It’s BAAACK– algae on Lake Erie. So scary, Congress actually takes action

True color satellite image showing last year’s bloom in Lake Erie at its maximum intensity on September 29, 2014. Data from NASA’s Aqua satellite. (Credit: NASA).

I’m working this for Marketplace today (airing tomorrow morning). Here’s the pitch I sent:

Remember how nobody in Toledo could drink tap water last summer? Its threatening to happen again– toxic algae is blooming on Lake Erie, and it looks scary. People are stocking up on bottled water— andstores are setting limits on how much customers can buy.

Congress has actually voted to require the EPA to make some kind of plan to keep this from happening all the freaking time. (Which suggests that Congress finds this scarier than say, hitting the federal debt ceiling and allowing the economy to go off a cliff.)

So… What would an EPA plan look like? What’s causing the problem?

Multiple factors:

  1. Climate change. Algae like it warm.
  2. Agricultural runoff:  Algae like nitrogen and phosphorous– fertilizers. (Give climate change extra points here for creating bigger storms that push more fertilizer-laced water toward the lake.)
  3. Aging infrastructure: That’s your leaky septic tank, right there. Also good source of nitrogen and phosphorous.

So, yeah– no big.

Let’s dig into numbers 2 and 3.  What’s the price tag on fixing them– and who the heck would pay it? Farmers? Septic-tank owners? Consumers who eat agricultural products (i.e., all of us)? Taxpayers?

How about pop-up helmet kiosks for Divvy Bikes?

DivvyBikePicbyRobinAmer

Seven-year-old Maurice Neuman checks out one of Divvy’s new bikes. He and his father, Larry, rode to Daley Plaza from their South Loop home to check out the new station. (WBEZ/Robin Amer, via flickr Creative Commons)

I am loving Divvy Bikes, the city’s new bike-share system, and two things happen pretty much every day:

1. People ask me about the system when I’m checking out a bike or returning one. They like the idea, and when I explain the details, they like it even better.

2. I forget my helmet! I use my own bike to ride around the neighborhood at home, so my helmet lives in my garage, with the bike. When I’m headed out the door to catch a train, I don’t think to stop there.

Today, I took part of my lunch hour to ride a Divvy to a bike store near the Loop and bought one.

But if there had been a Divvy Ambassador (or anybody, really) at the train station– I take Metra to Ogilvie– ready to sell me one, I would have so appreciated it.

I can’t be the only person like this. There’s gotta be a bunch of us who are realizing that we need a second helmet, ready to bring downtown.

How about it? Maybe the Active Transportation Alliance can lend a hand? Or a local bike shop with plenty of inventory could partner up?

WBEZ Curious City Doughnut Crawl! August 9, 2013

It is ON.  Come and join us.

WHAT: We are investigating: What is the city’s best independent doughnut shop?

Rules: Inside the city limits. Doughnut shops only– no general-purpose bakeries. And we’re skipping a couple of also-rans on the North Side. Sorry.

WHEN: EARLY Friday morning. Starting at like 6.

WHERE:  South Side old-school joints (Old Fashioned, Dat Donut, Huck Finn), Near North new-school spot (Firecakes, Do-Rite, Glazed and Infused, Doughnut Vault), and possibly one roving truck (Beaver):

WHO:

* David Haynes, co-author of The Beat Cop’s Guide to Chicago Eats and a Chicago Police Lieutenant

* Natalie Moore, WBEZ’s South Side Bureau chief, a.k.a. public radio’s South Side Lois Lane. Because the South Side is where it’s at, doughnut-wise.

* Don Hall, WBEZ’s director of live events– one of the city’s top masters of ceremonies.

* Logan Jaffe, Curious City’s Multimedia Ninja.

* Me. Dan Weissmann, doughnut afficionado.

And you?  Come along, or follow us on Twitter.

How realistic can a robot be? (Too realistic. Beware the Uncanny Valley)

Dilbert’s Scott Adams got to this idea first, of course… but did he go for implementation? I don’t think so.

My to-do list for 2012:  Create invention. Change the world. Get rich.

The invention:  A robot that goes to meetings for you.

Changing the world:In addition to freeing up a crapload of time, this invention will prevent a ginormous number of needless conflicts.  (If you hadn’t been at the meeting , you wouldn’t have responded to your colleague’s idiotic comment, and we’d all be better off, right?)

Getting rich:  This part seems obvious, since everybody needs one.

So, job one:  Major R&D.  How convincing can this robot be?

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The Mirage: A fake tavern that exposed real corruption (ten bucks at a time)

In 1977, the Chicago Sun-Times bought and ran a bar.  For real.  Only for a few months, but it was enough to create one of the all-time great stories– and great achievements– in Chicago journalism.

Building inspector picks up his $15 bribe at the Mirage Tavern

Building inspector Burt Herrera picks up his $15 bribe at the Mirage Tavern (Photo by Jim Frost for the Chicago Sun-Times)

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The rest: Do not forward to your mom.

Photo by Convenience Store Gourmet via flickr

The other shows I saw in 2010-11 were a mixed bag.  Some I hated, but I enjoyed writing about all of them, so I’m posting them all here.

So, a caveat: If you found your way here because a Google Alert on your own name picked up this link– well, read at your own risk.  Out of anybody whose name appears on this page, the only person’s mother who should read any further is mine.

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Not bad either: More shows worth seeing

In addition to my top five shows from Chicago’s 2010-11 theater season, the following shows all had a lot to recommend them.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for the writers, performers, directors and designers who created these programs.  In no particular order:

Melissa Hawkins in "Exiles." Photo by Marianne Bach

Exiles, Theater Y
James Joyce’s only play predates the wild experimentation of Ulysses, but gets a hyper-stylized treatment in Theatre Y’s inventive, intense production. The story concerns a brooding writer who jerks around his devoted common-law wife. By halfway encouraging her to return the romantic advances of his own childhood buddy, he sets up a manipulative, tragically un-passable test of her loyalty. Director Kevin Smith spotlights the play’s oppressive sexual politics: The female characters are done up like drag queens, their suppressed emotions bursting out in spasms, shouting fits, and–at the end of each act–explosive lip-sync numbers. Joyce’s script has some plodding passages, but the ensemble’s commitment, vision, and precision fire up many startling, haunting moments.

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Delicious! A Season’s Highlights

Anthony Kayer in "Arnie The Doughnut." Photo by Suzanne Plunkett

I’ve been reviewing theater for the Chicago Reader since last summer, and this seems like as good a time as any to look back on some favorites.  Keep in mind, I’ve only seen a small fraction of what’s out there– the Reader’s got a small army of us– so there’s a lot of good stuff that I’ve missed.

In no particular order, here are the five that I’m most psyched to have seen– the ones I walked out of, thinking, “Damn!  That was unusually awesome. I’m sure glad I’m alive.”

Arnie the Doughnut, Lifeline Theater
On the morning he’s born, chocolate-covered Arnie gamely resolves to find his life’s purpose. Discovering the shocking truth when his owner attempts to take a bite, Arnie makes his objections heard. Frances Limoncelli’s adaptation retains the absurdist zing of the 2003 children’s book by Laurie Keller while freely adding complementary ingredients, including zippy songs by George Howe and a Kafkaesque subplot involving a totalitarian condo-board president. Brandon Paul Eells brings not only sweetness but wit to the title role–this doughnut is a naive goofball, but nobody’s fool–and makes Arnie’s terror and disillusionment truly affecting. The entire cast provide spirit, charm, and jazzy harmonies under Elise Kauzlaric’s capable direction. The show is a delight–delicious and substantial, even without a kid tagging along. Continue reading

The MCC: Chicago’s (99% Invisible) Jailhouse Skyscraper

The Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, is a federal jail in the middle of downtown Chicago.  When the brilliant Roman Mars invited me to collaborate on a Chicago-architecture episode of his world-rocking show about design, 99 Percent Invisible, this was the building I wanted to feature.  (I’ll explain why below, but first, have a look.)

The Metropolitan Correctional Center

First, did I mention that it’s a jail in the middle of downtown Chicago?

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Woyzeck, reimagined. Twice.


Published in the Chicago Reader, April 28 2011

Avant-gardists have always been drawn to Woyzeck, and it’s easy to see why. For one thing, it was unfinished when its German author, Georg Büchner, died young of typhus in 1837. Some scenes look like fragments, some may’ve been rejects, and there’s no clear indication of their order, so an experimenter has plenty of room to mess around.

It’s also as dark as can be. Based on a sensational crime of the period,Woyzeck follows the unraveling of a soldier who, driven crazy by poverty and powerlessness, kills the mother of his infant child. The piece is full of biting social satire—with blackly comic, over-the-top scenes of powerful assholes abusing the hapless antihero—and constitutes a blueprint for pretty much all of Bertolt Brecht, parts of Waiting for Godot, and Monty Python at its nastiest.

This spring, six Chicago theaters and an opera company have banded together to present the Woyzeck Project, a festival anchored by two shows running now at the Chopin Theatre: About Face Theatre’s premiere production of Pony by Sylvan Oswald, which tosses a few Büchnerian elements into a contemporary story about transgender identity, andWoyzeck itself, as adapted and directed by Sean Graney for the Hypocrites. In addition to sharing a venue and a starting point, the two productions employ the same set, sound, lighting, and prop designers. Continue reading