Sunday, September 30, 2012

Moving to Tumblr

For the time being, I'm going to be posting material on a Tumblr site: Thanks!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


In the long tile tunnel connecting two lines of the train, four young men sing together, tenor and base, harmony reflecting, deepening, reverberating everywhere. As they sing, crowds flow past in each direction, rushing, and the music flows over everyone.

During a period of quiet in between one train and the next, and with the tunnel nearly empty, they begin to fill it with Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come."

I was born by the river, in a little tent...

And as we walk away from those four young men and come to the end of the tunnel, the music is behind us, but its echoing words are still clear, still spirited, still hopeful, still joyful.

Oh and just like the river I've been running ever since.

And there, at the end of the tunnel, there is a single small trash can, and a man of about forty-five or fifty who was previously seen moving through the tunnel with a distracted, aimless air, almost appearing as if he were perhaps given pause by the music (until he is seen closer up), this man is going through the trash, and he's pulling out a McDonald's bag he has found (which is crumpled up) and he is reaching into the bag, and he is pulling out a hamburger that has already been partially eaten, big bites already taken out of it, and he is still leaning over the trash can as he takes a bite of what's left, and then he throws the rest away again, and continues digging.

It's been a long time, a long time coming, but I know, a change gonna come, oh yes it will.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A night at Homolatte

Walking east on Argyle Street away from the Red Line stop on the El, you’ll pass a stretch of Vietnamese businesses and restaurants. Taking a left on Sheridan reveals an unremarkable half-a-block until the neon lettering of Big Chicks appears on your left. Inside the Lakewood bar, you’re met with low light, an indy soundtrack, and cheap beer. Every available space on the walls is covered in a framed photo, drawing or painting. The emphasis is on portraiture: strong women, many bearing their bodies unapologetically, gaze at you. The space is attached to an adjacent restaurant called Tweet, where on the first and third Tuesday of each month, a microphone is placed at one end of the room. Shortly after 7:30, queer Chicago musician Scott Free stands up, passes a guitar strap over his wide shoulders, and announces the start of the latest edition of the music and poetry gathering he’s run for, by his estimation, 12 years: Homolatte.

New play, "Pink Milk," examines the life of Alan Turing

Last year, Alex Young, then a junior at Northwestern University studying creative writing, began working on a poetry project in response to incidents of bullying and suicide plaguing gay teenagers and gaining increasing national attention.

Young said he started to research prominent gay figures from the 1950s, especially those who had faced some form of abuse or personal tragedy. In the process, he discovered Alan Turing, the British mathematician and scientist widely considered one of the founders of computer science, as well as a visionary in the field of artificial intelligence. Setting aside his poems, Young started working on his first full-length play, one inspired by Turing’s life. The result, “Pink Milk,” just finished a five-show run at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival, and will be coming to the Chicago Fringe Festival in September.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Profile of comedian and actor Jason Stuart

Comedian and actor Jason Stuart reflects on his career, the personal and professional benefits of coming out of the closet, and the artistic options available to LGBTQ performers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Same-sex marriage ceremony at Halsted Market Days

The above audio slideshow portrays a mock same-sex marriage ceremony that took place at the Halsted Market Days in Chicago on August 11, 2012. It was organized by the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago, and was presided over by State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-12).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Protests and counter-protests outside Chicago's only Chick-fil-A

On August 9, 2012, protests took place outside Chicago's only Chick-fil-A restaurant. Interviews with Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation network, Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, and others.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The legal issues behind the Chick-fil-A controversy

The controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s July 16 comments in opposition to gay marriage is no longer a culture war-influenced discussion of free speech.

In little more than a week, it evolved into a formal complaint filed Thursday with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. The group behind that complaint, Chicago-based The Civil Rights Agenda, is alleging violations under the Illinois Human Rights Act. And that group is standing by Chicago alderman Joe Moreno, whose opposition to a planned Chick-fil-A in his ward has earned him national attention.

At stake is the strength of the reasoning underpinning both the complaint and Mr. Moreno’s resolve, which after uncommon scrutiny appears undaunted. Speaking Wednesday to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Moreno said, “I’m not going to back down from this.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chicagoans react to "Chick-fil-A Day"

By Sarah Fentem and John Santore

There’s no doubt the recent Chick-fil-A controversy has affected business at the chain’s only Chicago franchise.

Supporters showed up in droves Wednesday to Chicago's only local store and Wabash. Mike Huckabee, the conservative former Republican governor from Arkansas, had declared August 1st “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”. The news spread through social networks and word-of-mouth, and by noon, a long line stretched out the store's door and down Wabash Avenue.

On July 16, Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy ignited a firestorm after he told the Baptist Press that he backed "the biblical definition of the family unit."

Last week, the issue blazed into Chicago after Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that "Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago's values." Shortly after, 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno announced he wouldn't allow the planned construction of a new franchise location to go forward.

An informal poll of about 50 customers outside the restaurant found more than 30 who were explicitly there to support the chain in the wake of the controversy.
Some customers said they came to show solidarity for Cathy’s views. “The man was asked a question,” said Priscilla Stabler. “He told the truth, and the truth prevails.”

Others said they turned out to support what they labeled as an exercise of free speech. "They love to say that Chicago is a city of diversity,” said suburban resident Patrick Friedline. “Well, that's a diversity of ideas, too."

Owner Lauren Silich,declined to grant interviews, saying she “had a restaurant to run.” However, Kate Sosin, a senior reporter for the local LGBT publication Windy City Times, said Silich told her earlier this week that business had increased in recent days.

But the attention hasn’t been all positive. The gay community has been sponsoring anti-Chik-fil-A events around the city. For example, the Boystown restaurant Hearty Boys is hosting “Chick-fil-Gay Appreciation Day” Wednesday. Hamburger Mary’s, in Uptown, now features a “hate-free” Southern-style chicken sandwich.

Sosin said the Chicago LGBT community is no stranger to Chick-fil-A’s stance against gay marriage. Before the first Chicago location opened last spring, the gay-rights organization GetEqual hosted a protest where they handed out fake “Bigot-fil-A” coupons.

“I think a lot of people who regularly read LGBT news maybe know about the Chick-fil-A donations in the past,” Sosin said, referring to financial contributions the organization has made to organizations like the Family Research Council. “But I think the media attention has grabbed people, even people who don’t normally follow [LGBT news]”.

“I think a lot of people won’t go there now," Sosin added.

But on Wednesday, suburban resident Susan Moody was proud to be a patron, even after receiving what she described as heavy criticism from her friends.

“I ended up just saying, look, 'I love all you guys',” Moody said, “and we have strong opinions. I'm going tomorrow and having a chicken sandwich, and I’m going to stand up for our free speech for all, big and small."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Donations surge following Obama's marriage equality announcement

Donations to Barack Obama from Chicago’s most prominent LGBTQ neighborhoods increased dramatically after he announced support for marriage equality on May 9, an analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows.

From May 9 through June 30, the most recent date for which FEC statistics are available, average daily donations from the zip code encompassing Andersonville increased 370 percent when compared with the same time period preceding May 9. The zip code that covers Boystown registered a 250 percent increase.

Donations to the president’s re-election effort are up throughout Chicago when compared with 2011, common for an election year. But other neighborhood increases are less pronounced than the upticks from those tied to the city’s LGBTQ communities.

Donations are up 230 percent from the zip code covering Lincoln Park, an average of 200 percent from the codes covering Hyde Park, 180 percent, on average, from those covering Rogers Park, and 150 percent from the code covering the Gold Coast.

“It makes total sense,” said Lisa Martinez, a writer for “The L Stop,” a blog focused on Chicago’s lesbian community. Martinez said that early in his presidency, perceived equivocations concerning marriage equality hurt Obama’s support among LGBTQ voters.

“But now that he says that he does support it,” she added, “that’s definitely getting everyone hopeful again.”
John Frendreis, the chairman of Loyola University’s Department of Political Science, also thought the increases were predictable. “The degree to which you would expect this sort of response really depends upon the salience of the issue to the members of the community,” he said. Frendreis saw Obama’s support for marriage equality as more significant for LGBTQ voters than his repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“It’s the difference between Truman integrating the military and ‘Brown vs. Board of Education,’” he said. “One thing affects everybody in a very important and potentially vital way. The other one affects some members of the community. [It] has great symbolic importance for everybody, but less personal involvement.”

Also at issue is the sustainability of the supporter surge. John Brehm, a political science professor at the University of Chicago who studies voter behavior, wondered if voters concerned with LGBTQ issues would remain enthusiastic in the months ahead. He said that sustained support would mean voters were using their personal networks to encourage others to back the president. By contrast, a drop in donations would signal the initial surge was caused by increased media attention. “Is it an effect that is a mass media effect, or is it a community mobilization effect?” Brehm said. “That seems to be an unsettled and kind of interesting question generally in political science.”

From Lisa Martinez's perspective, the latter is the case. “Everyone’s aware that if [Obama] doesn’t win this election, then, I mean, all these conversations that we’re trying to have are just going to go away,” she said, “because the Republican Party is so opposed to everything that we’re trying to do.”

Available donation data seems to support that assessment. In the first six months of 2012, the zip codes covering Andersonville and Boystown donated $203,557 to Obama. Romney received $45,011.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A description of the Emporium Arcade Bar in Chicago

To the left, an unremarkable restaurant. To the right, the empty waiting room of a darkened walk-in medical clinic. What’s in the middle is diverting people passing on the sidewalk. They’re coming closer and peering through the windows in amazement.

Inside the Emporium Arcade Bar, everything is new - the blonde wood of the tables, the pressed silver metalwork on the ceiling, the clean slate of chalkboards listing drinks, the shining steel beer taps - except the video games lining the walls. The arcade my father took me to on Saturdays was clearly partitioned from the outside world by the cacophonous crush of sound that met you when you entered, its hundreds of machines all blasting simultaneously at maximum volume. But here the sound is a comfortable mix of current party music and friends talking happily. The air is cool and fresh and circulating. The light is soft and low.

Except the light from Tetris and Asteroids and Space Invaders, and every other game being met with a mix of motives and moods. A grown man grows visibly frustrated by DigDub, his space-suited protagonist struggling to excavate the lo-fi strata of a subterranean maze, its blocks of color forming a digitized, deconstructed Rothko. I don’t remember girls at the arcade of my youth, but there are women here. A group of three laugh and shout as they spin steering wheels that control little trucks bouncing ludicrously over an off-road course. A man on a date plays Duck Hunt, but not too sincerely (for his date’s sake). He’s holding a plastic orange gun and bending awkwardly at the knees to peer at a screen designed to rest at a child’s eye level. Close by, a face is illuminated by Galaga, fingers blurring on a fire button offering the only defense against a relentless and oddly geometric alien onslaught that hasn’t broken formation in decades, forever dropping in the same synchronized unison and predictable increments.

We all remember so many of these games. The token machine turns a creased dollar bill into golden coins that clink as they’re dispensed. A boxing game - Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out - is my choice. The smooth plastic joystick is yielding. I dispense easily enough with Glass Joe and Pistol Hurricane, doubling their cartoonish forms over, but I struggle against the massive Bald Bull. He’s moving too fast. I’m taking virtual damage while desperately hoping to recall his weakness - body shots? uppercuts? - when I’m knocked unconscious. Bull’s pixelated face mocks me from the screen.

A smiling, long-haired guy spots my notebook. “If you’re writing an article,” he says, “mention they need a Frogger machine.”

Monday, July 9, 2012

Papermaking at Spunik Press

The following is an audio slideshow I put together after visiting a papermaking workshop at Spudnik Press in Chicago. Thanks to William Mason and Spunik for their participation.

Friday, June 29, 2012


These pictures were taken for an assignment asking students to take shots emphasizing different photographic principles. In order, the principles were: portraiture (capturing a human moment in a portrait); a strong foreground with a contributing background; layering; leading lines; light and shadow; and the rule of thirds. The subject was Petko, a Northwestern graduate who works at the school's library. Click below for the rest of the series:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Erin Burnett's team chooses not to comment on torture story

I wanted to follow up briefly on my June 4th post concerning Erin Burnett's report on the use of music at Guantanamo Bay. I wrote that, in my opinion, Ms. Burnett had both misrepresented the story on factual grounds, and had chosen to turn a story about accusations of torture into a joke, which I objected to on moral grounds.

I attempted to contact Ms. Burnett's public relations official, Neel Khairzada, before the post went up. It was a Friday, and I learned that she was out of the office until the following Monday, so I posted the piece. When she returned, I was able to reach her by phone and email. I sent her what I had written, and asked for her thoughts. In my first email to her, I wrote:

I'm writing as a journalism student, and as such, I'm very interested to learn why producers and journalists make the decisions they make. I'm hoping to speak with someone from CNN about this segment. I'd like to discuss how the piece came together, and whether OutFront stands behind its content and presentation. I'd also like to know if OutFront thinks my analysis is wrong or unfair.
I followed this with another email and a phone call. When I reached Ms. Khairzada, she was very polite, and told me she had been busy catching up on other assignments. She said she would review my emails as soon as possible. When she wrote back, however, she stated simply that, "We’re not going to comment." I emailed her again asking for further clarification:
I'm a regular watcher of Ms. Burnett's program. I was surprised to see her report on a very serious story - arguably one of the most serious of the last decade - in a way that I found to be factually incorrect and ethically questionable. I immediately reached out to the program because I am convinced that those who work for OutFront prize the integrity of their work and wish to defend it - and I'm eager to hear and publish the conversation that would come from that defense.

Can you tell me why the show isn't going to comment? Is it because my criticism is viewed as baseless? Is it a matter of policy that you don't generally comment on critiques of your work? I'd be very curious to know, especially because I hope to keep engaging CNN in the future.

Ms. Khairzada did not respond to this email.

I would assume that CNN receives many calls for comment on its stories every day. Undoubtedly, it has to pick and choose who to respond to, and I don't think I'm someone deserving of special attention. That said, I think it's disappointing that the show chose not to offer any comment at all on this subject. I believe I raised legitimate concerns concerning the factual accuracy and ethical content of a report Ms. Burnett delivered. If Ms. Burnett and her producers do indeed stand behind the content of that report, I think they should be able to, at the very least, state so publicly when challenged - even if that just means offering a single sentence in defense of their work. Their decision not to comment raises, I believe, questions as to whether or not they stand by that work.

Again, I understand a major market show cannot offer a comment to everyone who contacts them. But I think journalists should make a priority of addressing critiques that challenge their factual accuracy. This is what Glenn Greenwald did not long ago when he publicly acknowledged a factual error in one of his articles which I had brought to his attention. In his response to me, he also entirely disagreed with a second, interpretive point of mine - and I think his argument was correct. That's the kind of public discussion I believe raises the quality of journalism. I would have liked to have had the chance to engage in such a dialogue with Ms. Burnett's team.

I sent this post to Ms. Khairzada, and I'll update it with any response I receive.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Click below for more photos, and click any photo to start a slideshow.

Monday, June 4, 2012

CNN's Erin Burnett jokes about torture at Guantanamo Bay

On Thursday, May 31, OutFront, the CNN show hosted by Erin Burnett, ran the latest installment of a periodic segment called "Seriously?!" examining what the program considers to be unusual news stories. This particular edition focused on the reported use of children's songs at Guantanamo Bay.

"The Pentagon confirmed today something many of us have suspected for years," Ms. Burnett began. "According to the Defense Department's John Kirby, music is regularly used to punish prisoners at Guantanamo Bay."

She then played a clip from the press conference Mr. Kirby led on May 31st. The relevant portion is below:
Q: On the report this morning that some of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay have been subjected to hearing songs from Sesame Street, first of all, can you comment on that? And second, if it's true, what would you say about the characterization of some who call this torture?
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, look, there's been several investigations done about the use of interrogation techniques down there at Guantanamo Bay, and particularly the use of music as incentives or disincentives between 2004, 2008, that time frame. And universally, the -- these investigations have shown and leadership has revealed that music can be used as both an incentive and a disincentive. It depends on how you use it. I don't know. I can't say with any specificity what type of music has been used in the past or is even being used now. But we -- I will reiterate that we don't mistreat detainees. That's the policy. We rigorously follow that policy. We do not torture, and we do not abuse our detainees at all. We subscribe to the law and to humane treatment. So it -- but yes, music is used, again, both in a -- in a positive way and as a disincentive. But I wouldn't get into characterizing exactly what type of music is being used.
Q: But are you --
CAPT. KIRBY: But we do not -- we do not torture.
Q: Music from the Barney show, if not Sesame Street?
CAPT. KIRBY: I don't know what the playlist is.
Q: Can you tell me how to get -- how to get to Sesame Street? (Laughter.)
CAPT. KIRBY: Next question, please.
Ms. Burnett returned to camera while repressing a laugh. "That's right," she said. "It is believed the Pentagon forced prisoners at Gitmo to listen to Barney for 24 straight hours. According to a U.S. service member involved in psychological operations, quote, 'your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken.'" She continued: "That sounds intense. I mean, these are songs meant for children, right? But after a quick listen, I'm sure you'll agree, the estimation isn't very far off."

Ms. Burnett then played a clip of Barney singing, followed by an audio and video loop of his laughter. Ms. Burnett did an impression of the laughter herself. "Yeah, that's Barney," she said. "The Pentagon says, that's not torture. But seriously, you drop that laugh on me for a few hours and I'd confess to just about anything, whether I did it or not. Seriously."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Greenwald selectively quotes NY Times article on drone policy [UPDATES BELOW]

I spend a lot of time reading Glenn Greenwald, and his work has influenced my thinking on a host of issues. I generally find him to be compelling and well-reasoned. But it's also important to be skeptical of everyone, even those you admire.

To that end, I wanted to highlight something in one of his articles today that I found problematic. In it, Greenwald provided commentary on a very important New York Times report detailing Barack Obama's approach to counter-terrorism. Part of that article examined the ways in which Obama has approached the issue of civilian casualties caused by drone strikes. Greenwald summed up the relevant portion of the Times piece in the following way:
The article explains that Obama’s rhetorical emphasis on avoiding civilian deaths “did not significantly change” the drone program, because Obama himself simply expanded the definition of a “militant” to ensure that it includes virtually everyone killed by his drone strikes.
But here's the complete portion of the article Greenwald was referencing (emphasis mine):
Just days after taking office, the president got word that the first strike under his administration had killed a number of innocent Pakistanis. “The president was very sharp on the thing, and said, ‘I want to know how this happened,’ “ a top White House adviser recounted.
In response to his concern, the C.I.A. downsized its munitions for more pinpoint strikes. In addition, the president tightened standards, aides say: If the agency did not have a “near certainty” that a strike would result in zero civilian deaths, Mr. Obama wanted to decide personally whether to go ahead.  
The president’s directive reinforced the need for caution, counterterrorism officials said, but did not significantly change the program. In part, that is because “the protection of innocent life was always a critical consideration,” said Michael V. Hayden, the last C.I.A. director under President George W. Bush.  
It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

The cover of my copy of the Chicago Tribune today showed a picture of an elderly woman kneeling by American flags, her face contorted as she started to weep. "I WANT THE WORLD TO KNOW THAT WE PAID THE PRICE" was the headline above the picture, and below it a caption explaining that this was Jackie Metzger, who was "planting flags at veterans' grave sites in Kankakee Memorial Gardens on Friday as she remembers how she heard the news that her 32-year-old son, Jonathan, had been killed in Afghanistan." Not far along in the accompanying article, Jim Frazier was quoted, Mr. Frazier being a man "whose 24-year-old son, Jacob, was an Air Force staff sergeant who was killed in Afghanistan in 2003." Mr. Frazier said, "It's not Veterans Day. It's not National Flag Day. It's Memorial Day...At least take a moment to pause and reflect."

I don't think that I did. Not for most of the day, at least. I had thought about attending the annual Memorial Parade downtown, this year led by CIA director and former general David Petreaus (I've never been to a Memorial Day Parade anywhere, not that I can remember) but instead I went to a brunch at a friend's house, and sat on a porch and laughed for a few hours. When I came home, I felt that I owed somebody something, and wound up reading some articles about civilians killed by the US military, by mistake, in Afghanistan, and drone strikes in Pakistan, and a bit of an interview with Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and current Director of Defense, in which he was asked about civilian casualties in those countries and said, "First and foremost, I think this is one of the most precise weapons that we have in our arsenal. [He was talking about drones.] Number two, what is our responsibility here? Our responsibility is to defend and protect the United States of America...We have got to defend the United States of America. That's our first responsibility. And using the operations that we have, using the systems that we have, using the weapons that we have, is absolutely essential to our ability to defend Americans. That's what counts, and that's what we're doing."

Something came to mind. The previous week, I had attended an anti-war rally where several dozen former soldiers had thrown back the medals they had been awarded after their service in recent wars. Each one had a chance to give a few remarks to the crowd before doing so, and some had been direct, and others had been petulant, or angry, and I remember one who sounded very sad and said, "Out of respect for the Iraqi and Afghan people, I'm giving these medals back. I'm sorry." And they had thrown the medals behind the stage, into a tree and grass filled partition and in the direction of the McCormick Center, which was where the leaders of the nations forming NATO were meeting, and where they were hashing out what the future of the NATO-led war in Afghanistan would look like. This had all taken place before the rally had ended, when an element of the crowd had started locking horns with the hundreds of assembled police, resulting in - and I'm not sure who started what - a skirmish and the stabbing of one officer, and the bludgeoning of some protesters, and dramatic photos, and the relative eradication of the rally's thesis from the ensuing media reports, which (at least as far as I could tell) focused largely on the ways in which the police had effectively diffused a dangerous situation. I had been about a block away from the action, but as the crowd began to surge around me in a confused, tightening mass, I had tried to repress panic and worked my way out of it and left.

What I wondered at the time, though, was what had happened to the medals. Had someone picked them up later? Had they been swept up by street cleaners? Or perhaps they had been abandoned and forgotten. In my mind, they still dangled from tree branches and littered the ground. Now, a week later, I went back to see if anything was left.

The corner, without the stage and throngs and air of importance, had resumed its normal nature, which was an intersection with a dry cleaners ("Any item dry cleaned for $2.25"), and a Papa John's pizza place, and a new condo building named The Lux from whose balconies intrigued onlookers had safely watched the aforementioned events. I started walking around the median, sifting through the plants. After a few passes, all I had found was trash. A man pulled up in his car and asked for directors to the freeway. An ambulance passed, sirens on.

After about ten minutes more, I had found one relevant thing, which was a dirty handkerchief with the words "Love Is Our Weapon" on it. It seemed like something someone attending a peace rally would have left behind, but I couldn't know for sure. Somebody stopped their car at the red light and tossed an empty bottle out of the window and lit a cigarette and drove off. Disappointed, I checked my phone. A friend from college, a veteran who had served two tours of duty in Iraq, had called. I had missed it.

I searched again, but there was nothing to find. It was as if the rally had never happened. I imagined city sanitation workers combing the area for war medals, and wondered if they had handled them reverently (maybe even kept them) or with disregard. I was close to leaving when I spotted a piece of metal on the cement. It was part of a pin, the part used to clip it to clothing. Or to a uniform. I bent down and turned it over. It was bent and flattened, like it had been stepped on. Words had been pressed into it. They were these:


When I got home, I called my friend, the vet. We chatted for a while about nothing in particular, skirting an unspoken issue. Then he asked me how my Memorial Day was. I didn't have too much to tell him, but he had a few things to tell me. He said that he had visited a war memorial in Boston, where he is a student, along with his son and wife. There, they had looked out at a field covered with 33,000 American flags representing the 33,000 citizens of Massachusetts who had died in the nation's wars, from the Revolutionary War through the present. There were a few kids in their 20s smoking pot by the memorial, and my friend told me he had walked up to them and asked them politely if they could do that somewhere else. They had agreed. He said it had felt good to be there with his family. He said that he had felt appreciative.

He told me about some of the things he had been reading, work analyzing the relationship between the military and civilians in America today. He read to me from a review of a book. "With the United States more or less permanently at war," the review said, "Americans profess unstinting admiration for those serving in uniform. Yet the gap between soldier and society is wider than at any time in our history." There was more:
In ­places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States still fights ambiguous no‑win wars in pursuit of elusive objectives. Yet in contrast to the reaction to Vietnam, the public finds these conflicts tolerable. Not required to serve or to sacrifice (or even to cover the costs incurred), Americans have effectively off-loaded responsibility for national security onto a small warrior elite, whose members..."are embraced as heroes, even as we do not really know them."
He stopped reading and told me that he thought there was something there, something that could be turned into a movement of some kind, something that could touch many aspects of American life, redefining what the average citizen took for granted, and what they were willing to give of themselves, and how connected they were to what their country did, within its borders and around the world.

Another way to put it: what price they were willing to pay.

 The median with the McCormick Center in the background

The handkerchief


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How should journalists refer to Anwar al-Awlaki?

I'm currently scheduled to start journalism school at Medill in June, and as such, I've been trying to keep up on reports published by my future classmates. On Thursday, May 3rd, I read an article filed from Medill's DC bureau. The piece, authored by Andy Matarrese, reported on John Brennan's recent speech concerning U.S. drone policy. I'm going to focus on a single line in the article, because I think it raises questions that are worth asking, especially for journalism students. 

In the original version of the story, Matarrese had written the following (emphasis mine)
Brennan’s speech came just before the first anniversary of the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and Brennan’s appearance was part of what he called a greater push by the administration to be more transparent about counter-terrorism strategy. Tom Donnelly, a national security and defense researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, said he agrees with the administration’s reasoning behind the legality of drone strikes. People like Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born terrorist killed in a drone strike last year are enemy combatants, he said, and are “subject to the law of war, not the law of peace.”
What I found noteworthy was that Matarrese referred to al-Awlaki as "an American-born terrorist," which is (in various ways) how he is described by Obama administration officials. But this issue - the exact nature of al-Awlaki's activities and the question of what proof has been offered by the government concerning those activities - is at the heart of the debate surrounding his killing. I wanted to ask Matarrese about his word choice, and so I sent him a group of messages on Twitter (available here). Collectively, they read as follows:  
Andy, enjoyed your report on Brennan's speech, but you refer to al-Awlaki as "an American-born terrorist." That's the problem for critics of this polcy [sic]: al-Awlaki was never tried, and the evidence against him wasn't public. Instead, he was added to a kill list in secret (Reuters report: ). So that begs the question: can the President, in theory, add anyone to a kill list in secret? Can he declare anyone to be a terrorist, without proving it? Based on this, do you think it was right to refer to al-Awlaki as a "terrorist" in your piece? To be clear: what I mean is, him being a terrorist is the gov's accusation. But w/out public evidence, should it be repeated?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Scenes from the NATO protests, day one

Click below for more photos, and click any photo to open a slideshow. 

Kevin Gosztola at Revolution Books on Bradley Manning and Wikileaks

The following audio is from a presentation Kevin Gosztola offered at Revolution Books in Chicago on 5.16.12. Gosztola writes for Firedoglake. He spoke about Bradley Manning, specifically: who is is and what he did; the conditions of his confinement; the charges against him; and the conditions of his trial, which Gosztola is covering.

Afterwards, I had a chance to speak with Gosztola. He offered his thoughts on the significance of Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, as well as whether any harm had come from the material Manning is alleged to have leaked. He also commented on whether the model Wikileaks had established was sustainable and beneficial.

Madea Benjamin speaks on US drone policy

The audio below is from a presentation Madea Benjamin gave on 5.14.12 at the Heartland Cafe in Chicago. It was a critical assessment of US drone policy. Benjamin is a founder of CodePink and Global Exchange.

Click below for more photos, and click any photo to start a slideshow.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Close-ups of paintings by Lea Pinsky and Joanna Pinsky (I think)

These photos are close-ups of paintings on display as part of a mural on the 7000 block of Glenwood Avenue in Chicago, IL. Paintings done by Lea Pinsky and Joanna Pinsky (as far as I could tell from a list of contributors to the mural - great work, you two!). Oh, and one more picture of something not done by the Pinskys:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Exclusivity of Rights, the web-based version of Fox News, chose to announce Obama's statement in support of gay marriage like this:

Within a few hours, the war was over, though the defiance remained:

Setting aside the issue of Obama's changing public rationale concerning this issue, I just wanted to bring up an often-made point regarding the extension of rights to new groups. It seems that those opposing such extensions routinely characterize them as an assault on their own existent rights, arguing that their ability to continue doing what they've been doing will disappear if alternatives are allowed. Most of the time, this doesn't make sense - how, for example, would an increase in gay marriages prevent heterosexual couples from getting married? But what we're dealing with, I would think, is something emotional and visceral in nature. When rights are attached to a certain socially and culturally dominant group, some members of that group will fight hard to prevent those rights from being extended to anyone else. That extension means the loss of their unique (and hence powerful) status, and the ushering in of behavior they're not psychologically prepared to accept because it doesn't fit within their conception of what is "normal." (That definition of normality, of course, is malleable, and is both changed by, and changes, our culture and laws, which explains the - admittedly shrinking - generational divide on the issue of gay rights.)

This conception of "rights" sees them as that which limits others, rather than empowering all, as that which divides one group from another, rather than uniting them under common protections and guarantees. As many others have written, it is at its core an attempt to guarantee freedom from behavior one objects to by outlawing it and marginalizing it in an attempt to prevent it from entering one's consciousness. What we're really talking about, then, is fear.