words by tosten burks


Robert Lypsite on the ESPN-“Frontline” scandal

"Was attention not being paid at ESPN? Too much time spent acquiring tennis rights, the SEC, Keith Olbermann, Nate Silver and Jason Whitlock, and not enough on journalism? 

Was ESPN naïve about the relationship with a hard-driving documentary unit whose viewership, not to mention its bottom line, was not invested in football? Was it also naïve to fail to anticipate the inevitable reaction from the NFL, which from the beginning had pointedly refused to cooperate with “Frontline” (no league footage, no Goodell interview, limited access to doctors who advise the NFL on concussions)? The league was not happy with a recent OTL report on one of its main doctors — which ran on ESPN’s platforms just last weekend — so why would it support “League of Denial”? 

Or did ESPN cave in to pressure from the NFL or Disney or both? And if so, really, what was the point?”


In the eleventh hour, ESPN crumbled under the pressure of what their own investigation revealed. I don’t think they were naive about the NFL’s conflicting interests, I just don’t think they ever imagined how incriminating the investigation would turn out to be.

But at the end of the day, we’re all drafting more fantasy teams. ESPN wants to bring down this ruinous, deadly sport no more than we want them to.

What the hell is this Place? Alchemy Arts

Cross-posted in the Reader (8/22)

The first thing you’ll notice upon entering Alchemy Arts (1203 W. Bryn Mawr), an occult supply store in Edgewater a block off the Bryn Mawr Red Line stop, is the smell—a ripe, heavy, calming blanket of herbs, smoke, and catnip. The shop’s floor is packed with rotating display stands of incense, roots, and oil. Surrounding a ceramic sphinx in the corner, candles burn. And of course there is a cat present, staring into your soul.

Frieda, a stray brought in by a customer years ago, is as friendly as Alchemy Arts’ owner, Ken Kwilosz. Thin gray hair slicked back, wearing loose blue jeans, a plain black T-shirt, and sneakers, he looks like a mechanic on his day off. But the Dumbledore glasses and diet Dumbledore beard give him away. He is happy to lead you to whatever you’re looking for, be it a scented homemade candle, a love potion, or a book on dark magic. As I walk in, he puffs his e-cigarette, says hello, and goes back to bagging herbs.

A jewelry case features Wiccan pendants next to cross necklaces. And despite the ominous books that line the walls (sorted by category: healing, Egyptian, shamanism, astral, spell craft, hoodoo, the satanic scriptures, et cetera), the shop is warm and inclusive. The community gathers for weekly tarot-card readings, and in the past the shop has hosted book clubs. A home for all manners of curiosity.

Music I like in August 2013

Been steady picking up bylines here and there. You should listen to all this music because it’s good. Who cares that I wrote about it.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

"The bass line is as funky as a stamped. Karriem Riggins drums so frenetically you forget what a hi-hat even looks like. Gibbs is unfazed, though. No smoke clears for his verse—he simply blasts through the madness to ride in his Cutlass through the city limits."


"Trap snares meander as falsetto melodies strike and fade. ‘Creeping up my shoulder, I hear you breathing / In my head, I hear you screaming,’ goes the bridge, unsure whether this is all a dream or a nightmare. Thoroughly excited to see what she does with TDE’s resources."

Rejjie Snow

"He flirts with Hennessey, speeks Greek with a stutter, and is out in the valley on the search for a rare stone. This is what obscure imagery looks like when you’re just trying to be funny, not trying to prove your obscurity (s/o to Mac Miller.) It helps that Snow spits with the cocky boredom of Earl."

Danny Brown and Darq E Freaker

"The set was utterly toxic, with glitches and synths tearing heads off left and right. When Brown came on, it was thrilling, and not just because he’s released so little from his upcoming album, Old—the crowd also recognized that no other rapper right now could so effortlessly snap into such a maximal, ruinous soundscape."

On internship bullshit, by an intern

Cross-posted on Medium in the Education Today collection.

Right now, I go to Northwestern University, a disgustingly exclusive and expensive private institution that I will be paying for decades in the future all because I’m hopelessly addicted to journalism and hopelessly invested in its evolution, and I knew in high school that no other college — especially none of the other colleges I got into — could come close to offering me the opportunities in the media world that this place can.

I’m also interning at the Chicago Reader this summer, an exciting, unpaid opportunity that I took understanding that truly the only way to break into big-market media is to start building connections and experience right now. There is a blatant, shameless, painful hierarchy that I couldn’t afford to start at the bottom of once I’m out of college having to fully support myself.

I’m lucky enough to be able to live away from home (San Diego) this summer and have my parents partially support a small portion of my living costs. However, I also have to eat, pay monthly payments on a computer loan, use public transportation, and support a casual drinking habit to soothe the pain. So I’m also doing other part-time work this summer, none of which will come close to making up for the opportunity cost of devoting 25 hours a week to something that makes me absolutely no money, or come close to paying for all those things just listed.

This is me calmly complaining about a situation that I feel absurdly grateful to be in, knowing that most people have no ability at all to devote 25 hours a week to something that makes absolutely no money in the name of entering a vanity profession.

Now, this is me angrily complaining about the mockery that colleges make out of this situation, a mockery that WAY too frequently goes overlooked by media people who are suddenly super passionate about all the ways in which internship culture resembles slave-labor. (Thanks ProPublica!)

See, to prevent companies from facing legal trouble over employing young adults without paying them anything, colleges require students to enroll in an academic internship course that verifies the school’s recognition of this unpaid slave-labor. If you’re not making money, you might as well get class credit, right? Make a little dent in total credit requirements and save some tuition money?

But wait: “These internship courses are assigned zero-credit and do not accumulate towards a student’s credit hour requirements.” (http://www.medill.northwestern.edu/employment/page.aspx?id=69885)

This paperwork is nothing more than colleges covering the asses of media companies. What incentive do I have to spend my time filling out and managing this paperwork throughout the summer? So that I can have Chicago Reader show up on my transcript? It’s already on my resume, the piece of paper that actually matters. In what way does a zero-credit class make unpaid labor any more legitimate?

Here’s the silver lining: “These zero-credit courses do not carry a tuition charge for students who register.” Thanks Northwestern, for not charging me for work that makes me no money and earns me nothing at Northwestern either!

This is a nuance of internship bullshit that I’ve never seen anyone rant about before, so that’s my rant. If Northwestern actually cares about being the premiere incubator for journalism students, it needs to support those students. The defense of interns shouldn’t be coming only from the interns, non-profit news organizations, and the ocasional “bold” Guardian column.

All I’m asking for is one credit. At full tuition costs, that’s worth $3700, a number that would make a huge difference to me, and probably a much smaller difference to a school with a $7 billion endowment.

Andersonville commercial district responds to loss of elementary school

Cross-posted on Medium in the Changing City collection.

Parents, teachers, and families throughout the city are still reeling from the Chicago Board of Education’s decision last Wednesday to close 50 public schools, one of the largest single waves of public school closures in American history.

Lost in the ruckus is the impact these closures will have on surrounding local business. Small business owners in Andersonville in particular, perhaps the city’s most vibrant and proud commercial district, are still struggling to cope with the new reality that after the end of this school year, Trumbull Elementary will never again open its doors.

“It’s hard because not only is Trumbull Andersonville’s only school – it provides this great educational resource in our community – but the businesses rely on teachers and parents who walk through the community, who shop here and live here,” said Colleen O’Toole, Managing Directory of the Andersonville Development Corporation (ADC). “The school itself is one of the main staples of our historic commercial district.”

Trumbull is located on North Ashland Avenue – one block west of North Clark Street, Andersonville’s main road of restaurants and retail stores. The vast majority of these are owned by Andersonville residents. Local business owners were among the most vocal during the long fight leading up to the Board of Education’s final, futile vote.

It wasn’t just the “Support Our Schools DON’T CLOSE THEM” signs that hung in seemingly every storefront window on North Clark. Business owners spoke at public hearings, badgered public officials, and altogether led the defense. Yet, not even efforts by Andersonville’s official economic bodies made an impact.

“Our office always had a presence,” said Jason Cox, Associate Director of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce. “We wrote letters and encouraged people to write letters and make calls to the alderman, to the CPS, to the mayor’s office.”

Cox finds little consolation though in the fact that this business community worked so hard. “I think the deck was completely stacked from the beginning,” he said. “I’m not sure what more could have been done to save this school.”

What makes the situation sting even more is that Trumbull’s relationship with the surrounding business community dramatically improved in the last year, after parents elected a new Local School Council (LSC) last April to replace the previous head, a non-resident who was in charge for close to two decades.

“Before, Trumbull didn’t do as much community outreach. Just in the past year there’s been so much progress made. It’s such a shame,” Cox said.

Now that Trumbull’s fate is sealed, Andersonville’s business owners are starting to reflect on the full effect this will have on their future.

“There is a certain number of people who work there, and parents of the kids, that brought people to the community who utilized the businesses on Clark Street,” said Don Cortelyou, Branch Manager at Bridgeview Bank on Bryn Mawr. Cortelyou is also the President of the ADC’s Board of Directors. “Not knowing what will replace that loss of income could be damaging.”

There is also the issue of what to do with the soon-to-be-vacant Trumbull building.

“Given the CPS’s track record of not really turning over those buildings in a timely manner or finding meaningful adaptive reuses for them, it makes us very nervous,” O’Toole said. “There’s major security issues and that’s very detrimental for housing and building values in the neighborhood.”

It doesn’t help that Ashland is already home to another large building vacancy, Edgewater Hospital, shut down in 2001 for medical fraud.

“Ashland is turning into a bit of a wasteland with the Edgewater Hospital site also sitting unused,” pointed out Judith Seizys, President of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Seizys suggests selling the Trumbull site to a developer in order to expand affordable Andersonville housing, or using the space as a business incubation site. Others are less hopeful about the site’s future.

“I don’t know what that building could be used for quite honestly. It’s huge,” said Maggie Finegan, a real estate agent for Keller Williams Realty as well as a member of the ADC board. “When I think about the future, it’s really disturbing.”

While it’s too early to tell the most productive way to re-utilize the space, Cortelyou emphasizes that the ADC will be involved in the decision-making process.

“We’re planning on being proactive in discussions with CPS about what we can do with the property to be a great place that will bring people to the neighborhood to soften the blow,” Cortelyou said. “We intend to be engaged as much as possible.”

A peek into Andersonville: Hambingo Night at Hamburger Mary’s

Underneath a plastic chandelier and a plastic disco ball, twenty-somethings with their Justin Bieber shirts off are taking jello shots. Two television sets show Golden Girls. An obese drag queen calls out “A8” from behind the bar. This is Hambingo.

Hamburger Mary’s in Andersonville has been putting on its bi-weekly bar bingo night for five years now, raising money for a different local charity each week. This past Monday, the beneficiary was the Leukemia Lymphoma Society.

“People are so thrilled and impressed that they can raise so much money so easily,” said David Sterrett, who works for the restaurant and organizes the event. “We get a lot of repeat charities.”

It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a great time.

Surrounded by Betty Boop memorabilia hung crooked on the walls and Christmas tree lights dangled from the exposed pipes in the crown-molding ceiling, a consistently eclectic audience drinks beers brewed on site with names like “Strawberry Blonde Bombshell” and “The Flapper.”

The host, Felicity Metropolis, a brash, sassy consummate showman – show woman? – leads the crowd each Sunday and Monday through Bingo games called, among other less publishable titles, “Rimjob” (all the squares around your free space).

“I like the Rimjob especially when it’s followed by the BO,” said Brandon Wright, who owns the franchise with his twin brother Ashley. “Those two going back and forth is hysterical.”

It’s easy to get carried away by the comedy of the event, and while Wright takes pride in the fun of Hambingo, he is also quick to point out how universal his restaurant is.

“Our motto is an open-air bar and grill for open-minded people,” Wright said.

Waiter Brad Allen jokingly calls Hambingo “Lesbian family night,” but is quick to emphasize that Hamburger Mary’s is not a “gay bar,” but an “anti-hate bar.”

And it’s true. A typical Hambingo crowd does have a substantial queer presence. But there are also families. Bingo players range from fresh-out-of-college to full gray hair. Felicity wears drag and charity representatives wear red Leukemia Lymphoma Society hoodies. In other words, it is the type of event that thrives in Andersonville.

“Andersonville is a very open neighborhood,” Wright said. “There’s a large LGBT community and the non-LGBT community is very open.”

This is why Wright says he has never liked the term “gay bar” for his establishment.

“Half or more of our customers are not gay. We don’t say that to belittle that aspect, but we just want to be a place for everyone.”