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Hot Potato, the little stories that fill you up, turned two today. Happy birthday little buddy.

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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Live music is better, and live blues is best. Levee Town, a Kansas City quartet, occasionally drops by Chicago. Their music has a poppy, upbeat sound that moves people to smile and dance. They played at The Smoke Daddy on Division Street Feb. 20. Below is a clip from Levee Town’s recent show. The harmonica player is my cousin, Jimmie Meade.

Copyright 2010

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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Wanna know what’s up with healthcare reform? Me too. A recent trip to the northeastern quadrant of Iowa led me to the town of Waverly, population about 10,000.

This seemed like an ideal place to take the temperature of our country’s healthcare opinions because: One, about two years ago President Barack Obama got his start with a Primary victory in Iowa on the way to the top office in the nation, and two, since his inauguration Obama’s approval rating in polls has dipped from 80-plus percent to below 50 percent.

Arguably one of the contributing factors to this change in public opinion was the introduction of healthcare reform proposals. Business owners in this small Midwest town provided a revealing look into what folks think about healthcare reform, and why President Obama’s proposals have not always been met with open arms.

One Waverly business owner was concerned about the implications of expanding public healthcare. Bertil Anderberg, owner of two salons, Tren D Hair And More and Cost Cutters Family Hair Care, said America has the best healthcare system in the world. Why else would the Mayo Clinic be filled with international patients? he said.

The Tren D Hair owner, who grew up in Sweden, provides a healthcare option for his employees.

“I know all about socialistic healthcare,” Anderberg said. “That’s the worst possible thing they can do here. You are going to stay in line like a bunch of heifers to get some help from the doctor, and then he’ll give you a pill and say ‘come back next week.’ Then go in this line. He’ll give you a pill again and say ‘come back in two weeks,’ and then you’ll go back over here again.”

The business owners I spoke with related to the healthcare reform question with different, yet interesting and revealing, viewpoints.

American Family Insurance agent Kristi Demuth said she was conflicted by the healthcare conundrum. The 20-plus year insurance veteran said she sees healthcare reform from two different perspectives: the consumer and the insurance agent.

From the consumer point-of-view, Demuth said there are situations when people are denied insurance options based on non-recurring or dormant conditions. While she acknowledged the needs of insurance companies to impose these pre-existing conditions clauses, there are times when these rules impose undue financial duress on otherwise healthy individuals.

From the consumer’s perspective, loosening the pre-existing conditions clause would be an improvement, according to Demuth.

Demuth said she would also welcome reduced premiums. But that scenario becomes less likely if insurance companies make it easier for people with pre-existing conditions to purchase plans without as many strings attached. In fact, premiums would likely go up, not down, according to Demuth.

Waverly, Iowa American Family Insurance agent Kristi Demuth says she sees the healthcare reform question from two views: the provider and the receiver. Neither gives a clear answer. In fact, the opposite is true. It is complicated. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Waverly, Iowa American Family Insurance agent Kristi Demuth says she sees the healthcare reform question from two views: the provider and the receiver. Neither gives a clear answer. In fact, the opposite is true. It is complicated. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Demuth said more communication between doctors and insurance companies could reduce costs.

If you see a doctor who has followed your health history over a long period of time, and you have the same health concern, such as allergies, every year, an office visit might not be necessary in order to write a prescription.

“It’s different if you’re a brand new client to a doctor,” Demuth said. “I don’t have a problem with that. But what I struggle with is that continually having to go to the doctor when you know that’s what you have just because you’ve had it so many times.”

One business owner was disturbed by the concept of politically administered healthcare.

Government intervention could only make matters worse, according to Osage resident Vernon Martin. Countries with socialized healthcare put elderly folks at a significant disadvantage in terms of receiving care, the construction company owner said.

“I know a girl in Canada for instance, and she’s a nurse up there,” Martin said. “And what happens up there? The old people get pushed back. People that should be getting care, and they aren’t getting care because they aren’t sick enough to be serious. You know, you take a number. They don’t care. Right now at least the healthcare system is providing for the old folks.”

Martin, whose wife is also a nurse, said government intervention would translate into problems.

“The government’s trying to come in here and set up a health program that’s going to take care of everybody and supply everybody with everything – yeah right,” Martin said. “When has the government ever gotten their fingers into anything that they haven’t screwed up?”

While no clear solutions emerged from conversations with business owners in northeast Iowa, one reality did come to light: Americans, as a group, are at the same time passionate and mixed about healthcare reform.

Copyright 2009

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Originally published Oct. 1, 2008.

by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Video by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Chicagoans swarm Madison Street every weekday morning and evening walking to and from their jobs. A number of them are speaking, but they’re not talking to each other.

The commuters are talking on their cell phones, and some are using headsets and wireless earpieces. Their phones are conveniently tucked away in their purses and pockets. Some research published this year suggested this may not be healthy for human reproduction.

The study, published by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine,  said cell phone usage by men might affect sperm quality. The research was completed by the Cleveland Clinic and was called “Effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic waves (RF-EMW) from cellular phones on human ejaculated semen: an in vitro pilot study.”

The study looked at the effects of electromagnetic waves on human semen by putting it into two small receptacles and exposing one of them to a common model cell phone two centimeters away.

In  the 36 samples they tested the results showed a decrease in the movement and viability of the sperm.

Though the study concedes it was limited in scope, in part, due to a small sample size and having to test in test tubes instead of on live people, another study they also conducted had results consistent with the theory that cell phones impair sperm viability.

In the other study the researchers looked at more than 300 men, and reported a correlation between daily cell phone usage and sperm quality. The research showed that men who used their cell phones more than four hours a day on average also had the least vital sperm on average.

The scientists’ “Effects of radiofrequency…” report said the most significant finding was the increase in  what are called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). ROS is normally created in semen, and antioxidants bond with ROS, thus neutralizing them. This is good because then there aren’t as many free radicals. Free radicals can be bad because they have been associated with cancer formation.

What they found out was that the ROS increased in a statistically significant amount, according to one doctor.

Dr. Paul B. Odland at Columbia College’s Student Health Center said the research seems to pick up on a statistically significant ROS increase.

“The P value is a statistical measurement in which a P value of .05 means that the finding is less due to chance,” Odland said. “This is less than .05 (.022). So that means that it’s unlikely this is a chance measure. It’s suggestive that it’s an actual difference. So that would mean statistically significant. Actually what significance this has for sperm measure and fertility, I don’t know that.”

With the explosion of cell phone usage over the last 20 years and the subsequent growth of cell phone manufactures and carriers, a lot of money has been spent by consumers on these products. One cell phone carrier we contacted has yet to weigh in on the health issue these studies raise.

Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Verizon Wireless store supervisor Dwayne Garner at the 1105 S. State Street store said he was not permitted to comment on the issue. Garner said any comments made must go through their legal department. Messages left for Verizon’s Midwest media relations manager were not returned.

Some college students are not concerned with this possible cell phone hazard.

Columbia freshman and illustration major Mathew Hamilton was working out at the Student Wellness Center at the 731 S. Plymouth building. Hamilton said he’s not worried about the implications of the research.

“Maybe I will be more concerned if it turns out to be true,” Hamilton said.

Columbia student and film major Kyle Norwood said he’s not concerned about the possible danger either. Norwood said perhaps his future self will be mad at his current self for not being more cautious, but he’s so addicted to the technology it doesn’t bother him now.

Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Copyright 2008

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by Ian Lopez

The Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor demonstrate their dissatisfaction in Chicago in 2004. As higher learning institutions increase employment of adjunct faculty opposition to current contracting practices is building. Image courtesy of AAUP.

The Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor demonstrate their dissatisfaction in Chicago in 2004. As higher learning institutions increase employment of adjunct faculty, opposition to current contracting practices is building. Image courtesy of AAUP.

Educators of the Me Generation are getting shortchanged. Some say the students are too.

A lack of benefits, security, health insurance and a paycheck one-third the size of your full-time peers aren’t the most enticing benefits when scanning the job market.

It is, however, the reality faced by many of the hundreds of thousands of adjunct college professors across the nation.

“Without a contract, the college can literally do to adjuncts and full-time faculty as it wishes,” said Harper College Adjunct Faculty Association President Ilona Sala (HCAFA). “There is totally the feeling that adjuncts are treated as menial laborers who can be bumped at a moment’s notice.”

The HCAFA formed in 2005 in an effort to protect the job security of adjuncts who have taught at least a three-credit course for four consecutive semesters, and holds 460 professors under its umbrella. With this union in place the college can no longer just get rid of adjuncts for no reason, according to adjunct mathematics professor and HCAFA Treasurer Janice Cutler.

“Most of us are just as qualified as any of the full-time faculty,” Cutler said.  “I know a whole lot more [adjunct professors] with more letters behind their name than most [full-timers].”

Across the nation there are currently 800,000 adjuncts, two-thirds of all professors in the United States.  Over the years the numbers have been moving up too, with as much as 46 percent of all faculty being adjunct in 2003 and 22 percent in 1970.

“It’s definitely a trend,” said John Curtis, research director for the American Association of University Professors.  “It’s been going on for three decades, and current economic situations will make things worse.”

Curtis shined light on points made by HCAFA members as well, saying that choosing faculty members standings between full and part time doesn’t come down to qualifications, but is just a matter of fortune.

Adjuncts don’t go through the usual process associated with loosing a teaching position – a board meeting, review process, etc. – and don’t technically get fired. Instead, Curtis said, most just don’t get hired back as one semester progresses to the next, and this can be done without a reason being offered.

While most full-time faculty receive salary with health benefits, most adjuncts are paid on a course-by-course basis, according to Curtis.

The difficulties resulting from institutions relying on part-timers poses threats beyond the realm of the worker, crossing over into the learning experiences of students enrolled in courses taught by part-timers.

Adjunct teachers may not be able to raise issues or challenge students because a college or university can get rid of a part-time professor, according to Curtis. This job insecurity increases particularly in cases where too many students pass or fail.

“It’s a lesson learned quickly – [adjuncts] can’t challenge or be too demanding,” Curtis said.

Contacting instructors outside of class is another hurdle created by heavily relying on adjunct faculty, according to Curtis. The part-time professors often do not have on-campus offices or school email addresses.

“We often receive reports of part-time faculty having to meet with students in the parking lot,” Curtis said.

New York University graduate student employees protest disproportionate compensation in April 2006. The American Association of University Professors also participated in the event. Image courtesy of AAUP.

New York University graduate student employees protest disproportionate compensation in April 2006. The American Association of University Professors also participated in the event. Image courtesy of AAUP.

Curtis added that academic freedom in the classroom is an issue that is constantly faced, and students may have difficulty getting letters of recommendation when applying to graduate schools because of how easily institutions can let part-timers go.

Furthermore, because of the typically low pay, adjunct professors usually have other sources of income – teaching at other institutions, for example– and may not be able to devote as much focus as a full-time professor would.

“Contact with faculty outside of the classroom is widely correlated to student success by a variety of measures,” said Treseanne Ainsworth, an undergraduate advisor for Boston College’s English Department.  “It also makes faculty seem peripheral to the university from a departmental standpoint.

Ainsworth, who recently went from an adjunct to full-time position with no tenure, said   though most adjunct faculty do exceptional work under difficult circumstances, less travel time between campuses means more time spent on research, course preparation and with students.

In June Ainsworth proposed a model for adjuncts that would give them pay for services they provided to students outside the classroom including being a mentor, advising and developing courses. Though tenure may not be an option, the contracts are shooting for five to ten year agreements as opposed to the one to three year contracts already in place at some institutions.

“This plan will stick as long as contracts are honored, and faculty continue to do quality work,” Ainsworth said. “I am optimistic about both.”

Copyright 2009

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by Ian Lopez

Polish and Mexican restaurants in the Logan Square Neighborhood reflect the cultural diversity of the community. While strolling down the flower-lined streets the fragrance of carne asada and perogies instantly consume the senses, leaving the walker with a temptation to duck into one of the traditional eateries.

However, are all the restaurants really safe to eat at?  Documents filed with the Chicago Department of Public Health (CPDH) by city health inspectors may make some residents who enjoy dining out question where they’re eating.

In 2008 Polish restaurant Czerwone Jabluszko on Milwaukee Ave. violated regulations for adequate food protection and proper temperatures. The citation stemmed from a customer’s complaint about feeling ill after eating there.

Czerwone Jablusko’s general manager Anna Czarnecka-Hebal didn’t believe the allegation was true.

“How could someone get sick if employees eat it here three times a day and never get sick any day?” Czarnecka-Hebal said.

Also mentioned in the reports about Czerwone Jablusko, which is also known by its English translation, the Red Apple, was a recurrence of dirty dishes and improper handling of them while being cleaned. For example, dish racks were too close to the floor and there were crusted and cruddy pots.

However, according to restaurant consultant Danny Bendas, keeping a restaurant perfectly clean is by no means an easy task.

Bendas, who works for Texas-based Synergy Restaurant Consultants, a company that specializes in helping dining establishments maintain health standards, offered some tips for what to look for when considering where to eat.  Key clues, he said, are individually wrapped silverware that is shiny, clean and devoid of water spots. Clean bathrooms are also good indicators.

“Restrooms are a very important part of the restaurant,” Bendas said. “A dirty bathroom could mean a dirty kitchen. If you are concerned about the cleanliness of the restaurant, take a look at the restroom.”

The Red Apple restaurant in the Logan Square neighborhood boasts numerous awards for its scrumptious Polish buffet spread, but health officials have cited this establishment and many others city-wide for code violations. Image courtesy of the Red Apple.

The Red Apple restaurant in the Logan Square Neighborhood boasts numerous awards for its scrumptious Polish buffet spread, but health officials have cited this establishment and many others city-wide for code violations. Image courtesy of the Red Apple.

Health code violations don’t necessarily affect popularity. The Red Apple is one of the most preferred restaurants in the area, and recently was crowned “the best buffet of 2009” by the Chicago Reader.

“We’re on the top,” Czarnecka-Hebal said. “There aren’t so many famous Polish restaurants on the market…lot’s don’t last as long as us.”

Fellow local eatery Zacatecas on Diversey Ave. is no stranger to CPDH citations either.  The restaurant serves what owner Michelle Medine describes as typical Mexican food.

“It is not easy to run a business like a restaurant,” Medine said.  “There are different codes and standards that need to be met. It is hard when (employees) don’t know what they do. But if you have the right people, it is not that hard.”

CPDH reports from 2006, 2007 and 2008 indicated that Zacatecas’ rules may not be up to the standards set by the city, citing the restaurant for having a dirty kitchen, not maintaining proper food storing temperatures and improperly storing dishes.  Also enclosed with the inspectors’ reports was a complaint filed in 2005 by a customer who claimed to have found a roach inside food, though no pests were found on the premises during an inspection.

“We have taken the necessary steps to ensure our systems are clean and sanitized,” Medine said about the improvements required of their kitchen.  “The health and safety of our guests is a priority.”

The health department’s reports stated that since the initial citations, improvements for Zacatecas’ hazardous conditions have been made.

The Zacatecas Restaurant in the Logan Square Neighborhood has lots of great food and reasonable prices, according to online reviews. Image courtesy of The Restaurant Place.

The Zacatecas Restaurant in the Logan Square Neighborhood has lots of great food and reasonable prices, according to online reviews. Image courtesy of The Restaurant Place.

The problems faced by the Red Apple and Zacatecas are common, both to the neighborhood and in general.  Nearby establishment Andrzej Grill, for example, was cited for problems very similar to the previous two restaurants, and was also cited for not having a pest control log.

Other notable problems with neighborhood restaurants were found at Armitage Shrimp House, which was cited for excessive grease build-up in their kitchen, an employee not wearing a hat while preparing food, and like Andrzej Grill, not having a pest control log.

When questioned about issues cited in reports from city health inspectors, Czarnecka-Hebal said, “Every restaurant has some kind of citation.”

“People are people,” Czarnecka-Hebal said. “Somebody put a biscuits (tray) near the floor for a minute and the inspector saw it.”

Copyright 2009

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by Albert Corvera and Christopher Brinckerhoff

As the summer heat replaces the wet spring, and the smell of burgers and beer wafts from the concessions, it means one thing to Chicagoans in early June – Bluesfest.

Since 1984, the first year of Bluesfest, Chicago’s lakefront has seen well over a million blues fans around the world each year. The famous music celebration kicks off the season of many free outdoor festivities this summer.

Electric music vibrated from a Gibson guitar, and the harmonious voice of Gabe “Mississippi” Carter blasted from his practice amp atop the Monroe Street Bridge. Carter’s laid-back blueseque appearance of worn overalls, a large brimmed hat, and scruffy beard embody the grittiness that is not only blues music, but Chicago too.

Carter said he was born with the blues. His life began in Michigan, then he moved to Mississippi, and he now lives in Chicago.  Fittingly, when Carter isn’t playing the blues, he works as a mover. Carter was a street performer at Bluesfest, playing for pocket change and smiles.

“I’m just here tryin to make some money, have fun, and there are some people I want to see, mostly on the juke joint stage,” Carter said on the Bluesfest’s first day, June 5.

The same blues spirit can be found in legendary blues performer Frank Scott, Jr., a.k.a., Little Sonny. At Bluesfest Scott performed on the Maxwell Street Stage with his friend Piano C. Red.

Scott collaborated with Red on “The Lost American Bluesmen” CD, recorded in 1996, and released in 1998. The album is a collection of blues from artists including Jimmie Lee Robinson, Willie Hudson, Bill Warren and Sleepy Otis Hunt. Of the 15 songs on the album, four feature Scott; Living In The Ghetto, American Bluesmen, Reap What You Sow, and Double Trouble.

Scott plays the guitar and drums, but he has also created a new instrument, the percussive house keys. The house keys were attached to a kind of branch like pole, and wrapped in green tape. Dozens of clusters of keys are attached to the flexible pole, and Scott shakes them in rhythm with the drums onstage.

Along with the percussive house keys Scott plays, there are also hundreds of keys attached to his bicycle he uses to get around town. The bicycle was strapped to his small red car, which was laden with Christmas lights and world flags.

Scott’s modes of transportation are artfully adorned with what he said is “the attraction.” The large quantities of house keys are emblematic of the number of years the former Maxwell Street business owner and performer has been on the Chicago blues scene.

Scott is a Texan native, but, since arriving in 1950, has lived most of his life in Chicago. He’s been playing the blues since 1948, and like many of Chicago’s blues musicians, used to perform at the original Maxwell Street Market.

Scott also owned a blues bar called Juketown Community Blues Bandstand on Maxwell and Halsted until September 2001 when the University of Illinois at Chicago fenced off the north side of Maxwell Street, and demolished the historic blues bar. Since the late 40s, Maxwell Street had been a mainstay on the Chicago blues music scene.  

Click here for a video with more on the impact of the Maxwell Street construction.

Scott said he got the idea of using keys as an instrument when he owned the blues bar, and when the band didn’t show up, he would shake the keys along with music from a boom box.

“The keys add rhythm and foundation to blues,” Scott said.

Scott calls his car a museum on wheels. Inside he carries a briefcase with dozens of colorful music posters he has designed over the years.

Another Chicago blues musician who played on the Maxwell Street Stage opening day at Bluesfest was Ramblin’ Rose. In addition to singing, Rose plays harmonica. She has performed at Maxwell Street Market, and, recently at Juniors Sports Lounge. At Bluesfest Rose sang on the Maxwell Street Stage.

“I sang “Dirty Old Woman” because that’s what I am,” Rose said.

Rose was awed with the quantity of keys Scott uses on his instrument and bicycle.

“They’re just unbelievable. You should be in the Guinness Book of World Records,” Rose said.

Rose said the spirit of the blues for her is not a down and out, someone done me wrong kind of blues. Rose said her life is great and loves the blues.

“The blues is not a bad thing to me,” Rose said.  “I’m doing great, life is great.”

Chicagoan and Bluesfest attendee Diane Kuchay said “nothing much” gives her the blues. “I’m a pretty positive person.”

Kuchay, a part-time consultant and regular Bluesfest attendee, didn’t realize that the festival was happening until she walked outside her building.

 “I knew it was going to happen sometime in June, but I didn’t really know when, she said.”

Though blues music is said to typically carry a down or sad feeling, the tone of Chicago Bluesfest 2008 was the opposite.

“I love the atmosphere, the music, the food and the camaraderie,” Kuchay said.

Click here to find out about upcoming blues music performances in Chicago.

Please enjoy our video with this story and post a comment to tell us what you think.

Copyright 2008

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