Thursday, August 28, 2014

The links between Islamic State and Chicago (so far)


For a group based in Syria and Iraq, ISIS/Islamic State has been popping up the local media lately...

ISIS recruitment tool features Chicago Skyline
The producer of ISIS videos also distributes a magazine named Azan, a call to jihad. It is similar to an al Qaeda magazine published in the years after 9/11.

As the I-Team was working through pages of Azan's latest summer issue, we found a photo of the Chicago skyline, looking west across Michigan Avenue and the South Loop.

It sets up an article about judgment day: "Muslims under attack... and stated that attacking us interests has worked and needs to continue for the foreseeable future... a ruling to kill the Americans and their allies-civilians and military - is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country... a man with a rocket propelled grenade, fulfilling the duty of jihad and responding to the call of the lord."
The issue of Azan with the skyline picture in question
The world we live in is quite a uni-polar world with America at the axis, and with Europe and the majority of the states of the world content to be under its flag. They may have their differences of opinion here and there, but all of them are united in their enmity against “terrorism” and the absolute rejection of Islam as the absolute truth and a political power.
Man With ISIS Flag Threatens Chicago Cop With Bomb: Police
A man with the flag of Iraqi militant group ISIS waving from his car threatening to bomb police when he was pulled over on Chicago's Southwest Side on Wednesday morning, police say.

Emad Karakrah, 49, faces felony charges of disorderly conduct and aggravated fleeing, and a misdemeanor count of driving on a never-issued
Chicago Native Killed Fighting For ISIS
Family members and friends in Chicago told NBC 5 that they had no idea McCain had joined the ranks of ISIS and gone to Syria to fight. 
McCain moved to Minneapolis with his family for high school and had most recently been living in San Diego, California. 
His family said he loved music and wanted to be a rapper, and several years ago changed his name and converted from Christianity to Islam.
‘We are in your streets’: Chicago gets chilling Islamic State terror tweet
The location of the tweet was 307 N. Michigan Avenue at the city’s Old Republic Building, Chicago’s WGN network reported Friday. The tweet, dated June 20, allegedly says, “Soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria will pass from here soon,” the station reported.
Further coverage:
Slain journalist James Foley studied his craft in the Chicago area, earning a master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. For a time he was a teacher in the Cook County Jail boot camp program. He was familiar with the streets of Chicago. So, apparently, is the Islamic State that beheaded him.
"Many terror organizations refer to Chicago as Obama Town," according to CBS Chicago security expert Ross Rice, a former FBI agent assigned to the Windy City. Islamists remember that Osama bin Laden was killed on Obama's watch as drone strikes disrupted and decapitated their terrorist networks, he notes.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Islamists take airports in Syria, Libya

In spite of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and calls for Assad to turn his attention away from fighting the Syrian moderate opposition, Islamic State forces took over a Syrian military airport.

Meanwhile, Libyan Islamist militias have taken over the Tripoli airport amid the country's own internal power vacuum chaos.

The separatist shuffle hits Europe and China

While Islamic State and Eastern Ukraine have dominated the news cycle, Fortune points out the parts of Europe on the verge of secession.
Many in Europe fear that Scotland’s independence fervor could ripple across the continent, where a number of separatist campaigns have simmered for years. The hotspots range from the mountainous Basque region at the border of Spain and France to the Mediterranean island of Corsica to the lowlands of Belgium, where many in the Flemish majority want to say tot ziens to their French-speaking countrymen. Some of these movements have a history of violence; several more seem merely rhetorical—and, well, quixotic (independent Venice?).
Separatism, as it turns out, is a crime in China -- particularly if you're a Uiguhr scholar.
Although the Chinese Constitution provides the nation’s 10 million Uighurs with a large degree of autonomy, the vast Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, as it is called, is tightly controlled by ethnic Han officials who are appointed by the central government in Beijing. Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people, have grown increasingly unhappy with policies that they say restrict religious practices while favoring Mandarin over the Uighur language in schools and government jobs.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Iraq, Turkey, and Thailand: fighting parallel states with new prime ministers

As the world waits to see if new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi can keep his country together, other newly elected PMs will soon flex their muscles for domestic control.

Thailand's army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has been voted into the position, just three months after he led a coup.
Political analysts say the army is now likely to devise a more-limited form of democracy before allowing elections, which Gen. Prayuth has slated for the end of 2015. In this sense, this latest coup differs from the 2006 putsch, when the army quickly handed power back to a civilian administration. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a professor at Japan's Kyoto University and a critic of the May coup, argues that the army's goal now is "to ensure that Thaksin's proxies will not be returning to politics again."
Meanwhile, Turkish president-elect (and former PM) Tayyip Erdogan has nominated Foreign Minister (and fellow AKP member) Ahmet Davutoglu to take his place:
Erdogan vowed to back Davutoglu in fighting the "parallel state" he blames for plotting against him with a corruption scandal earlier this year, and in advancing a peace process with the country's Kurdish minority.
Incidentally, former Irish PM Albert Reynolds has passed away.
The high point of his political career came in 1993 when, as prime minister, he signed the Downing Street Declaration in London with his British counterpart, John Major, paving the way for an Irish Republican Army cease-fire the next year and a Loyalist cease-fire shortly afterward.

To those who considered the obstacles insurmountable after centuries of fighting, Mr. Reynolds said, “I don’t mind if others think I’ll fail, when I believe the greatest prize of all, peace, is still achievable.”
Perhaps Al-Abadi could learn a thing or two.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Go watch this #ferguson live feed right now

Via Vice News and YouTube:

The blue-green toxic algae blues


Since the recent toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie...

Local politicians have called for action:
What ended up on Governor Kasich's desk was a bill that represented input from all interested parties, from boat owners to the Ohio Environmental Council, from the aforementioned departments to the Ohio Farm Bureau. The educational initiatives and requirements in S.B. 150 will go a long way toward making our agricultural community even more knowledgeable about best practices in the use of fertilizer.

Also this year, a $10 million program called the Healthy Lake Erie Initiative provides, for the first time ever, state funds through the capital budget to support initiatives that will improve the environmental and economic health of the Lake Erie region. Working with the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and the Ohio Environmental Council, this new capital fund is viewed as part of a series of long-term strategies to help clean up the lake.
Politicians representing other Great Lakes cities have called for action:
State officials said they know of no immediate drinking water threats from algae anywhere in Kentucky. And officials with the Louisville Water Co. — which provides water to about 850,000 people in Louisville and parts of Bullitt, Nelson, Oldham, Shelby and Spencer counties — said they do not have any issues with toxic algae.

But state officials said they want all Kentucky drinking water providers to be ready to handle algae problems, and that is why they are taking a closer look at Kentucky's drinking water systems.
...including our very own Rahm:
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday called on Great Lakes mayors to come together for a summit, likely in the fall, to develop a strategy to clean up the Great Lakes in the wake of the Toledo water crisis. “Access to clean drinking water is something that all residents expect when they turn on the tap,” said Emanuel. “By convening the leaders of the municipalities that depend on this fresh water supply, we can most effectively discuss the strategies necessary to protect this vital water source for years to come.”
Toledo-area factory farms face regulation over runoff:
The chain between factory farms and contaminated drinking water is a long one. It starts with confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where animals are kept in close quarters in order to maximize production. This generates a huge volume of waste, which is stored in massive lagoons like the one seen above. That waste isn’t treated, however, and when those lagoons overflow or contaminate groundwater, the result is a release of waste filled with a variety of potentially infectious organisms — and nutrients that algae and plants love to feed on.

This causes a phenomenon known as nutrient pollution (another culprit for nutrient pollution is fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture), where waterways become choked by organisms that are growing out of control because they’re getting far more nutritional support than they usually do. They can out-compete native species and totally change aquatic environments. And they can cause drinking water contamination, which leads to large-scale no-drink orders like the one that just happened in Toledo.
The Land of Lakes has entered algae season:
"A lot of the lakes are turning green this year where they didn't last year," said Gerry Maciej, Benton Soil and Water Conservation District manager.

In June, a dog's death after swimming in Prairie Lake near Clear Lake prompted warnings about blue-green algae.
...along with their neighbors to the north:
Blue-green algae has been reported in Lake Winnipeg and Dauphin Lake in Manitoba, prompting advisories from conservation authorities.

Officials say the algae levels are above the recreational water quality guideline but the toxins are below them.

According to health experts, ingesting water containing blue-green algae can be fatal to some animals and can cause serious illness in humans.
Scientists even discovered how algae caused mass extinction 252 million years ago:
In the atmosphere, the volcanic gases mixed with water to form acid rain, which decimated forests and left the soil with no roots to keep it in place. Intensified weathering then washed this soil, along with extra nutrients, into the ocean. The additional nutrients in the water encouraged the growth of algae, which increased the amount of organic matter that sank into the ocean depths. The decay process of this organic matter consumed oxygen, and depleted the oxygen faster than it could be replenished.
Yet would-be entrepreneurs are plowing ahead with algae biofuel dreams:
Although algae grow prodigiously and contain potentially useful molecules — especially lipids, which can be turned into high-energy fuel and other products — extracting those molecules has proved complicated and expensive. So far, virtually the only marketable products based on algae have been high-end skin creams.

But a Nevada company, Algae Systems, has a pilot plant in Alabama that, it says, can turn a profit making diesel fuel from algae by simultaneously performing three other tasks: making clean water from municipal sewage (which it uses to fertilize the algae), using the carbon-heavy residue as fertilizer and generating valuable credits for advanced biofuels.

If it works, the company says, the process will remove more carbon from the atmosphere than is added when the fuel is burned.
Stay thirsty, my friends.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why didn't Chicago make the Forbes 2014 "America's Coolest Cities" rankings? Segregation, population loss, and a flawed model.


Last week, Forbes released its 2014 list of the "Coolest Cities" in the United States.

Washington D.C. came out on top. L.A. tied with San Jose. Chicago came up short.


Some accused Forbes of clickbait trolling. But that explanation is too easy.

If you look closer, Forbes spelled out the statistical criteria they were using based on data provided by three of the savviest cultural tastemakers around: Sperling's BestPlaces, Moody's Analytics, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So let's break this "hip urban center" formula down in their own words:
We considered entertainment and recreational amenities as well as each city's "foodie" culture.
I'm not gonna delve into the Yelp database to add up total numbers of entertainment hotspots for 20+ cities.

Forbes' "foodie" culture ranking, on the other hand, is easier to analyze:
With the help of Sperling’s we also included a “foodie” factor, based on the number of restaurants and bars per capita. We gave preference to cities with a greater percentage of local spots–chain establishments like TGI Fridays tend to be less exciting than home-grown bistros. The “foodie” measure also factors in the number of farmer’s markets, breweries and CSAs per capita.
The problem here is that Forbes is ranking based on percentage rather than total number.

For example, X number of craft breweries in a city population greater than 2.7 million (like Chicago) has a smaller skew than X number in a city less than 1 million (like the majority of the Forbes Top 20).

It's not like there's a dearth of local restaurants, farmer's markets, breweries, and CSAs in Chicago. Plus, by these criteria alone, Portland should have been number one (let alone in the top 20 to begin with).

But this isn't the only place where favoring percentage over total population skews the data:
And we factored in age, drawing on U.S. Census Bureau data and favoring places with a large population of people aged 20-34.
There are two flawed assumptions with this statistic:

1. That the population percentage matters more than the total population of that age group. Though the Forbes data is from 2014, as of 2009, the majority of the cities listed were under 1 million people:


2. That the 20-34 age bracket within each city is both monolithic and interchangeable across other cities.

What this "millennial" factor doesn't account for is racial/ethnic identity, primary language spoken at home, income level, education level, occupation, or marital status. These all shape someone's likely consumer habits, as the specific interests of the "average" San Francisco 28-year-old aren't going to be the same as the "average" San Antonio 28-year-old.

This "specific interests" factor matters because much of what's "cool" is in the details, particularly when it comes to the ones Forbes is measuring, such as the comparatively-expensive "foodie" food and "craft" alcohol. Hell, theater and art ain't cheap, either.

Not all young people are on board with these trends (certainly not in Chicago). Thus, ranking percentage/concentration of young people and presuming that it fully correlates with a percentage concentration of a city's measurable cultural amenities gives a different picture of "cool" than measuring some sort of range of "cool vs. not cool" consumer habits among a city's total population of young people.

(nevermind if that's even possible)

Forbes' failure to account for demographic divides within the 20-34 age bracket is curious given another major factor in their "cool" scale.
Using Sperling's Diversity Index, which measures the likelihood of meeting someone of a different race or ethnicity, favoring cities with greater diversity.
This is an interesting variable choice. Forbes' explanation?
We think cities with a cultural mix are more interesting in terms of restaurants, shops, and events–as well as simply providing the opportunity to get to know someone whose perspectives may diverge from your own.
While I personally agree, the history of cultural cool is a bit more complicated than that.

The very notion of "cool" or "hip" as argued in John Leland's Hip: The History can more or less be summed up by this decade-old New York Times review as: outgrowth of the process whereby Europeans and Africans built a new country side by side, inventing identities as Americans "in each other's orbit." That they did so as social unequals is what made things interesting -- blacks developed their own insular customs and code-speak, which were appropriated, if not totally understood, by curious whites, whose own customs were copied by aspirational blacks, whose artistic flowering during the Harlem Renaissance enthralled white bohemians, and so on and so forth, creating a "feedback loop of hip" (Leland's words) that has engendered all manner of mutant hipster poses, from Dizzy Gillespie's French-existentialist specs-and-beret get-up to Lou Reed's quasi-ironic proclamation ''I wanna be black."
Chicago is still one of the most segregated cities in America, and countless books and articles can attest to the city's longstanding commitment to ethnic and racial segregation. So by Forbes' measurement here, Chicago's missing presence in the Top 20 totally makes sense.

Paradoxically, Chicago's segregation played a crucial role in a number of culturally-recognized benchmarks of "cool" ranging from the Blues to modern comedy.

The most recent examples of this may be the rise in popularity over the last few years in Drill and Footwork. Both subgenres incubated in predominately black Chicago neighborhoods, and eventually, names like Chief Keef and DJ Rashad (RIP) spread to international recognition...with a little help from predominately white music writers and music nerds, of course.

But there's one more Forbes variable to take into account that drives the nail into Chicago's "cool" coffin:
Finally, with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Moody’s Analytics, we ranked the cities based on population growth since 2000, as well as on how much of their recent growth was due to net migration, since cities with greater influxes of new people tend to be more desirable.
As Chicago lost 6.9% of its population between 2000 and 2010 (the lowest since 1910), and the greater Cook County lost 13,000 residents making six-figure salaries, its easy to see why the city's ranking would've plummeted here.

So now that we've broken down the basics of the Forbes model, does it mean anything? No and yes.

To a certain extent, what Forbes really measured with their "coolest" American city criteria are economically-thriving cities that have the highest concentration of novel experiences to consume.

Chicago may be in rough financial shape as a whole (and definitely in large swaths). But in terms of artistic expression, it probably has the 3rd greatest number of things to see and do on any given night in America compared to New York and L.A., and that output is far cheaper to access here than those cities.

Broadly speaking, calling something "cool" more or less operates on a "know it when you see it" working definition, even when trying to disambiguate the meaning beyond temperature (even Forbes acknowledges this).

I'm sure the "what is cool?" debate will continue for decades to come, regardless of what I have to say about it.

But if there's one thing we can all agree on, Moody's Analytics will never be cool.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What do Reagan, True Detective, and Ashton Kutcher have in common? Plagiarism controversies.


The eternal debate over prose authorship and proper attribution is all over the news:
  • Author Rick Perlstein has been sued for alleged plagiarization in his new Reagan bio.
(He heavily-referenced my Ventra article in The Nation last December to the point where I'm not sure he could/would have written that particular post without my prior compilation of most of the examples he used)
  • Montana Senator John Walsh has dropped out of his election race for plagiarizing his Army War College masters degree final paper.
  • Students using the Roget's Thesaurus app to change synonyms in plagiarized papers yield amusing results like "sinister buttocks" in place of "left behind".
  • True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto has denied allegations that he stole lines of the show's iconic dialogue from author Thomas Ligotti.
  • Buzzfeed defended (then fired) political editor Benny Johnson after 41 documented instances of plagiarism.
  • Ashton Kutcher's viral content website, A+, in turn, has been caught plagiarizing content from Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, among others.
(fittingly, Huffington Post once lifted part of one of my articles)
Look, content creation is at a salary race-to-the-bottom and sparking uncomfortable questions of what it ought to be worth.

Which is why any and every allegation of stealing from other writers is worth a listen.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

3 articles that explain 45 maps that explain the "Middle East"


Earlier this week, I toyed around with making a Google Maps display of the recent events across Iraq.

Good thing I didn't, because the smart parts of internet are tossing them around like Frisbees. 

First up, there's Vox
The conflict has roots in Iraq's complicated history, its religious and ethnic divisions, and of course in the Iraq War that began with the 2003 US-led invasion. These 27 maps are a rough guide to today's crisis and the deeper forces behind it.
Then there's The Atlantic's wry take on "explainer" articles, complete with plenty of yesteryear "what-if" scenarios. 
But for all these maps don’t show, they do illustrate one thing: the sobering fact that no one map—or even set of maps—can ever explain the region’s complex history and politics.
Finally, the incomparable GeoCurrents -- who has been writing about the Yedizis long before the ISIS genocide crisis -- weighs in:
Abandoning the idea of the intrinsic unity of a country such as Iraq or Somalia by acknowledging instead the reality of Iraqi Kurdistan or Somaliland, such reasoning has it, would potentially destabilize the global world order. It would do so by encouraging other disgruntled ethnic, religious, or regional groups to seek their own independence, thus fostering secession, rebellion, and warfare. This argument, however, fails from the onset by assuming a degree of international stability that simply does not exist. [emphasis mine]
Real or imagined, all maps tell stories rooted in what is, what was, and what could've been.

Where the Middle East goes from here is anyone's guess...or their stroke of a pen.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ari-palooza: how much is Rahm's brother making off Lolla?

[via WBEZ]

The link between Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel's brother, Ari, and Lollapalooza --- as well as their insider sweetheart deals with the city --- have been well-documented in the past.

But to my knowledge, no one has asked how much the infamous entertainment mogul actually rakes from the festival, now having passed its 10th anniversary in its Chicago incarnation.

As the co-CEO of of William Morris Endeavor, Ari's agency had at least 25 clients (by my count) on the 133-act Lollapalooza bill this year:

Calvin Harris
Iggy Azalea
Foster the People
Sebastian Ingrosso
Broken Bells
Fitz and the Tantrums
J. Roddy Walston & The Business
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
The Airborne Toxic Event
The Temper Trap
Royal Blood
Meg Myers
Bebe Rexha
Jon Batiste and Stay Human
Fly Golden Eagle
Crass Mamoth
Parquet Courts
(and there are probably more)

WME also co-operates the festival each year with C3 Presents, which sounds ripe for a conflict of interest in-of-itself, given that WME artists at Lollapalooza are effectively signing performance contracts with a WME festival brand.

But to even buy a ticket, concertgoers likely had to go through Ticketmaster/Live Nation, which Ari also sits on the board of.

So he's getting a cut from the Ticketmaster/Live Nation concert revenue itself, part of the WME percentages from each of his clients (who are getting probably paid anywhere from four to seven figures, depending on size of the act), plus a cut of whatever revenue gets generated from selling official Lolla merch and from the festival's various vendors.

Oh, and don't forget the prominent official promotion of Uber rides to and from Grant Park - which just so happened to co-sponsor the festival (and WME just so happened to invest in).

WME even represents several entertainment publications, such as PitchforkVice, and The Onion, that have posted a barrage of pre- and post-Lollapalooza content. This sort of mass coverage ensures its sustained cultural relevance to key target demographics of music fans for years to come, without any disclosure from these outlets that their business partner has a financial stake in how Lollapalooza is portrayed.

(to be fair, these outlets have been covering the less-than-flattering allegations that Lolla security assaulted Blood Orange mastermind Dev Hynes and his girlfriend).

In addition, Ari also sits on the board of investment bank Raine, which invests in Vice Media (one consequence of which I have written about here and here).

Worth noting from the Raine front page under the "Media & Entertainment" bullet point:
Live entertainment remains a valuable monetization engine and the sector has traditionally done little to monetize its online and social networking capabilities. These trends present significant opportunities for our firm.
So guess who bought an ad agency last year?
The tie-up with WME opens up to Droga5 an impressive network – global event promotion powerhouse Live Nation (Emanuel serves on Live Nation’s board of directors), venture capital firm Silver Lake (who via their investment in WME are now investors in Droga5), social media company theAudience, Vice Media (WME is involved via its Raine investment fund) and a huge pool of A-list talent – including the likes of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, Adele, Michael Bay and Quentin Tarantino. Not a bad list of people to have in your contacts file.
And guess who's expanding their festival portfolio?
Much of WME’s activity will be with Premier Global Production under the well-established Country Thunder brand, with Country Thunder events in Florence, Ariz., Twin Lakes, Wis., along with Texas Thunder in Midland, Texas, and the Craven (Sask.) Country Jamboree. WME is also partnering in the Willamette Country Music Festival in Brownsville, Ore., and the Cape Blanco Country Music Festival in Sixes, Ore., both sponsored by Bi-Mart.

“WME is looking for great opportunities to expand into other businesses, and forming a strategic alliance with festivals is a good business practice we want to continue to do,” Rob Beckham, co-head of WME’s Nashville office, tells Beckham declined to discuss financial details, but it is believed that WME has invested financially in the PGP brands, and purchased the Oregon festivals outright.
Not bad for the son of a former Chicago rock club owner.

But not exactly good for current Chicago club owners:
A part of every band's contract that reportedly bars festival performers from playing within 300 miles of Chicago for six months before the festival and three months after it. For the geographically disinclined, that's an area that stretches as far as Detroit, Milwaukee, Madison, St. Louis, Iowa City and Indianapolis. It's a clause that gives them a near-dictatorial control over music in America's midwest.
So will this vertically-integrated gravy train even last in coming years?
According to Billboard estimates, gross ticket revenue for festivals in the United States increased nearly 50 percent over the last five years. The reason: more festivals launched in the U.S. over the past five years than over the last 30 , crowding the market with competition for the ever-shrinking pool of marquee-name headliners. So promoters are being forced to come up with new ways to drive sales, or to create a unique identity, which may not necessarily rely on just the music.
With Lollapalooza's expansion into Europe, South America, and possibly Canada and Israel, the snowballing festival juggernaut is poised to take a hefty chunk of the market...and make a hefty chunk of change for the real-life Ari Gold.

At this point, he might as well just pick up a MacBook and pay himself to press play.

Friday, August 1, 2014

I was walking down the street one day...

In light of recent events, this debut album seems like an appropriate soundtrack to the weekend.

Stay tuned for further developments.

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