The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Grisly Chicago history

Forty years ago, Des Plaines, Ill., police arrested John Wayne Gacy on suspicion of murder. Then they found more than 20 bodies in his crawlspace. The Tribune has a retrospective:

John Wayne Gacy’s confession to the rape and murder of more than 30 people didn’t just awaken America to a nightmare hidden in its own backyard. The discovery 40 years ago of the dank, muddy mass grave underneath Gacy's yellow brick ranch house at 8213 W. Summerdale Ave. forever shattered the image of the safe suburban community.

A police search for missing Maine West sophomore Robert Piest led investigators to 36-year-old Gacy, a “stocky, bull necked contractor,” described by neighbors and business associates as a pillar of the community: a likable, boastful divorced businessman and Democratic precinct captain who hosted themed neighborhood parties and entertained children as a clown named Pogo.

“(The public) would feel much more comfortable if Gacy was this type of creepy, sequestered ghoul that was unkempt and heinous,” Detective Sgt. Jason Moran of the Cook County sheriff’s office, who is a point man on the Gacy case, said recently. “But instead, he dressed as a clown and bounced kids on his knee. He would knock at your door and say vote for my candidate.”

Gacy’s nice-guy persona masked something far more sinister. Once they were safely restrained — usually in a pair of handcuffs as he demonstrated a “trick” he learned as a clown — Gacy’s easy smile melted away, revealing a cold, growling predator who sexually assaulted his victims before strangling many of them with a knotted rope. He buried 29 of his 33 victims in trenches underneath and around his home and dumped four others from bridges once his property could hold no more bodies.

Yes: this is the guy that made us Gen-X kids fear clowns.

Concerts this weekend

It's been a busy week with lots of Händel.

Last Saturday the Apollo Chorus performed Messiah with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, which involved a 3-hour bus ride each way and enough downtime for a long game of Cards Against Humanity.

Monday we had a regular rehearsal. Tuesday some of us sang in a local retirement community's Messiah sing-along. Wednesday, caroling at Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. Thursday, dress rehearsal with orchestra. Today at 7pm and tomorrow at 2pm, full performances at Harris Theater. Wednesday, another rehearsal. Friday, finally, another Messiah performance, with some of us joining the choir at St Michael's Church in Old Town.

If you're in Chicago, should hear one of our performances.

A short history of the Republican party's corruption

Atlantic staff writer George Packer doesn't mean the self-dealing and ballot stuffing the GOP has turned into an art form; he means the fundamental detachment and nihilism of the party in its current form:

The corruption I mean has less to do with individual perfidy than institutional depravity. It isn’t an occasional failure to uphold norms, but a consistent repudiation of them. It isn’t about dirty money so much as the pursuit and abuse of power—power as an end in itself, justifying almost any means. Political corruption usually trails financial scandals in its wake—the foam is scummy with self-dealing—but it’s far more dangerous than graft. There are legal remedies for Duncan Hunter, a representative from California, who will stand trial next year for using campaign funds to pay for family luxuries. But there’s no obvious remedy for what the state legislatures of Wisconsin and Michigan, following the example of North Carolina in 2016, are now doing.

The corruption of the Republican Party in the Trump era seemed to set in with breathtaking speed. In fact, it took more than a half century to reach the point where faced with a choice between democracy and power, the party chose the latter. Its leaders don’t see a dilemma—democratic principles turn out to be disposable tools, sometimes useful, sometimes inconvenient. The higher cause is conservatism, but the highest is power. After Wisconsin Democrats swept statewide offices last month, Robin Vos, speaker of the assembly, explained why Republicans would have to get rid of the old rules: “We are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in.”

During the Gingrich years, I repeated that the GOP didn't want to govern, it wanted to rule. Its behavior since then has only confirmed that analysis. And it will take another 30 years to get them out of power—if we can.

University of Wisconsin kills liberal education

Wisconsin, founded in a tradition of liberalism, is shifting its world-class university away from actually educating students into giving them vocational training instead:

In March 2018, the school’s administration offered a proposal to deal with the deficit. Cuts were necessary, the administration said. Liberal-arts staples such as English, philosophy, political science, and history would have to be eliminated. All told, the university planned to get rid of 13 majors. Not enough students were enrolled in them to make them worth the cost, the university argued. “We’re facing some changing enrollment behaviors,” Greg Summers, the provost and vice chancellor at Stevens Point, told me. “And students are far more cost-conscious than they used to be.”

Instead, administrators wanted to focus the school’s limited resources on the academic areas that students were flocking to and that the state’s economy could use straightaway—though they maintained that the liberal arts more generally would remain central to the curriculum, even if these specific majors were gone. “We remain committed to ensuring every student who graduates from UW-Stevens Point is thoroughly grounded in the liberal arts, as well as prepared for a successful career path,” Bernie Patterson, the institution’s chancellor, said in a message to the campus. The changes would reflect “a national move among students towards career pathways,” administrators argued. The proposal planned to add majors in chemical engineering, computer-information systems, conservation-law enforcement, finance, fire science, graphic design, management, and marketing. By focusing more on fields that led directly to careers, the school could better provide what businesses wanted—and students, in theory, would have an easier time finding jobs and career success.

Fierce backlash to the proposal from students, faculty, and alumni pushed the administration to reconsider its original plan. By the time the final proposal was released in mid-November 2018, it was less expansive, though still forceful. Six programs would be cut, including the history major. The university seemed to be eyeing degree programs with low numbers of graduates, and nationally, the number of graduates from bachelor’s programs in history has had the steepest decline of any major in recent years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

If the proposal, which is now in the middle of a public-comment period, is finalized, history classes will still be offered, but Willis said that cutting the major may ultimately lead to a reduction of staff and upper-level courses, such as the spring seminar on the Holocaust and its major’s emphasis on race and ethnicity. To Willis, this isn’t just an educational loss, but a societal one as well. “You never know when a historical metaphor is going to arise,” he quipped, pointing to the recent incident in Baraboo, Wisconsin, where high-school students gestured the Nazi salute in a photo.

Here's a tip: liberal education, especially in areas like English and history, is job training. Anyone can write code; many people can manage; actually figuring out how to run a business is different.

It's yet another example of the Dunning-Kruger effect: you need a liberal education to understand how beneficial—how useful—it is. And people like Scott Walker don't have those tools.

This is always how it would happen

Given the American tradition of publicly saying one thing and privately doing the opposite, even staunchly-Republican businesses learn to behave as if climate change is real. After the company experienced higher-than-expected losses following California wildfires this year, Allstate's CEO put out a press release urging action on climate change:

In a release, CEO Tom Wilson minced no words on his views of the cause of the devastation, which resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds missing, as well as staggering property loss.

"It's time to address the impact that more severe weather is having on Americans instead of fighting about climate change," Wilson said. "This year there have been approximately 7,500 wildfires in California, Hurricanes Florence and Michael, and a swath of severe weather across the United States, putting our customers in danger and at risk of losing their homes and hard-earned money.”

The financial blow would have been significantly worse had Allstate not shrunk substantially in California. The company said it has cut its California homeowners policies by about half over the past decade.

The catastrophe losses, combined with $60 million in unanticipated pension costs that Allstate also reported last night, will have a dramatic effect on 2018 earnings. Sandler O’Neill & Partners today reduced its 2018 earnings estimate by 15 percent to $7.67 per share from $9.03 per share.

I've predicted this for two decades now, that insurance companies would always be the first to promote climate-change remediation and greenhouse-gas reductions, because they get hurt the most by climate change. Good on Tom Wilson; now maybe he can lobby some sense into the Republican Party.

You can stop laughing now. But eventually, we're going to get there. Just not with the current government.

The good and bad in Chicago this morning

Two good stories and a bad one.

First, a good story: Chicago now has more breweries than any other city in the US:

The metro region has surged past several longtime stalwarts to become home to more breweries than any other city in the nation — 167 — according to statistics published this week by the Brewers Association.

Behind it are the metro areas that for years Chicago beer drinkers could only envy: Denver (158), Seattle (153) and San Diego (150).

In fifth and sixth places are two other large cities whose brewing scenes have surged in recent years: Los Angeles (146) and New York (141).

Seems like I have some work to do over the next few months.

Now the bad story: Eddie Lampert can't save Sears. But we knew that:

If you believe Edward Lampert has finally figured out how to revive Sears, then you probably still believe in Santa Claus. The hedge fund mogul who oversaw the 125-year-old retailer’s long slide into bankruptcy is dangling the prospect of an 11th-hour buyout, casting his proposal as an altruistic effort to save the remaining 50,000 jobs at Sears.

My advice to those workers: Don’t expect a Christmas miracle.

First of all, there’s less to Lampert’s offer than initial appearances suggest. It’s been touted as a $4.6 billion bid to buy Sears out of bankruptcy, where it landed in October after losing $11 billion since 2011. But $1.8 billion of the offer would take the form of debt forgiveness by Lampert-affiliated entities, Sears’ largest lenders with about $2.6 billion in company debt. About $950 million would be cash, provided Lampert can find a lender willing to front the money. (As has been the pattern in recent years, Lampert isn’t putting more of his own cash into Sears.) Another $1 billion or so represents Sears liabilities to be assumed by a new company Lampert would form to acquire company assets including 500 stores, inventories, and the Kenmore and DieHard brands.

Oh, and Lampert also wants releases from claims related to his pre-bankruptcy transactions with Sears. Other creditors have commissioned an investigation into whether Lampert, Sears’ controlling shareholder since 2005 and CEO from 2013 until October’s Chapter 11 filing, gave himself favorable treatment in such deals as the spinoff of Lands End and the sale of Sears real estate to a newly formed company where he has a controlling stake.

And finally, another good story: the CTA will start modernizing the stretch of the El that goes by my neighborhood this fall, completing it just in time for the renovation of the Uptown Theater. Should all of this come together, it means I bought my apartment at exactly the right time:

The Red and Purple Line project will rebuild stations, bridges and track along a century-old corridor between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr avenues on the Red Line, the agency’s busiest line, CTA officials said. The construction also will include a controversial bypass that will take Brown Line trains above Red and Purple Line trains north of the busy Belmont station, CTA officials said.

Construction is expected to start in the fall of 2019, with the entire project to be completed in 2025, CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said.

Chase said that by the end of 2019, the CTA expects to start advance work to prepare for later phases of the project. This work will include building temporary stations to replace the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations, which will be rebuilt. The CTA also will do track work to prepare for further repairs. Exact timing for the work will depend on the contractor.

Chase said the bypass work will start in 2020. The agency will start building new stations from Lawrence to Bryn Mawr in about two or three years, she said.

That will make a huge difference in Uptown, where the 110-year-old El stations look like they're about to collapse on themselves.

Confidence

After lying to nearly everyone about how easy the UK leaving the EU would be, pro-Brexit members of the Conservative Party have forced a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Theresa May for negotiating a realistic deal with Brussels. She'll win; but as Conservative MP Simon Hart has said, "I think it’s a really strange time to be trying to depose somebody right at the final stages of the most complicated negotiations the country’s ever been involved with."

The Guardian has more:

Downing Street has dropped a heavy hint that Theresa May would not seek to lead her party into the next general election, even if she wins Wednesday night’s confidence vote.

As May embarked on a series of face-to-face meetings with her backbench colleagues in a bid to secure their backing, a spokesman said: “She does not believe that this vote, today, is about who leads the Conservative party into the next election – it is about whether it is sensible to change the leader at this point in the Brexit process.”

In a statement outside No 10 on Wednesday morning, May vowed to fight for her colleagues’ support “with everything I’ve got” – and warned that overthrowing her could hand the keys of Downing Street to Jeremy Corbyn.

“A change of leadership in the Conservative party now would put our country’s future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it,” she said. “A new leader wouldn’t be in place by the 21 January legal deadline, so a leadership election risks handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs in parliament.”

The next general election is not formally due until 2022, under the Fixed Term Parliament Act; but with MPs deadlocked over the best way forward for Brexit, the likelihood of a fresh general election is increasing.

That's one of the best things about the UK constitution, in my book: they can change governments any time they need to. That said, from my perch 6,000 km from Westminster I have even less confidence in Jeremy Corbyn than in May, which is sad because I generally support Labour over the Tories.

Someday we're going to have much more solid evidence of outside (read: Russian) interference in Western politics. Today, though, we have to deal with half the Tories and half of Labour living in alternate realities from each other and from the majority of Britons.

Gonna be a long two years

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had a, shall we say, energetic exchange with President Trump today. On camera:

Whoo boy.

In praise of B students

Research (and life experience) suggest strongly that kids who get straight As in school may not actually have the best preparation for real life:

The evidence is clear: Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence. Across industries, research shows that the correlation between grades and job performance is modest in the first year after college and trivial within a handful of years. For example, at Google, once employees are two or three years out of college, their grades have no bearing on their performance. (Of course, it must be said that if you got D’s, you probably didn’t end up at Google.)

In a classic 1962 study, a team of psychologists tracked down America’s most creative architects and compared them with their technically skilled but less original peers. One of the factors that distinguished the creative architects was a record of spiky grades. “In college our creative architects earned about a B average,” Donald MacKinnon wrote. “In work and courses which caught their interest they could turn in an A performance, but in courses that failed to strike their imagination, they were quite willing to do no work at all.” They paid attention to their curiosity and prioritized activities that they found intrinsically motivating — which ultimately served them well in their careers.

Straight-A students also miss out socially. More time studying in the library means less time to start lifelong friendships, join new clubs or volunteer. I know from experience. I didn’t meet my 4.0 goal; I graduated with a 3.78. (This is the first time I’ve shared my G.P.A. since applying to graduate school 16 years ago. Really, no one cares.) Looking back, I don’t wish my grades had been higher. If I could do it over again, I’d study less. The hours I wasted memorizing the inner workings of the eye would have been better spent trying out improv comedy and having more midnight conversations about the meaning of life.

I've known all of this since first grade, when I realized that getting straight As would require me to do hundreds of pointless math problems every night for six months. Around that time I encountered the Terrible Trivium in The Phantom Tollbooth and the pieces fell into place. (For the record, I do arithmetic on paper just fine—and I also have Microsoft Excel to do it for me.)