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Bracingly, bitterly windy

Mié, 07/01/2015 - 18:07

WHEN your correspondent moved to Chicago at the end of October, her friends gave her a thermal blanket, her godmother two pairs of gloves (one for cold and one for even colder weather) and her mother sent her to The North Face, a retailer, to get the warmest winter boots they make. “Is it very cold?” they asked every time they called the newly arrived Chicagoan. “Do you have the right kit?” For all of December I laughed about their well-meaning concern. “Piece of cake, it’s like London, only sunnier and windier.” I wasn’t sure what the fuss was all about.

This changed with the onset of the first real snow—and the first real cold of the winter this week. Temperatures started to plunge in the evening of January 4th—and have gone down ever since. On January 6th residents of the greater Chicago area woke up to between two and five inches of snow, a pretty sight, best enjoyed in a warm room with a cup of cocoa in hand. By then the temperature had gone down to minus 12 degrees Celsius (10 Fahrenheit), which felt much colder thanks to the ever present wind. Today temperatures are forecast to go down...Continue reading

Just like Airbnb

Mar, 06/01/2015 - 20:34

IN A hospital emergency room, patients with the most urgent problems are usually treated first. It makes little sense to mend a broken finger if someone is waiting with a heart attack. Yet this one-size-fits-all approach has long informed the way the country handles homelessness. Housing subsidies and assorted services are often doled out on a first come-first served basis, regardless of need. With wait times measured in years, and little co-ordination between agencies, the homeless who are best served tend to be the easiest to treat, as they are the most capable of navigating—and tolerating—a Byzantine bureaucracy. The most critical cases often end up slipping between the cracks. 

Cities can save a lot of money if they swiftly place these needy cases in supportive permanent housing—a plan known as Housing First—while offering fewer services to those...Continue reading

Home of the unbrave

Lun, 05/01/2015 - 23:30

THE ominously named "Winter Storm Gorgon" is set to dump scads of the white stuff across a broad swathe of America, from the Rockies to the Poconos. Law-abiding families mustn't rush to break out the toboggans, however, for there is a trend afoot to outlaw sledding

[F]aced with the potential bill from sledding injuries, some cities have opted to close hills rather than risk large liability claims.

No one tracks how many cities have banned or limited sledding, but the list grows every year. One of the latest is in Dubuque, Iowa, where the City Council is moving ahead with a plan to ban sledding in all but two of its 50 parks.

"We have all kinds of parks that have hills on them," said Marie Ware, Dubuque's leisure services manager. "We can't manage the risk at all of those places."

Other wholesome locales, such as Des Moines, Iowa and Lincoln, Nebraska have also restricted sledding to certain hills posted with sled-at-your-own-risk warnings. This crackdown on unregulated sledding seems of a piece...Continue reading

Hamlet on the Hudson

Sáb, 03/01/2015 - 22:54

DAYS before Christmas in 1991, a private plane at Albany’s airport stood ready to take off at a moment’s notice to carry Mario Cuomo, then New York’s governor, to New Hampshire to meet the filing deadline to run in the presidential primary. At the time there were already six Democratic candidates ready to take on George Bush senior, the Republican incumbent, but no one stood out—not even Bill Clinton, the eventual President. Many Democrats were hoping Mr Cuomo would step up to the plate. He had impressed the nation with his spell-binding keynote speech during the Democratic National Convention in 1984, when he described the country as a tale of two cities, a rich one and a poor one filled with mounting despair. The Democratic candidate that year, Walter Mondale, went on to lose every state, bar his home-state of Minnesota, to Ronald Regan; many on the left wondered aloud if they had backed the wrong Democrat. Liberals urged Mr Cuomo to run in 1988, to little avail. Surely he would run in 1992, and put an end to his party’s losing streak.

But that aeroplane never did take off. Instead, Mr Cuomo stayed in New York to battle the state...Continue reading

Baby talk

Mié, 31/12/2014 - 04:09

A NORTH CAROLINA law enacted in 2011 requires every woman seeking an abortion to submit, between four and 72 hours before the procedure, to an ultrasound of her developing foetus. The Woman’s Right to Know Act (which, in less Orwellian terms, might be called the North Carolina Right to Harangue Act) relies on a 1992 Supreme Court decision upholding an "informed consent” rule whereby doctors were required to offer patients a state-issued pamphlet describing the risks of abortion procedures. North Carolina ups the ante considerably with its recent law, adding a so-called “Display of Real-Time View Requirement.” In the words of a judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued a ruling against the law on December 22nd, this requirement

obligates doctors (or technicians) to...display the sonogram so that the woman can see it and describe the foetus in detail, “includ[ing] the presence, location, and dimensions of the unborn child within...Continue reading

Good lord, don't shoot

Lun, 29/12/2014 - 18:26

MASS on Christmas evening at St Sabina, a Catholic church in Auburn Gresham, a largely African-American neighbourhood on the south side of Chicago, is a three-hour extravaganza. There's a soul and rock band, floating dancers dressed in white, a cartwheeling redeemer dressed in glittery pink, and a tableau vivant of young black men with placards around their necks bearing the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown (two black men killed by police in 2014) and Trayvon Martin (a black teen killed by a vigilante in 2012). In “A Mother’s Cry to God”, a woman bewails the fate of black Americans in a 20-minute monologue about the police, poverty, unemployment, the lack of adequate health care and foreclosures, all of it interspersed with cries of “I can’t breathe!”, Eric Garner’s dying words.

This performance is the warm-up act for the sermon of Father Michael Pfleger, an outspoken anti-gun activist who has been at St Sabina, one of Chicago’s poorest and most-rundown neighbourhoods, for 33 years. (Outside of the church is a Christmas tree decorated with pictures of children killed by guns.) “Invade!” shouts Father Michael...Continue reading

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