Chicago After Laquan McDonald

A shocking video of a police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times has led activists in Chicago to fight for change and the city’s government and police department to scrutinize its own long history of racist policing and misconduct.

Author: Ben Austen
Published: Apr 20, 2016
Length: 26 minutes (6,549 words)

Public Enemies: Social Media Is Fueling Gang Wars in Chicago

Gangs in Chicago have used social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread inflammatory messages about rivals and incite violence:

“We naturally associate criminal activity with secrecy, with conspiracies hatched in alleyways or back rooms. Today, though, foolish as it may be in practice, street gangs have adopted a level of transparency that might impress even the most fervent Silicon Valley futurist. Every day on Facebook and Twitter, on Instagram and YouTube, you can find unabashed teens flashing hand signs, brandishing guns, splaying out drugs and wads of cash. If we live in an era of openness, no segment of the population is more surprisingly open than 21st-century gang members, as they simultaneously document and roil the streets of America’s toughest neighborhoods.”

Author: Ben Austen
Source: Wired
Published: Sep 17, 2013
Length: 17 minutes (4,452 words)

The Death and Life of Chicago

An upsurge of abandoned, foreclosed homes in Chicago’s poor neighborhoods has inspired an activist group called the Anti-Eviction Campaign to fix up the properties and provide them to homeless families:

“The idea for the Anti-Eviction Campaign actually came from South Africa. Toussaint Losier had traveled there to study the direct-action tactics of an organization called the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. Its members had been putting their bodies in front of homes to block evictions, building their own squatter settlements on unused land. So J. R. and Toussaint (who got to know each other when the chairman of the South African group visited Cabrini-Green) started a Chicago chapter together. J. R. realized they didn’t need to build lean-tos in Chicago’s black community. They had all the empty homes they required. ‘We want to do what Roosevelt did,’ he said of the home takeovers. ‘If the government won’t provide public housing for the people, the people must provide it for themselves.'”

Author: Ben Austen
Published: May 29, 2013
Length: 29 minutes (7,440 words)

The Glorious Plight of the Buffalo Bills

Undying hope from a city’s football fans—and a fear that their team will soon disappear:

“For Bills partisans, white, black, or anything else, the greatest fear is not that the team will lose a game or suffer another demoralizing season. A far more distressing concern is that the team will follow industry and investment and generations of young Buffalonians before it and abandon the region for good. Ralph Wilson, who founded the Buffalo Bills in 1959, still owns the team. He’s 94. For a few of those years it seemed one of his daughters, the NFL’s first female scout, was being groomed to replace him, but she died of cancer in 2009, at the age of 61. Wilson has refused to announce a plan of succession or to comment further on the team’s future without him. Upon his death, his heirs appear ready to sell the Bills to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, fans exist in a suspended state of disbelief and existential terror. They are sure one moment that Mr. Wilson must have a backroom deal set up to keep the team in Buffalo, a city he’d stuck with for the past half-century, even if often at a distance from his mansion in Michigan. But the next instant they can’t figure why he’d then let them suffer. The old man had done all right for himself in Buffalo, paying just $25,000 for a team currently worth about $800 million, while Erie County has covered the costs of stadium renovations. Yet now he seems ready to allow Toronto, with its armada of newly built glass and steel towers, to pirate away their team. Since 2008, the Bills have been playing one ‘home’ game a season in Toronto, which for many in Buffalo feels like an unwanted trial separation. Maybe more threatening is Los Angeles, with its mega-market revenues and media, which is angling to lure not just one NFL franchise but two. When Bills management negotiated a lease extension on its current property, they signed up for only a year. Hardly the long-term commitment of a Bills fan’s dreams.”

Author: Ben Austen
Source: Grantland
Published: Nov 8, 2012
Length: 34 minutes (8,503 words)

The Story of Steve Jobs: An Inspiration or a Cautionary Tale?

Entrepreneurs continue to reflect on the lessons of Steve Jobs—is his story ultimately a cautionary tale about a person obsessed with the wrong things in life?

“Soon after Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO in 1997, he decided that a shipping company wasn’t delivering spare parts fast enough. The shipper said it couldn’t do better, and it didn’t have to: Apple had signed a contract granting it the business at the current pace. As Walter Isaacson describes in his best-selling biography, Steve Jobs, the recently recrowned chief executive had a simple response: Break the contract. When an Apple manager warned him that this decision would probably mean a lawsuit, Jobs responded, ‘Just tell them if they fuck with us, they’ll never get another fucking dime from this company, ever.’

“The shipper did sue. The manager quit Apple. (Jobs ‘would have fired me anyway,; he later told Isaacson.) The legal imbroglio took a year and presumably a significant amount of money to resolve. But meanwhile, Apple hired a new shipper that met the expectations of the company’s uncompromising CEO.

“What lesson should we draw from this anecdote? After all, we turn to the lives of successful people for inspiration and instruction. But the lesson here might make us uncomfortable: Violate any norm of social or business interaction that stands between you and what you want.”

Author: Ben Austen
Source: Wired
Published: Jul 23, 2012
Length: 18 minutes (4,710 words)

The Last Tower: The Decline and Fall of Public Housing

The demolition of the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago was supposed to open up new opportunities for low-income families. But the community has disappeared:

“The fifteen-story high-rise was known by its address, 1230 N. Burling. Already stripped of every window, door, appliance, and cabinet, the monolith was like a giant dresser without drawers. The teeth tore off another hunk of the exterior, revealing the words I NEED MONEY painted in green and gold across an inside wall. Chicago was once home to the second-largest stock of public housing in the nation, with nearly 43,000 units and a population in the hundreds of thousands. Since the mid-1990s, though, the city has torn down eighty-two public-housing high-rises citywide, including Cabrini’s twenty-four towers. In 2000, the city named the ongoing purge the Plan for Transformation, a $1.5 billion, ten-year venture that would leave the city with just 15,000 new or renovated public-housing family units, plus an additional 10,000 for senior citizens. Like many other U.S. cities, Chicago wanted to shift from managing public housing to become instead what the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) called ‘a facilitator of housing opportunities.'”

Author: Ben Austen
Published: May 1, 2012
Length: 28 minutes (7,103 words)

The Terminator Scenario: Are We Giving Our Military Machines Too Much Power?

Robots will come to possess far greater intelligence, with more ability to reason and self-adapt, and they will also of course acquire ever greater destructive power. So what does it mean when whatever can go wrong with these military machines, just might?

Author: Ben Austen
Source: Popular Science
Published: Dec 14, 2010
Length: 18 minutes (4,631 words)