The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Über alles

What could possibly go wrong with inviting every Über driver in Chicago to one party?

Monday evening, John Morrison saw a convoy of cars with Uber stickers taking over Lake Shore Drive near Hyde Park, all headed to the same place as him: the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Chicago resident had been invited there by a friend who drove for the ride share company, which was hosting an appreciation party for employees at the museum at 6:30 p.m.

But before Morrison could even get near, he had to fight a free-for-all of traffic in the eastern part of Hyde Park. The worst of it was at the 57th Street and Cornell Drive merge, where Morrison said cars were going the wrong way and ended up facing other cars bumper to bumper. A bus drove north in the southbound lanes to bypass the traffic. Police cars scaled sidewalks as officers tried to direct frustrated drivers.

Things didn’t get much better once he made it inside the museum, almost an hour after hitting the congestion on Lake Shore Drive near the 53rd Street exit, he said. Morrison said the museum was “jampacked to the gills” and that caterers and museum employees appeared overwhelmed by the mobs of people heading toward the dinner buffet.

After the event, Morrison Tweeted: "A massive traffic jam filled entirely with @Uber drivers trying to get into a overfilled parking garage to get free stuff is the embodiment of the late-stage capitalist nightmare that is Uber." Yes. And entirely predictable—except, and no surprise here, to Über management.

The mechanical voids that make billionaires' erections bigger

Developers have learned to game New York City's zoning laws to construct buildings far larger than the plain meaning of those laws should allow:

Now, in a Second Gilded Age with magnates looking to park their millions in Manhattan real estate, developers stop at little to deliver the high-status goods, which these days are calculated in height and views.

As a result, New York is facing the “mechanical void” problem. It may sound like an embarrassing medical condition, but the voids are actually just air above floors occupied by equipment (mainly heating, ventilating, and cooling systems). That air becomes extraordinarily valuable when it can boost apartments higher above view-blocking neighbors. Raising the ceiling of mechanical spaces (which usually need only 10- to 15-foot ceilings) to as high as 350 feet becomes not absurd but savvy.

New York City does not generally limit building heights, but instead controls bulk and density by what’s called the floor area ratio (FAR). This means that a residential developer can build nine times the square feet of the lot area in an R-9 district. Depending on how the building bulk is arranged, the usual result is a building of about 15 stories.

Ridiculously tall mechanical spaces, which are not counted toward FAR, are not the only abusive (though ostensibly legal) tactic developers use to push buildings to ever greater heights.

If you think this through, however, these developments still go through the zoning board. So yes, the legal interpretations twist the law into painful shapes for the sake of bragging rights, but also a city agency lets them do it.

This reminds me of one of Chicago's ugliest buildings, at 2314 N. Lincoln Park West, which juts out from the rest of the buildings on the block (some of them historic) and looks like someone measured wrong. I haven't confirmed this, but I think the error was measured in thousands of dollars, and involved an alderman or two.

Farmers just starting to plant in water-logged Illinois

Climate change has arrived with a splash in Illinois. Unusual rainfall combined with bad timing on this past winter's freeze-thaw cycle means we may not have much of a soybean crop this year:

The soggy conditions will likely delay planting, again. Dillon, the Machesney Park resident, lives across the river from a plot of farmland he said has been barren for the last five years due to persistent flooding.

"You used to be able to raise corn in that field," Dillon said. "In the last five years, I don’t know if he’s had a crop in there or not. It’s always flooded. It’s too wet to plant, too wet to harvest."

The torrential rainfall and runoff has been known to wash fertilizer, animal waste and other pollutants from farm fields into waterways. It can also cause sewer systems to back up.

In either scenario, the untreated water can contain an unsafe amount of nitrogen, which can render the water dangerous for consumption. Fertilizer and sewage can also stimulate algae blooms that can degrade water quality. This, in turn, raises the costs associated with treating water, the new report says.

On Wednesday, [Illinois governor J.B.] Pritzker toured flooded areas of Winnebago and Stephenson counties. While no deaths related to the flooding have been reported, state and local officials say nearly 200 people have been evacuated.

“These are some of the highest river levels this area has seen in more than three decades, and I commend local emergency managers, law enforcement, fire and the volunteer organizations that have come together to keep people safe and preserve property,” Pritzker said in a statement. “For downstream communities that will be impacted by flooding in the days and weeks to come, I know that many groups are already preparing to help their neighbors. While we know that rebuilding will take a lot of time and work, we are committed to being your partners for the future.”

The Tribune explicitly tied these events to climate change in its headline.

Where are the ribs?

No, I haven't forgotten about my favorite food festival of the year. For the last 10 years, Ribfest has been the second weekend of June. This year it's the third weekend of June. I've no idea why.

Next weekend, then, I'm going to visit all three days and sample all 12 rib vendors. Already bought my ticket.

Parker, alas, will not come with me this year. He doesn't like to walk very far now that he's pushing 13. Even though Ribfest is less than 3 km away, that's about twice as far as he wants to walk under the best circumstances. But next Sunday is his birthday, so he might just get a bit of grilled meat anyway.

Epic trolling, or actually that dumb?

Tucker Carlson last night spent a full 90 seconds ranting against the "yoke of tyranny" called the "metric system:"

Fox News host Tucker Carlson railed against the metric system of measurement in his show on Wednesday night, describing it as "inelegant" and "creepy." James Panero, a cultural critic and executive editor of The New Criterion, joined Carlson for the segment.

Panero recently wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal attacking the metric system with its meters and kilograms and urging America to stick to its customary system of measurement, which resembles the old British Imperial system.

"Almost every nation on Earth has fallen under the yoke of tyranny—the metric system," Carlson said. "From Beijing to Buenos Aires, from Lusaka to London, the people of the world have been forced to measure their environment in millimeters and kilograms. "The United States is the only major country that has resisted, but we have no reason to be ashamed for using feet and pounds."

Panero called the metric system "the original system of global revolution and new world orders."

Carlson replied: "God bless you, and that's exactly what it is. Esperanto died, but the metric system continues, this weird, utopian, inelegant, creepy system that we alone have resisted."

They went on to laud the "ancient wisdom" of 12s and 60s that divide more easily into thirds, as opposed to the international system that's "totally made up."

I really wish I had made this up.

Knowing a bit about Carlson, I really can't tell if he's trolling. He may actually believe all of this. But knowing a bit about Fox News, it seems more likely that this rant fits more in the us-vs-them dynamic Fox encourages in its viewers. Anti-intellectualism separates "real muricans" from the kilogram-loving "coastal elites," I suppose.

I wonder if anyone told his viewers that most of our economy outside agriculture, and all of our defense spending, uses SI units?

Whatever. As Media Matters says, this is all part of Carlson's "absurd, ongoing caricature of 'the left'."

Welcome home, Attila

The former owner of Chicago restaurant Embeya has returned to the city to face charges he misappropriated $300,000 of the restaurant's money:

Attila Gyulai hasn’t been seen in Chicago since traveling overseas in 2016 shortly after shuttering Embeya — then one of the city's most illustrious restaurants. At the time, Gyulai blamed family obligations and the demands of running a restaurant.

But his partners, Thai and Danielle Dang, filed a lawsuit alleging he had been looting the business. And more than a year and a half later, federal prosecutors charged Gyulai with wire fraud, alleging he had misappropriated at least $300,000 “by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.”

Gyulai was arrested in late December in Valencia, Spain, where he’d traveled from Ecuador on a 10-day vacation. He waived extradition in March and was finally brought back to the U.S. to face the charges this month, court records show.

An upscale Vietnamese restaurant on the highly competitive Randolph Row, Embeya opened in 2012 to praise for polished cooking by chef Thai Dang and the artfully designed dining room.

Yet the charges alleged that Gyulai, who with his wife owned 56.5 percent of the restaurant and handled the finances, was engaged in fraud from as early as August 2011 to just after Embeya closed.

When the Dangs raised concerns about how the restaurant was being managed, Gyulai fired them and brought in a new chef.

The Dangs prevailed in two court cases against Gyulai, one for $90,000 in unpaid wages and another for breach-of-fiduciary duty among other claims, winning a $1.4 million default judgment in May 2017, according to a previous Tribune report. 

I guess $300,000 doesn't go as far as it used to. Maybe he's just done running? Or maybe he forgot Spain and the US cooperate on law enforcement?

Randy Rainbow in Chicago

If you haven't discovered Randy Rainbow, here you go:

He was in Chicago last night, at Thalia Hall in Pilsen, and I got a chance to hear him live. And today, he's on the cover of the Washington Post Magazine:

In a topsy-turvy era, is it surprising that a political commentator should dress in sequins, feather boas and pink cat-eye glasses? Because that’s Randy Rainbow (yes, it’s his given name). In real life, the 37-year-old leads a solitary existence in an orderly apartment adorned with oversize photographs of Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. But millions share his splashy, over-the-top digital life: Since 2016, Rainbow, a Broadway hopeful who fled from cattle-call auditions, has found his own spotlight through the Internet, emerging as a YouTube sensation who dispenses musical-comedy salve for a divided nation.

Hundreds of thousands watch the short videos he produces every 10 days or so, featuring show tunes and pop songs he has refashioned with biting new lyrics. These DIY productions are funny and oh-so-topical and include clever video manipulation of news footage to create sassy mock interviews with prominent political players — mostly of the Trumpian variety — topped off with costumes ordered online.

A sampling of Rainbow’s hot takes includes “Desperate Cheeto” (a take on Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito”), “Border Lies” (Madonna’s “Borderline”), “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?” (“Maria” from “The Sound of Music”) and “GOP Dropout” (“Beauty School Dropout” from “Grease”). Actor-comedian Steve Martin told Rainbow that “A Very Stable Genius” — a takedown of you-know-who sung to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” — is a favorite ditty in the Martin household.

(Note that Tom Lehrer famously also adapted "Major General" but with, shall we say, fewer politics.)

Weed did it, Illinois edition

The Illinois legislature has passed a bill legalizing small amounts of recreational marijuana and directing the governor to pardon thousands of low-level drug offenders:

Illinois is poised to be the 11th state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

The state House of Representatives approved its legalization bill 66-47 on Friday. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker, who campaigned on legalizing cannabis, quickly released a statement saying he’ll sign the legislation.

“It is time to hit the reset button on the war on drugs,” said State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. “What is before us is the first in the nation to approach this legislatively, deliberatively, thoughtfully with an eye toward repairing the harm of the war on drugs.”

The bill would allow adults over 21 to possess and use marijuana recreationally starting next year. They’d be able to buy the drug at dispensaries that must undergo a rigorous state licensing process.

One big component of the bill would create a pathway for people with past marijuana convictions to have those wiped out. Anyone convicted of selling up to 30 grams of cannabis could gain executive clemency through the governor.

For convictions linked to the sale of larger amounts up to 500 grams, a state’s attorney or individuals could petition the court to have those criminal records vacated and expunged.

The law will take effect January 1st. However, marijuana still remains illegal in the United States, so Federal authorities could still arrest and prosecute users, just as they can in the other 10 legal states.

Crain's adds:

Among the most controversial provisions were pardons and expungement of past criminal convictions for possession and non-violent crimes as part of a broader effort to undue some of the effects from the war on drugs.

“The war on drugs ravaged my community and personally impacted my own family,” Rep. Marcus Evans, a South Side Democrat, testified before the vote. "Finally, the state of Illinois is going to look at my community and say, 'We want you to have a piece of the pie.' The only thing that’s going to help our community is jobs. I’ve never seen a piece of legislation that was going to help my community."

Expungements and pardons could affect up to 800,000 people in the state.

That garnered key support for the bill in communities hit hardest by the "war on drugs."

How many lawsuits is Eddie Lampert party to?

Two made the news this week. First, Lampert has sued Sears (which he owns) for not conveying property that his investment firm bought from the doomed retailer:

Lampert's Transform is accusing the Sears estate, a bankrupt shell entity that is winding down under court supervision, of multiple wrongs including breaking the agreement by holding on to the chain's headquarters in Illinois. The estate is also intentionally delaying payments to vendors and trying to shift $166 million in accounts payable costs, according to the Transform complaint filed on Saturday.

The allegations mirror those made in court filings from Transform earlier this year. The Sears estate also sued Lampert, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and others last month, claiming they wrongly transferred $2 billion of company assets beyond the reach of creditors in the years leading up to the retailer’s bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, in another case, Lampert filed court documents in which he threatens not to pay $43m in severance payments he promised to make:

Lampert also denied that he is responsible for making some payments to creditors he says Sears Holdings is trying to force him to pay, according to the filing. Sears Holdings is the bankrupt remnants of the old Sears. It exists only to settle claims against it involving its few remaining assets.

Lampert had previously agreed to pay the severance to workers who lost their jobs before and during Sears' bankruptcy. Creditors objected to Sears paying severance to people laid off before the bankruptcy, so those workers never received an exit package.

Lampert's attorneys told the bankruptcy court that Lampert and his hedge fund ESL were the best owners to help workers who lost their jobs in various rounds of store closings.

But in the latest court documents, ESL said it wouldn't make the severance payments because Sears didn't give the hedge fund all of the assets it spelled out in ESL and Lampert's agreement to buy Sears. That included the amount of store inventory originally promised by Sears, as well as the company's headquarters in suburban Chicago.

Wow, he really wants to win Worst CEO of the Century, doesn't he? And remember, Lampert never cared about Sears as a going entity; he has always and only wanted the land Sears owns. What a schmuck.