. For example, last summer when my car broke down on lake shore drive, I had the hardest time finding a towing service in the neighborhood, and then I couldn't find a garage on the south side that would fix Subarus. Solution: pay tons of money to tow my car up to a garage near North and Elston. I was in Chicago, but it felt like I was in Last Chance, Colorado, needing to get my car, somehow, to a real city like Denver where someone could fix it. Weird feeling.
  • Not enough nightlife. It's not like I'm asking for a bar on every corner. Not every vibrant urban neighborhood has to be like Wrigleyville (and thank God they aren't). But one of the pleasures of living in a big city is being able to go out at night to hang out. In Hyde Park, there's maybe one or two coffee shops in the whole neighborhood open after 8pm, and none after midnight. (The Dunkin Donuts doesn't count, sorry.) You can count the number of restaurants open after about 10pm on the fingers of one hand, and after midnight? Nada. For an ER resident working strange hours, this sometimes hurts. We actually do better than most people think with actual bars, even though no one who doesn't live here (and many who do) have no idea where the bars are. The Cove? Falcon Inn? The UofC Pub? I challenge any of my residency colleagues to tell me where these places are. I bet you can't do it.
  • No hotels. We have a Ramada, but if you want to visit Hyde Park and the Ramada's full, Chinatown is your next closest bet.

    Looking at lists like this, you can see that the problems boil down to not having as much economic activity (day and night, commercial and residential) as we could given our population density and our central location in a world class city. When graduate student Amadou Cisse was shot and killed this winter in front of his apartment south of the Midway, the most insightful comment about the killing that I saw was from someone writing into the Maroon saying something like this: Forget about all the solutions the University is proposing -- more police patrols, more safety phones, more nighttime shuttle buses around the campus. Instead, focus on getting more nightlife in the neighborhood. More businesses, more bars, more restaurants all mean more pedestrians at night and fewer opportunities for dumb-ass teenagers with guns to find some solitary soul out on the sidewalk with no one around to witness the easy armed robbery and murder.

    Unfortunately, this view that I've come to hold -- that Hyde Park needs more economic activity -- doesn't seem to be shared by all the residents here. I'm slowly coming to believe that there are a group of old-timers in Hyde Park who exert a significant influence on neighborhood events and are committed to defending the status-quo without much ability to discriminate between change that improves and change that degrades. For them, any change is a threat, and so they oppose it.

    Several episodes got me thinking that this might be the case. First, there's an abandoned building about two blocks south of where I live called Doctor's Hospital, and last fall the University proposed tearing it down to put up a hotel. Perfect! But the neighbors bitched and complained, saying that a vibrant hotel in hotel-starved Hyde Park was inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood, and that the old building which has sat vacant and boarded up for several years now ought to be preserved. And so it sits, boarded up and vacant still.

    Then there's the stink about the proposed high-rise condo planned for the parking lot at the corner of 56th and Cornell. Say what you will about the architecture, but it's hard to say it's less beautiful than the current parking lot is. Nonetheless, there's plenty of neighborhood opposition, with people whining about blocked views and about how the design isn't right for the neighborhood. As if the neighbors don't live in the middle of a CITY, and as if the character of Hyde Park is somehow defined by three-story limestone buildings built in 1924.

    Finally, Harper Court, a collection of retail units on 53rd street, many of which are vacant because the design isn't conducive to pedestrian traffic. Plans are floated every year about refurbishing this area on a busy commercial street, but progress is agonizingly slow in part because the neighborhood activists almost always complain about any proposal. I suppose they'd like to keep it the way it is forever.

    Now that I've arrived at my mature evaluation of Hyde Park -- a fabulous place with a few problems -- I have to say that the Hyde Park Progress blog is pretty fabulous too. I don't always agree with them, of course, but they seem to get it right most of the time.

  • May 10, 2007

    Who exactly is an "idiot"?

    The commenters on one of the Chicago Tribune's blog posts about "idiots" clogging up the lakefront bike path can't seem to agree on who, exactly, are the idiots. The fast cyclists? The dog walkers? Your opinion will probably depend on whether you haul ass on your bike more often than you plod along beside your lumbering doggie.

    But after all the bellyaching about tourists being more likely to engage in idiotic behavior of whatever stripe, one suggestion pretty much hit the nail on the head: "If you simply banned everybody on the path who wasn't born in Chicago, you might see 3 or 4 people on it, making it much more manageable."

    Sad, but probably true.

    November 27, 2006

    Economic thinking

    It's hard to resist an article with a lead like this: "There’s a case to be made that the single most intellectually and politically influential neighborhood in the United States is Chicago’s Hyde Park."

    And it's a strong case, too -- Hyde Park is home to the BonJour Cafe's delicious belgian rolls, which have been winning the whole world over with their yummy goodness. But this article, surprisingly, is really about the Chicago School of economic thought, which has made the world's elite its bitch.

    Fortunately, this isn't another paean to the ideological yumminess of free markets. Instead, the author says, "[f]or Thomas Friedman (and, indeed, [University of Chicago economics professor] Allen Sanderson), people can’t “disagree” with neo-classical economics. They can only fail to understand it." Which is the pithiest way of criticizing the Chicago school that there is.

    All in all, this is a good read. Even if I am tired as all get-out from a long ER shift, and with sore feet to boot.

    November 15, 2006

    The light dims, the bears sleep, there's Christmas music on the radio again...

    Here in Chicago, the bright sunny days of summer have gone away -- as they should -- and another season of darkness, cold, wind, and (any day now!) snow has arrived. Also as it should. It's been this way every year for, I don't know, longer than any of us have been around.

    And yet I dread it. There's something about your alarm clock going off in the dark, about dressing in the morning under the same lamplight that you read your book by last night before reluctantly giving up the day and going to bed, about heading to the hospital through the cold dark, about glimpsing the gray dawn on your hurried way past a rare hospital window, about not being able to leave the hospital before the daylight is gone. The joys of winter -- fluffy snow, brightly lit coffee shops, curling up with a hot cocoa and a good book -- are tough to arrange on an intern's schedule. Not that the joys of summer weren't also elusive on this schedule, but somehow it wasn't as consequential. Q4 call in July isn't as depressing as q4 in January.

    To pass the time these next few months with quick wit and style rather than with dull grunts and vacant stares, I've decided that I need a new project. Since I'm not driving the bus when it comes to my residency schedule, I need to be when it comes to the time that's all mine.

    So what should I do? Learn to read Latin? Write a persuasive defense of agrarianism against the common charge that it's illiberal and regressive?

    Any thoughts?

    August 23, 2006

    How to crack the USNews Top 10

    1) Count freshman writing courses
    2) Don't count alums that can't be located (Steve Yalovitser, where are you?)
    3) Recount library expenditures as an educational expenditure

    The shocking thing is, even after all this accounting and reaccounting mumbo-jumbo, the University of Chicago is still just about the same school from the perspective of an undergraduate as it was last year. Except now USNews ranks it #9 instead of #15.

    News Flash for prospective undergrads who've had their heads in holes: the U of C is the best place on earth for some of you, but not for others. Regardless of how it counts its library expenditures.

    June 29, 2006

    Chicago EMS triage

    In Denver (unless things have changed), the paramedics decide on scene where to transport a patient, and then they call their chosen hospital to let them know they're enroute.

    In Chicago, the paramedics don't determine their own destination. Instead, they call their "resource hospital" (U of C, Illinois Masonic, or Northwestern) and the nurse or doc at that hospital decides where the ambulance will take the patient.

    Which system is better? One complaint that's been made about the Chicago system is that the resource hospital appears to have a conflict of interest. The resource hospital doc may often have to decide whether to send a patient to her own hospital when she's stressing because her ED is so busy.

    As a colleague of mine put it: "I don't see that it adds anything when the doc, and not the paramedic, makes the destination decision."

    October 17, 2005


    The Chicago White Sox have won the ALCS!

    I'm not an American League guy, but for the first time in a really long time, I actually care about the outcome of the World Series. Go White Sox!

    October 06, 2005

    Is the University of Chicago "socially irrelevant"?

    Crescat Sententia's Sudeep Agarwala cites approvingly to a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell in which the University of Chicago is described as "socially irrelevant":

    Should our goal be to select a student body with the highest possible proportions of high-ranking students, or should it be to select, within a reasonably high range of academic ability, a student body with a certain variety of talents, qualities, attitudes, and backgrounds?” Wilbur Bender asked. To him, the answer was obvious. If you let in only the brilliant, then you produced bookworms and bench scientists: you ended up as socially irrelevant as the University of Chicago (an institution Harvard officials looked upon and shuddered).

    I'm not sure what exactly this is supposed to mean. I'll ignore for the time being that it isn't at all obvious that Chicago has been more obsessed with "brilliance" at the expense of other qualities than Harvard has -- if anything, the opposite is true.

    But it can't possibly mean that Chicago is societally irrelevant. Its extraordinary influence in economics is well-known. No one can say the free-market slant of "Chicago school" economics hasn't had a profound effect on domestic politics and policy, and on the policies of foreign nations (especially in latin america). Is Chicago's influence in the physical sciences "irrelevant?" Have you heard of self-sustaining nuclear reactions, and their possibly influential role in the development of nuclear weapons?

    Perhaps Sudeep means to say that no one would make a movie like Legally Blonde where the main character goes to law school at the University of Chicago. Yeah, yeah; that must be it.

    July 27, 2005

    Exploring the Monadnock

    My time in Chicago is about to run out for me this summer, so I've been trying even more than usual to scope out all of what this great city has to offer.

    This has been Monadnock Building week for me. On Monday I tried Intelligentsia coffee for the first time at their location in the north half of the Monadnock; on Tuesday I had lunch at Harry's Sandwich Shop in the newer south half of the building; today I got a haircut at Frank's Barber Shop, also in the newer half.

    The atmosphere in the Monadnock is just fantastic. It's very old-fashioned, in a good way -- the interiors are warm and inviting, and the ceilings are just the right height to make you feel that the building was made for human-sized people. The tenants add to the old-fashioned feel too. Frank's, for example, has plenty of back issues of Playboy and Penthouse available for browsing as you wait for your haircut. It somehow takes you back to a time before the whole political-correctness thing ever got started (never mind that in the early 20th century real gentlemen could never admit to being fascinated by those kinds of smutty perversions).