Archive for March, 2012

Illinois politics: a family divided

Though Illinois is dismissed as a Democratic state—or more accurately, a Democratic city that wags the tail of the state—there is a lot at state in today’s election. Specifically, a voter response to the most egregious property tax increases in Cook County history. The system is too quixotic to identify who exactly is responsible—the tax rate is established from budgets submitted by 31 municipalities in the county, so each village board of commissioners is responsible, as is the clerk who collects tax revenue, the assessor who evaluates property value, the county board of review who ensures that the rates are fair, and, since everyone’s got his hand in the cook county cookie tax jar, they’re all snakes in need of a thorough St. Patrick-ing.

This year, the property tax battle hits home even harder. Our humble burg has a referendum on the ballot to modernize four community centers at a cost of $48 million. Specifically, “The referendum funding would spread a $48 million bond issuance over a 25-year period. This would add an estimated $36 per year to the current tax bill of a home with a market value of $300,000.”

This $36 is dividing a family. Of the four of its members embroiled in this debate, only one is not employed by the government (and yes, I include teachers as being governmentally employed): me. The one on my side regarding the referendum, is a perennial fighter against any property tax increase. Keep in mind, we all vote Democratic though we’d never identify as Democrats. We’re split at 2-2, neutralizing each other’s votes. One member of the four, who we will call the arm twister, condescendingly offered to pay my $36 to vote for the referendum. A lump sum payment of $900 ($36×25) was not offered.

I agree that nicer park buildings would be nice. I pay for my kids’ classes housed in the gymnasiums of those buildings, which feature tiles floors and out of bounds that are indicated by cinder block walls. But hell no if I’m going to vote to increase a property tax bill. We’re talking need, and my need is greater; the property tax rate is at its highest in Cook County’s history, and has one of the highest median property tax rates in the United States, according to the watchdog site www.tax-rates.org.

Not only that, I pay more in property tax for a place with the same square footage (though the parcel size is larger) than I did while living in the city. To put it another way, I’m paying 14% more in property taxes for a similarly assessed property. For tiled-floor gyms and aging playgrounds. My response to the referendum is the same as it is to the incumbent state politicians responsible for the dire fiscal state of things in Illinois, which is shouldered by the jackasses like me who chose to live here: eat the dick.

Until I get tax relief, or at least some indication that property owners will stop having to bear the burden of incompetent government, I’m voting NO to the referendum and to this ship of fools that’s gotten us into this shipwreck. Unfortunately, I still don’t know who the captain is. I don’t have much to go on other than the Trib’s endorsements, which include brief justifications and Q & As with the politicians.

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Fixing a toilet: it’s easy

Even though terms like lock nut, nipple, and ball cock may intimidate you, fixing the fill valve on your toilet is pretty easy. Most problems in the toilet basin—slow fill, constant run, loose flapper—are caused by either a faulty fill valve or flush valve*. If you take off the lid of the basin, the fill valve is the tall pump device that extends through the bottom of the basin to the water supply. The flush valve is the flapper component, or the piece that is connected by a chain to the handle.

The path to success runs through here

Our toilet filled so slowly that it would take 10-15 minutes, a dual problem with the fill valve and the flapper (flush valve), and even then we’d have to jiggle the handle until it broke. With the handle broke, I finally had to open the $15 kit I bought at Ace a year ago. I spent more time thinking about the toilet than it took to fix it; the handle took two minutes, the fill valve less than an hour—despite my incompetence.

Most of the parts in the basin can be twisted off by hand or, if it’s been a while, with pliers.  Any kit comes with detailed instructions, all of which are easy enough to follow. There are a couple of points that should be addressed even before opening the kit. First, clean the bathroom. You’ll have to clean it again when you’re done so this might seem redundant, but consider this: toilets are put in a corner just like Baby, and due to the angles, you might find your face the closest it’s been to a toilet bowl since college. A wipe down will not suffice; trust me on this one. There’s some pockets of stink that can make the job take longer and be more disagreeable than it should.

Open the basin, see what you’re dealing with. What exactly is the problem? Flush it, watch it flow and fill. It shouldn’t take more than a minute. Then you can shut the water supply off—yes, it’s the handle in the wall behind the toilet. Turn it right. Flush the toilet—if the water supply is off it won’t refill. Try to get all water out of the basin with a sponge or by leaving the flapper open.

Unscrew the water supply line. By hand. This has been easy enough, yes? Feeling pretty stinking good about yourself at this point? This is where I had the problem. To replace the fill valve, you have to unscrew it from the bottom of the basin. The instructions say you can do this by hand. I could not. I wedged my head and shoulders in the corner, waved my plumber’s ass high in the air, and got at that lock nut with four different sets of pliers and a half-dozen wrenches, all of which stripped the plastic so bad that it was impossible to remove. The nut should be turned in the same direction as the nut you turned to take off the water supply line.

There was sweating and cursing, a standard for Duffer home repairs, and the dread that I would have to leave our half bathroom—the kids’ bathroom—in a state of disrepair for who knows how long. Remember, it took me over a year to finally open the kit and gut the toilet. I was hoping to have graduated from the classic Duffer work quotient for home repair: double the time and add a day.

At Ace the next morning, I bought a small, hand-held hacksaw, and sawed the shit out of the ‘threaded shank’, being careful not to jar the porcelain too much because if it cracked then I’d have to buy a new toilet and a plumber. Once that bastard was off I was done in 15 minutes. One other note, don’t throw away the tube that takes the water from the fill valve to the flapper contraption; kits don’t come with it. I would suggest scouring the valve for water deposits.

Then, turn the water supply back on, make sure nothing is leaking, then proudly sit on your throne and feel the power of the flush. Fixing a toilet, like something else you do with a toilet, is easy and incredibly satisfying.

* Other problems with a toilet can include a loose base or cracked porcelain. If the toilet’s cracked, get a new one. If it’s loose on the floor, or leaking, or generally looks like something is spewing from under it then you need a new wax ring, possibly a flange, which is the mount that keeps the toilet on the floor. When the boy was a toddler, he decided to drop a cup down the old wishing well; it got stuck in the neck and after a week of fruitless fishing, I finally called a plumber. It took him 2-3 hours to remove the toilet, replace the seal, refasten the toilet. I recommend a pro; it’s a big pain in the ass, especially given how heavy the toilet is and how messy your bathroom/hallway will become.

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Undermining Higher Education: a follow up

There has been a considerable response since the announcement that the administration at Columbia College Chicago did not renew the contract of Randy Albers, Chair of the Fiction Writing Department. There are several points to clarify. Additionally, many new facts have come to light since the Provost’s recommendations as part of the Prioritization process, which was released Tuesday, February 28. Clarifications:

The name of Bob Dickeson’s company hired by the college is Academic Strategy Partners, not Academic Impressions, as was reported here.

So far, two deans and the provost have recommended the formation of a new Department of Creative Writing, which would encompass the Fiction Department and the Poetry and Creative Nonfiction programs presently housed in English.

Randy Albers will be retained as full-time faculty in the Fiction Writing Department. There will be a national search for a chair of the new Creative Writing Department. Randy does not expect to be included in the search. A commenter on another site where the original article was posted claims that “The administrator responsible for Randy’s termination said it wouldn’t be “fair” to keep Randy because it would look like Fiction “won” a beef from 25 years ago.” In the 1980s the Fiction program and the English Department were made into two distinct departments over pedagogical differences. Who cares? Precisely. It sounds moronic to base decisions on the future of the college over lore from a bygone era.

Chair of the English Department, Dr. Kenneth Daley, confirmed that his contract was also not renewed.

In her recommendation, Interim Provost Dr. Louise Love wrote: “This department, if approved, will bring together the talents of the writing faculties in English and Fiction to form a unified, student-centered whole….The creation of a new Creative Writing Department may be just the first step in a larger initiative to bring together writing programs across the college.”

In many ways, this makes sense. Most colleges with writing programs have a similar structure. It is news, however, that Columbia wants to be like most colleges. Love also recommends moving the Playwriting program to the Theatre Department, and cutting in half the “resources” devoted to literary journals produced by the Fiction and English Departments.

According to a letter from former Chair Randy Albers, regarding the new department: “This department would, with proper support by the college administration, have the potential for attaining excellence at least comparable to the present Fiction Writing Department.”

The recommendations made in the process of Prioritization are not what will happen, per se, they are recommendations of what the individual provost, dean, or other administrator think should happen and will most likely happen. President Warrick Carter then will offer his suggestions to the board of directors late this spring. The board then decides what is approved. This is expected in the summer. Plan now.

Currently, the Fiction Writing Department is naming an Interim Chair for the 2012-2013 school year, according to a source who will remain anonymous. It is expected, because of this, that the Fiction Department will retain its unique identity for one more year.

On Monday, March 5th, from 9-12 at the Film Row Cinema (1104 S. Wabash, 8th floor), there will be a Provost Listening Forum. At the forum, a designate from each department is allowed to speak to points and counterpoints regarding the prioritization report. This is a listening forum, so there will be no Q & A or no questions fielded from the non-designate audience. A series of similar forums have been held and will continue to be held during the prioritization process.

An outpouring of support in the form of student, faculty, and peer testimonials is posted on the website, albersforchair.org. There is an equivalent page on facebook: “Fiction Writing Students, Faculty and Alums Concerned about Prioritization.”

A student movement against tuition hikes and prioritization called “Occupy Columba College” is hosting a rally on March 1st, from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. at 600 S. Michigan.

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