Thursday, October 24, 2013

An open letter to Alderman Pat Dowell

Dear Out of Touch Alderman Pat Dowell,

Thank you for bringing the topic of bicycle safety to the front of the City’s attention. No one would argue against bicycle education as an important part of keeping our city as bike friendly as it is. This is, unsurprisingly, the only thing you got right about bikes in Chicago.

You see, Alderman Dowell, you don’t seem to understand what it would cost to man and train a safety program like this. You do not seem to understand how much it would cost to keep a licensed registry of bikes in this way. You do not seem to understand the basic differences between bikes and cars. You assume that the hilarious guess of $5 million the city would potentially receive in registrations would manage to pay for the program. It is clear, as you said yourself, that you did not think this through.

Plus, there’s already a bike registration program that costs the correct amount of money, $nothing. And that program isn’t acting as a money making Ponzi scheme, it’s acting on the behalf of bikers. To try to recover lost bikes. And it’s not exactly the world’s best system anyway.

And besides, Alderman Dowell, where is this money going? To prevent a 2% increase in cable tax? A negligible amount for an amusement (cable is, after all, an amusement. An unnecessary diversion). Instead, you will put the burden on those who bike for any number of reasons including, but not limited to, a diversion/amusement, affordable transportation, fitness, or convenience. Better not to have to pay two extra percent on a TV bill? This is sad and pathetic. You say television can be people’s only form of entertainment when they can’t afford to go to the movies or to a play, but what of the people who ride their bicycles, year round, because they can’t afford the CTA? Which is more important, Alderman, getting to spend a marginal amount less on TV, or making it to work?

You say that, as a bike owner, you would not be opposed to paying a fee. This is insulting and vile of you, Alderman. Your salary last year was $114,913. Obviously a $25 fee would mean nothing to you. But when you work minimum wage, which pulls in $288 dollar a week (before taxes) in a city with ever-increasing rent and an 11% sales tax, $25 is a lot of money. Not to mention time to both get the license (if you haven’t been to the DMV recently, take a trip over and see how wonderfully streamlined of a process it is. I’ll wait. Or better, I’ll come back in a couple days when you finally make it to the front of the line) and fit in the safety class (you’d have to have 38 classes a day, Monday through Friday to get all of the 250,000 bikes you figured done in one year).

So, let’s recap. An out of touch, rich politician who cares more about TV than transportation would like to create a bureaucratic nightmare instead of letting an amusement tax go up by 2%.  Just making sure I have that all correct.

Thank you for your time and the, I’m sure, circle walking non-response I will get back.

Wyl Villacres

Friday, December 7, 2012

Roosevelt responds

Roosevelt's President issued a response to the recent sexual assault that happened on campus.
From President Middleton:

December 7, 2012

Zero Tolerance for Sexual Assault

I am writing today about sexual assault, a crime that tragically occurs frequently on college campuses across our country. At Roosevelt a number of students and others have been speaking up about this deplorable act. I commend them for calling attention to this serious issue. In the true spirit of our University, they are advocating for people who have been victimized by other members of our society.

During my 40 years in higher education as a professor, dean, provost and president, I have always enforced a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and all forms of violence. College campuses should be free from the violence of the outside world. Yet, nationally one in four women will be the victim of a sexual assault during her academic career. Roosevelt is not immune from that reality, so we have a special obligation, with a record number of students living on campus, to be vigilant and caring.

Roosevelt complies with the federal Clery Act. Once a crime is reported to the University, if the perpetrator is unknown and there may be a risk to the campus community, we issue timely notifications. These alerts contain as much information about the suspect as possible and include information that would promote safety and aid in the prevention of similar crimes. We hold training sessions on sexual assault protocols for employees, including resident assistants and campus safety personnel, and provide information to students during new student orientation and through ongoing education and workshops offered by the Counseling Center, Campus Safety and Residence Life. Next fall, attendance at the session on safety and sexual violence will be mandatory for new students.

Students also need to support one another and make it clear that unacceptable behavior will not be tolerated. If they know of someone who has been assaulted, they should encourage the student to seek immediate help from Residence Life or Campus Safety at any time of the day or night. The University has experienced and trained counselors and safety officers who will provide a caring response to the victims of a crime and offer referrals and services to meet all of their physical and emotional needs. And we always enforce strict codes of conduct and cooperate with the local police in their investigation.

Please do not be silent about sexual assault. It is not a crime of passion and lust, it is a crime of violence. As many as 80% of all assaults involve acquaintances. An assailant might be someone you know quite well and may even be a friend or a coworker.

I know this is a difficult subject, but it is a serious issue that commands the attention of all of us, and so I urge you to discuss this issue at home, at work and in the classroom and to be an advocate against sexual violence here at Roosevelt and everywhere else. In order for our students and employees to be safe, we need everyone to be vigilant and to provide support when they know of someone who needs help. Thank you for taking a stand against sexual violence.


Chuck Middleton

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Roosevelt University- No Social Justice for Sexual Assault Victim

Sexual assaults on college campuses are nothing new. This is the worst sentence to have to type out. Not just because it speaks to the horrific history that student life has, but also because sentences like that are never followed by anything positive. Sexual assaults on college campuses are nothing new, and they continue at far too high of a rate (the ideal being 0). One in four women will be assaulted by the end of their time at school and only 81% of them will report it. 60% of rapes occur in the dorms.

So when an on campus sexual assault happens and is reported, it is the university's responsibility to both try and ensure student safety on campus better than they previously had, and speak out condemning the act. Ideally it would be, but time after time, the universities ignore the issue.

My girlfriend is a recent graduate from Roosevelt. She received an e-mail alert from the school after a sexual assault was committed on the 17th floor of the new dorm building on Wabash. The assault was reported on a Wednesday, having taken place two weeks prior, but no notice was given to the students for a few days. This is fine; it takes time to get the facts straight. But when notice did go out, it was a cut and dry form letter. [crime] happened on this date, in this location. The description of the assailant was a Caucasian male over 5’5”. And then, the dominating rape culture took over. Suggested precautions included being aware of what was around you, using the buddy system, and calling the police. In other words, big flashing lights that read “DON’T GET RAPED.”

This is a story that doesn’t mean anything without context.

Roosevelt University is a self-proclaimed “catalyst for social change.” Their mission statement:

Our view of social justice is based in a belief that fairness, honesty, integrity and impartiality should resonate throughout every institution within a civil society. Over the years, Roosevelt University has fortified this singular dedication to civic and social responsibility, human rights, community partnerships, and public outreach – the kind of learning that transcends the classroom. By reinforcing the importance of social consciousness to our students and greater community, the University plays a significant role in shaping the world’s next generation of progressive, ethical leaders.

So why, then, would its administration not openly condemn the assault? No statement from President Charles Middleton? Is this the social change that the university promotes?

Or is it the Student Government Association who eschews social justice? Recently, the SGA voted against asking the president to condemn sexual violence and speak against rape culture. Or is it just that sexual violence on university campuses is so engrained as part of the college experience that they feel they need not say anything about it?

The victim blaming, the intrinsic shaming of those who come forward has got to stop. It’s time for Roosevelt University to set an example for the rest of the country and be the catalyst for change they want to be. I hope President Middleton comes out against rape culture and speaks out against assault on his campus.

If you would like to do so, you can email him at

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Crunchy Manifesto

Lately, it seems, there has been a move to shut down the voices of the dissenters.  The ruling class has seen to it that those without power are kept hidden away in the dark, forced to keep their beliefs to themselves.  An uprising is brewing, and soon it will boil over into the daylight and change the world as we know it.

That’s right. There’s a crunchy peanut butter revolution in the making.

The bourgeoisie, creamy/smooth peanut butter lovers have oppressed those of us who savor the beloved nut itself.  They demand destruction.  Total obliteration of the legume, mashing the life out of it until it slides down their weak pallets.  Their oppression of the crunchy brothers and sisters is made clearest in grocery stores—the selection of creamy vastly outnumbers the selection of the true peanut butter, the rightful peanut butter.

And it’s not just in the spreads aisle, either.  Find the pre-made “Uncrustables.”  They too have fallen to their Creamy masters.  They’ve become slaves to the smooth demagogues, falling victim to their destructive ways.  The Creamy/Smooth movement that has choked this country for too long continues with its claws in the backs of the working crunchy lovers, jackboots and goosesteps, more sugar and less nut.  This shall not stand!

The Crunchy movement is sweeping through lunches (and sometimes dinners and breakfasts and even snacks!) throughout the country.  People have grown tired of the Creamy abuse of power.  Crunchy is the true peanut butter.  Crunchy maintains ties to it’s creator, the peanut, by keeping the wholesome power of the nut intact. It believes in realness, never letting go of its namesake.  Crunchy is the more versatile spread, going beyond its basic duties and fulfilling cookie recipes and more, helping its fellow man and leaving no one behind, like the short sighted Creamy.

We cannot stand aside while Creamy continues to take over the world.  We must rise up.  We must fight.  FOR CRUNCHY!  

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Obama's America 2016- The worst documentary ever? Pretty much.

Jesus.  So, in actual, for real existence, there is a movie called "Obama's America 2016."  This is a "documentary" about Obama's search for personal identity and how it shaped his foreign and domestic policy. Using quotes from Dreams From My Father, "Obama's America" makes some heavy claims about the president's "third world, anti-American ideology," and how it is tied to his father's socialist beliefs from the 60s.  Dinesh D'Souza builds his argument that Obama is an unfit leader because of his idolization of his father's anti-colonialism stance and fight for independence of Kenya through interviews and subtext from Obama's memoir.  All of that is a nice way of saying that this movie is full of shit and half of the time makes no goddamn sense.

Before watching "Obama's America," I had watched a Koch brothers documentary (because I am a leftist/old man and this is how I spend my Halloween weekend.  Party time!) which Emily and I found both interesting and easy to criticize.  Sure, I agreed with most of the things they were talking about, but there were some reaches and misquotes, suppositions and straw men, you know, typical documentary stuff.  The problem with entertaining documentaries is that they have to abide by their narrative, otherwise you just have a visual research paper and those don't sell ITunes downloads.  Anyway, I was all fired up about money in politics and jonesing for the next hit of sweet, sweet political diatribes.  At the behest of a friend of mine (whose opinion I will now forever disregard) I sat down with a bowl of vegetable medley and turned on my free copy of "Obama's America 2016" (how was it free, you ask? Good question).

First off, you have to sit through about 45 minutes of Dinesh just fucking talking about nothing.  That, mixed in with a healthy dose of copyright-infringing audio from Dreams From My Father and I started to wonder if the complete backstory of Obama was necessary.  Of COURSE it's is, says the filmmaker! Because Obama is an anti-colonialist from birth! Because his dad was an anti-colonialist! Because his friends were anti-colonialist! Because there are some people in Hawaii who are anti-colonialists! Because Dinesh D'Souza is an anti-colonialist because he's from India (I'm fairly certain he made that point.  But at the same time I  think he wants us to start colonizing the world again…)! Obama didn't know his dad while growing up, only meeting him once, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why he was obsessed with his father.

Yeah, the first half of the movie is just a lot of "Obama had daddy issues." I started wishing this was a movie based off of The Audacity of Hope because I feel like that is probably a better book.  Dreams From My Father has a lot of terrible imagery in it, like when Obama finds out his dad beat his wives and that his sister wasn't too keen on him, and he says "it was like my world was upside down, like I walked outside and the sun was blue in a yellow sky." Yawn.  Alright. So Obama is a weak writer.  I will jump on this train and say that he is unfit as a president because his book was bad.  Roll credits.

But no! It goes on, finally getting to the point after we meet Obama's half-brother that he met once.  "Don't you think Obama should help you?" asks Dinesh.  Completely disinterested, George Obama takes a fairly straight forward position on the matter, saying "I think he has a family… I can take care of myself." and "Yeah, he’s taking care of the world. So he’s taking care of me. I’m part of the world." Yawn-a-thon 2012 is here.

53 Minutes into the film, and we learn about Obama Sr.'s socialist political stance.  At that point, I turned, bored by the political views of someone that Obama had only met once, to look at the cats that were playing on my floor.  They may have been fighting, I'm never really sure; they're not my cats.  Suddenly, a direct quote:

"He's embracing his father's failed, third world, collectivism... How does a guy who possesses a third world, anti-American view, and an ideology as remote and unrecognizable as the capital of Kenya or Indonesia manage to get himself elected?"

So this is what it's about.  Now, leaving behind the rest of the documentary (which is really something.  "The United States of Islam," "Why is Obama strangely sympathetic to jihadi terrorists?," and "Obama's support for Occupy Wall Street," all happen.  And of course, cameos from Bill Ayers and Reverend Wright) the theme that comes through the whole thing is Obama's otherness.

This isn't a new tactic of those begrudging the president.  It's the same as the birtherism, the socialist red scare, and the overt racism that the president has dealt with over the past few years.  It's ignoring any real criticism that can be placed on the president (not following through with promises like Guantanamo, bending to an uncompromising republican party, particularly on health care, a secret kill list and an increase in drone strikes that have killed hundreds of innocent people, empty rhetoric on the "reigning in of Wall Street," being the first billion dollar presidential candidate, NDAA, etc.) to use the fact that he is Kenyan and lived in Indonesia as a sign that he wants to shrink America's global footprint.  This is a documentary on Obama being an anti-colonialist, which, in modern times, isn't a bad thing.  But instead, we focus on the fact that Obama allegedly wants to level the playing field with the rest of the world, and stop being the only super power.  It follows suppositions and hypotheticals to even draw these conclusions and presents false evidence to support them.  It is a lie built on a lie built on a myth.  It is playing to the rights basic fears and instincts that because this guy isn't like us, because he lived in weird places, because he was a big city type in Chicago, because he's black (they actually spend a total of about five minutes talking about the fact that white guilt is what elected Obama. Seriously.) then he's not like us and he won't represent us.

Which isn't the way to go about it.  He's not like us or them, he's like the other politicians.  He's no more radical than any politician, no more subversive of the American dream, no more socialist.  People confuse the word socialism for being at a point that we were at before we were all hypnotized by Milton Freedman.  And we're not even getting there with Obama.  A free market capitalist who wants to lower corporate tax rates isn't a socialist.

This otherness, this idea that Obama's anti-colonialism will actually do damage to the United States is a farce.  It's misleading, has nothing to do with anything, and is somehow how these claims are made:

No serious actions have been taken against Iran for trying to build a nuclear weapon.
The president has stopped supporting Israel and instead supports Palestine.
Obama was vocal about overthrowing Mubarak, a great ally.
Obama went into Libya, but refused to go into Syria because nothing he does makes sense.
Obama vocally supports giving Las Malvinas/Falklands back to Argentina.
Obama wants the United States to have 0 nuclear weapons while the rest of the world keeps theirs.

Half-truths and whole lies.  D'Souza's movie is based on misleading information, anecdotal information, no information, or saying things that he doesn't back up with any quotes or evidence. This is being presented as fact to audiences around the country, audiences who are now going to go and vote while being totally misinformed.  These kinds of documentaries (and I lump "Fahrenheit 9/11" in this category because seriously, fuck Michael Moore) are harmful to our democracy.  It's telling people that they can just decide that things are true, that they can vote with their fears instead of information.  It chokes the life from any sort of civil discourse and leaves us fighting and bickering over fallacies instead of over substance.

In conclusion: Everybody is wrong.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Case dismissed: Why the charges against Occupy Chicago being dropped is just the beginning.

It'd be really easy to go on a celebratory rant about how fighting the law and winning (which I've already done all over the social medias), but after my (and 90 of my closest friends) got our cases dismissed for exercising our right to public assembly and free speech, after I submitted a petition to the mayor the night before we were arrested asking him to respect the protesters' first amendment rights, after the chanting and cheering and collective nights in jail, after the nearly year between the arrest and the decision, I'm still pretty pissed off.  And everyone else should be too.

Just looking at what happened on its face should be enough to get our blood boiling.  It was a fairly cut and dry case- people assembled peacefully, and a law that is selectively enforced was used to stop that assembly.  A constitutional right was denied, and people went to jail because of it.  For all of the freedom loving and constitution praising that goes on with people of all political stripes, this is pretty fucked up.  It's not just an example of how Chicago in particular, but the country as a whole, tried to stop a protest because they didn't like it, it's an example of how while people were going to jail illegally, the nation as a whole debated whether or not to take the protests seriously.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter if it was Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party.  If it was GLAAD or the KKK.  We aren't a country founded on a common idea of what is right or a shared belief of how we can solve our problems.  We're a country that is founded on civil debate and balancing of beliefs in order to reach a national stability.  This is undermined every time we look the other way as basic, constitutionally guaranteed rights are taken, even for just one day, away from people trying to be active in civil discourse. 

We have a problem looking at politics as a thing we can actively participate in.  It's a side show that relies on gaffs and pandering to keep us entertained as we pick and choose between one part or the other, where the only states that voting really counts or means anything are swing states.  If you vote republican in Illinois, for example, you're throwing your vote at a giant blue monster and hoping that the numbers will increase the GOPs spending in two years for conservative voters in the near north suburbs.  You're hoping to send a senator or representative, so you elect Joe Walsh because, hey, he's basically on your team.  We do the bare minimum and think that we're taking part. 

Because the deck is stacked against the ordinary citizens.  The closest we get to having an active voice is when we go to town hall meetings and ask a question that gets a politically safe answer.  We don't have the money to smear the candidates' faces all over the sides of billboards or on prime time TV, so the politicians play to the ones who can shovel out the cash.  This is why people protest.  This is why angry citizens take to the street, blocking traffic and risking arrest.  Because it's the only way to actually make one's voice heard.  You make enough noise, and they have to look at you.

But the rest of the electorate sits back and wonders about why the protesters can't just work inside the system.  Form a political party and have their needs met.  Why they have to camp out overnight or bring a loaded gun to a rally (mind you: if you bring a loaded gun to a political rally, you're being a huge douche. Though, the same can be said for a lot of the anarchists I met in jail.). Schedules and apathy, laziness or being ill-informed, un-decidedness or a conflict with the means or message stop participation and start to churn the populous' stomachs, starts to make people believe that they shouldn't even be out there.  And then, when three hundred people in Chicago go to jail, and a year later there arrests are proved unconstitutional, no one really gives a shit because they've either forgotten why they were there, or didn't care if they got arrested in the first place.

Are there limits to exercising your first amendment rights?  Did the director of Innocence of the Muslims go too far?  Is there a time or place where assembly shouldn't be held?  Should the New York Times or Wikileaks be allowed to publish classified information?  Is there a way to balance out doing something for the public good while still looking out for the private citizen?  What am I even talking about at this point? 

What I'm trying to get at here is that this isn't a moment to be celebrating that Rahm was wrong and we are free.  This is a time to be pissed off that we were ever prevented from using our basic rights.  This is a time to remember why each of us, individually, was in that park those nights.  It's a time to not be blinded by the current back and forth political blather and remember that there are solutions out there that aren't determined by who's red and who's blue.  It's a time to remember that a mayor who can't honor the constitution shouldn't have a second term. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Little bicycle people -or- Not every dollar is spent on you, Kasshole.

I'm falling into that blogger trap.  The one where you don't offer any new ideas and instead just insult published authors for a sense of empowerment.  Consider that a warning...

The tribune isn't hosting a racist, just a douchebag.

John Kass, in his op ed for the Trib, has decided that Chicago improving their bike lanes is a big fucking fiasco.  Which, of course, it is- if you make the same assumptions that John Kass does. 

Necessary assumptions:
1. That bicyclists are only rich hipsters
2. That this is Rahm trying to appease a national audience for presidential run
3. That the bike lanes are useless
4. That the money would honestly go to a place where it was really needed

Kass lays out his ideas to make millions of dollars off of bicycle commuters because he presumably gets mad at them while out in traffic.  He doesn't like when they blow through stop signs, which I get and share his sentiment.  He doesn't like that he has to pay to park, to register his vehicle, and to do all the other expensive things that make having a car in the city really unattractive.  You know, all of the things that make biking worth it. 

Sure, let's make bikes pay for parking.  Because we make so much money off of parking revenue-- oh, that's right.  We sold our parking already!

The argument is basically, "We [cars] pay, why don't they [bikes] pay?" Or, better phrased, "it's hard to be well off."

The problem with trying to tax bikes like car, to make people register, to do all of the things that John Kass presents in his tongue-in-cheek, "I like the grunge look" article, is that bikes are not cars.  Did I blow your mind?  No?

Bikers already have to deal with the same shitty roads that drivers have to navigate, but with less suspension and speeding cars to their left and assholes throwing their doors open on the right.  Bikes tend to lose battles when they meet their far larger counterparts in collisions and doorings.  More bikes lanes is a nice way to save lives, not to mention health care dollars. 

Speaking of saving dollars, we tend to, as a nation, offer monetary incentives to those who do things like limit their emissions, take care of their health, etc.  Putting a financial burden onto people who are doing something that benefits the rest of the city is a little ass-backwards (despite being a cherished American value by some of the more well-off).  Less cars in the traffic jam, more places to park-- things that even Kass could appreciate. 

But, still, boiled down to its core, Kass' argument is that the free ride should be over for bikers.  No matter what their reason, no matter what their biking is doing for anyone else; if bikers want more support for the government, more handouts, then it's time for them to pitch in.  Bikes need to stop being "the One Percenters of the commuter class."

It's the same tired bullshit that conservatives say about welfare programs.  Remove the bike lanes part and:
                "But if you have a brain, you must also realize that when politicians start handing out government perks —  like special bike lanes costing millions — it's only a matter of time until people become addicted to them."
becomes the exact same argument.  It's blind complaining that the city is spending money on something that doesn't directly benefit the one complaining.  As if Chicago needs to only spend millions of dollars jerking off privileged, car-driving, tribune writers. 

There are a lot of problems with how the city is spending its money.  There are a lot of things that the city does in the name of saving money that are fairly fucked up (shutting down the red line on the south side to save, incidentally, the same amount of money they are spending on the bike lane project).  But that doesn't mean that we should turn a blind eye to the big picture and start blindly regulating and taxing things that will actually help in the long run (now I sound like a conservative…).  If anything, we should be encouraging people to ride their bikes more frequently.  If not for environmental impact, or to get our fat asses back in shape, to remind people how to do it for when the CTA inevitably crumbles and we have no other options. 

Bikers aren't the One Percenters because they don't have to pay for a city sticker- only a complete tool would think that.   Bikers are people who find the exorbitant CTA fares to be unreasonable and think that spending nearly five dollars a gallon on gasoline is a stupid idea.  Biking is free.  Biking is the tool of the proletariat! Sure, there are assholes cruising around old town on their $3,000 bikes.  But there are tons more oiling the chain on their 70's Schwinn that they've had for ten years, keeping it running so they can get to work. 

Really, in essence, John Kass is probably just jealous that he can't ride a bike more than ten feet without getting winded.  Put down the Venti latte, John, and come out with the rest of us.