The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The sad history of the Uptown Theater

Chicago's largest auditorium north of the Loop needs saving soon, or it might be lost forever:

At the intersection of Lawrence, Racine and Broadway in Uptown, the massive, once-grand Uptown Theatre, a shuttered movie palace that has awaited restoration for nearly 40 years, is slowly deteriorating. Its reopening—an expensive proposition that would require public and private funds—is key to the neighborhood's vitality and could make it a premier destination for live entertainment.

Preservationists say that because of its decrepitude, something needs to happen fast to save the theater from permanent ruin. "If this isn't resolved soon, this building will continue to deteriorate," says Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

A reopened Uptown would, at 4,500 seats, have the largest theater capacity north of downtown (the Auditorium in the Loop has nearly 4,000). Mark Kelly, commissioner of the city's Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, shares Emanuel's vision that the Uptown would solidify the intersection of Lawrence, Racine and Broadway as a destination for live entertainment. "What would be most desirable is we get a mix of these awesome performance venues at a very high level to accommodate a lot of people," Kelly says. "Then it's a real entertainment district."

The neglect dates to the 1970s, when the Uptown was used primarily for closed-circuit boxing matches and rock concerts by acts including the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen. Accelerating its demise was co-owner Lou Wolf, a notorious Chicago slumlord and felon who purchased the theater in 1980 and shuttered it the following year. Unoccupied and uncared for for more than three decades, the building suffered water damage after the heat was turned off. In 2014, 6 inches of ice covered the grand stairway and 4 feet of water rose in the basement. Broken windows, animal infestation, vandalism and plaster-killing summer humidity followed, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid property taxes.

Fortunately, the city designated a landmark district in 2016 that includes the Uptown, but that only means it can't be demolished. But it still needs maintenance, desperately. I hope someone steps up. I'm looking at you, Rahmbo.

Bay Area No Transit

I spend almost all my time in cities with world-class public transport systems. San Francisco is one of them. And yet there are odd gaps.

Today I discovered, at 6:45 am, that I was not, in fact, going to take BART to the airport, as it didn't actually start running for more than an hour.

I mean, really, San Francisco.

Queued up for the flight

I'm about to head to SFO after this very-quick trip to California. My sleeping Surface will have these articles waiting for me to read:

And finally, check out this recruiting video from the New Zealand police (via Deeply Trivial):

Friday afternoon reading list

The following appeared in my inbox while I was in the air. I'll read them later:

I'll probably read them after my body wakes me up at 6am local time tomorrow. The westbound time change is so much easier than eastbound, but it's still hard to sleep in.

Missed anniversary

I was thinking back to a somewhat strange question: where in the world have I experienced all 12 months of the year? I mean, I think you have to do that in order to say you really know a place.

Before I get to that, let me explain the post's title. The second time I ever set foot in New York was 30 years ago Monday, on 4 December 1987. (The first time was 23 July 1984.)

New York is also the second place in the world, after Chicago, where I experienced all 12 months of the year. I crossed that finish line on 1 April 1989, during my first year at university.

The other places (and dates) are Raleigh, N.C. (1 May 2010), London (1 September 2013), Los Angeles (1 October 2014), and San Francisco (29 October 2015).

L.A. really surprised me. Half my family lived there for 30 years, but between school, work, and dumb luck, it took over 40 years from my first visit there (19 April 1974) until I finally, finally experienced an October day there. And that was a work trip—I didn't even intend to do it.

The other odd bit is that the entirety of the time I spent in North Carolina is documented in this blog.

I think this post will interest about six people, but since one of them is me, and the rest of my brain is working on some pretty slippery user stories for work, up it goes.

The threats to our democracy

New Republic has excerpted How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, to be published this January. Salient points:

If constitutional rules alone do not secure democracy, then what does? Much of the answer lies in the development of strong democratic norms. Two norms stand out: mutual toleration, or accepting one’s partisan rivals as legitimate (not treating them as dangerous enemies or traitors); and forbearance, or deploying one’s institutional prerogatives with restraint—in other words, not using the letter of the Constitution to undermine its spirit (what legal scholar Mark Tushnet calls “constitutional hardball”).

Donald Trump is widely and correctly criticized for assaulting democratic norms. But Trump didn’t cause the problem. The erosion of democratic norms began decades ago.

In 1979, newly elected Congressman Newt Gingrich came to Washington with a blunter, more cutthroat vision of politics than Republicans were accustomed to. Backed by a small but growing group of loyalists, Gingrich launched an insurgency aimed at instilling a more “combative” approach in the party.

Though few realized it at the time, Gingrich and his allies were on the cusp of a new wave of polarization rooted in growing public discontent, particularly among the Republican base. Gingrich didn’t create this polarization, but he was one of the first Republicans to sense—and exploit—the shift in popular sentiment. And his leadership helped to establish “politics as warfare” as the GOP’s dominant strategy.

If, 25 years ago, someone had described to you a country where candidates threatened to lock up their rivals, political opponents accused the government of election fraud, and parties used their legislative majorities to impeach presidents and steal Supreme Court seats, you might have thought of Ecuador or Romania. It wouldn’t have been the United States of America.

The rest is history. Let's just hope that it's the history of a successful republic, not a Weimar one.

Middle-seat windows?

Emirates, despite what I may think about its ownership and massive state subsidies, has some of the coolest equipment in commercial aviation. Their latest innovation is to provide virtual windows for their interior first-class suites:

See, Emirates laid out its new First Class suites in a 1-1-1 configuration on the 777. The suites on the sides are treated to several windows, but what could Emirates do about the suites in the middle? Some people love aisle seats and others love windows. (And there are probably a strange few who even prefer neither for some unknown reason.) But people generally prefer to have an aisle AND window when possible. And if you’re in First Class, that seems like quite a reasonable request. There obviously can’t be windows in the middle of the aircraft, so Emirates did something awesome. It installed virtual windows. You can see them in action in this video:

I mean, that's just cool. And it has some really interesting implications:

This kind of technology can also allow designers to really get creative on new aircraft. Think about the B-2 stealth bomber. That kind of triangular “flying wing” design” could lend itself to commercial aviation some day, but windows would be a real challenge. Now imagine that could be built with virtual windows throughout the cabin, giving people a constant ability to look out without requiring any structural work.

Heck, you could make the whole airplane a virtual window if you want. That would result in something similar to Airbus’s 2050 concept airplane (though that plan apparently would, in theory, use transparent cell membranes or something crazy like that).

Yes, this may seem like it’s just a fake window, but it’s so much more. I’m excited about what it might mean for future aircraft development. Oh… and yeah, those new Emirates suites look pretty darn nice too.

I don't think I'll ever actually fly in an Emirates first-class suite, but I agree with Cranky Flier: there's a lot to be excited about in there.

Stuff to review

I've been in frenetic housecleaning mode today, since it's the first work-from-home Wednesday I've had in...let me see...10 weeks. And apparently I last had my housekeeping service here 16 weeks ago. (It wasn't that bad; I do clean up occasionally.)

The activity and actually having to do my job has led me to miss a couple of news stories, which I will now queue up to read:

  • Former President Obama spoke at the Economic Club of Chicago last night, and said, at one point, "American democracy is fragile, and unless care is taken it could follow the path of Nazi Germany in the 1930s."
  • Citylab outlines how the tax bill now working its way through reconciliation between the House and Senate will be really, really bad for cities. As if we didn't know. As if that wasn't a feature, rather than a bug.
  • And it doesn't take a Nobel-winning economist to understand the chutzpah behind the Republican Party's bait-and-switch on taxes and deficits. "Now, to be fair, there are some people in America who get lots of money they didn’t lift a finger to earn — namely, inheritors of large estates." How true.
  • In more neutral news, the Atlantic has the the year in photos (part 1), with more on the way later this week. I especially like the Turkish seagull (#22).
  • Finally The Daily WTF has an example of life imitating satire, and it's sad and funny all at the same time.

I'm now going to throw out all the empty boxes in my office closet, though it pains me to do so. After all, someday I might need to return this pair of wired headphones from 1998...

Shut up about impeachment

Jeet Heer states what should be obvious: if Democrats try to impeach the president and fail, it will completely legitimize his presidency.

The practical problem is that for impeachment to be meaningful, Trump would not just have to be impeached by the House of Representatives (which requires a simple majority) but also removed by the Senate (requiring a two-thirds vote). It’s easy to imagine a scenario where the Democrats win the House of Representatives in 2018 and have the necessary votes for impeachment. But even in that best-case scenario, in which Democrats win every toss-up race for the Senate, they would still be well short of the votes they need in the Senate. Which means that kicking Trump out of the White House by necessity has to be a bipartisan effort with significant Republican buy-in.

The Republican Party has proven that they will tolerate just about anything from Trump. They continue to stand with him despite his demented tweeting, the political support he’s given to Roy Moore, his repeated expressions of contempt for the justice system, and his cavalier threats to launch a nuclear war. Unless Robert Mueller finds the possibly apocryphal “pee tape,” Republicans are likely to remain loyal to Trump. In fact, there’s a real possibility that even if the “pee tape” is real and widely viewed, Trump would still remain politically sacrosanct among his own party.

The most promising route for stopping Trump, then, is through the ballot box.

This means that we're probably stuck with him for 1142 more days, but if we win back the legislature, we can thwart him nearly completely.