A story appeared this past week that caught my eye for the right reasons, but reading it filled me with loathing and disgust for the precisely the wrong reasons. As I've mentioned a number of times before on this blog, I originally hail from the Great State of Illinois, and actually lived within the Chicago city limits for three years after college. For someone who grew up in a small town, the Windy City was a stimulating and exciting place to spend my young adulthood. It still had a reputation for corruption, of course, but in the early-90s era in which Mayor Daley the Younger (and far more articulate) was first elected mayor, that all seemed like a relic of the distant past, no more relevant to my generation than were the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention.
Well, apparently Chicago has not buried its history of corruption, as reported by CBS Chicago.com:
A former Chicago alderman turned political science professor/corruption fighter has found that Chicago is the most corrupt city in the country.Now that is an important story that ought to be read by every resident of the City of the Big Shoulders so maybe they can be stirred to finally take action and do something about ithis appalling state of affairs, right? Well, not withstanding the fact that very few people actually still read these days, the text of this story was wedged on the website page between a column highlighting other stories labelled, "Don't Miss This," with flashy color pictures on one side and an column of intrusive Google ads on the other.
He cites data from the U.S. Department of Justice to prove his case. And, he says, Illinois is third-most corrupt state in the country.
University of Illinois at Chicago professor Dick Simpson, who served as alderman of the 44th Ward in Lakeview from 1971 to 1979, estimates the cost of corruption at $500 million.
It’s essentially a corruption tax on citizens who bear the cost of bad behavior — police brutality, bogus contracts, bribes, theft and ghost payrolling to name a few — and the costs needed to prosecute it.
“We first of all, we have a long history,” Simpson said. “The first corruption trial was in 1869 when alderman and county commissioners were convicted of rigging a contract to literally whitewash City Hall.”
In the Northern District of Illinois, which includes Chicago, there have been a total of 1,531 public corruption convictions since 1976, Simpson found. A distant second is California’s central district in Los Angeles with 1,275 public corruption convictions since 1976, Simpson found.
Statewide, that number hits 1,828. Only California and New York have more, but those states have much higher populations. Per capita, only the District of Columbia and Louisiana have more convictions.
Since the 1970s, four of Illinois’ seven governors have been convicted (Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich). In addition, dozens of Chicago alderman and other city and county public officials have been found guilty, Simpson said.
Corruption, Simpson said, is intertwined with city politics. Simpson found that about a third of sitting alderman since 1973 have been corrupt.
“We have had machine politics since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871,” he said. “Machine politics breeds corruption inevitably.”
The Don't Miss This stories included:
Remembering Whitney Houston (with a picture of Whitney singing)The Google ads opposite also had pictures and the text of the article was actually bent around them. There were also links to other serious news stories, but they were down at the bottom of the page where the reader would actually have to search them out and had no associated pictures.
Grammys: Who Looked Good? (with a picture of the relentlessly untalented but big-chested, hypocritical Christian singer Katy Perry)
Oscar Nominees (with a picture of some actress I didn't recognize because I rarely go to the movies anymore. Not because I don't like movies but because most of what Hollywood produces these days is pure shit)
Hottest Celebs With Babies (with a picture of Brittany Spears wearing a releaving outfit showing off her cellulite while "singing")
Victoria's Secret Fashion Show (with a picture of a lingerie clad Victoria's Secret model)
Now I know some will argue that page view volume is the only way these websites can make money, so they deliberately place the most eye-catching links to their other stories where viewers will be most likely to see them. Britain's Globe and Mail newspaper website is particularly notorious for doing this, running a picture-laden, celebrity-driven column of pap chauvinistically labelled, "Femail Today," down the far right column next to every news story. The overall effect is to subtly indicate that a serious news story like the one above is not any more important than the sheer fluff that is being otherwise highlighted.
I had a cyber conversation the other day on an online forum in which the subject turned to whether the Internet is now serving to destroy people's attention spans even more so than television had already been doing for a couple of generations. Thinking about it, I realized I myself have had a problem with the distracting effects of the Web. I've been an avid book reader my whole life, but I've become so used to clicking from story to story online just long enough to get the gist before moving on that I've noticed my patience for sitting down and reading a serious work of fiction or nonfiction for an hour or two is not the same as it used to be. If that is what is happening to someone with the level of concentration it takes to be a writer, and I am actually aware that it's happening, what corrosive effects are the countless hours of Internet viewing having on the critical thinking skills of those who read books rarely if at all?
I don't think you have to look too hard to see what effect our mass distraction is having on our culture as a whole. The infantile rhetoric spewing forth from the Republican presidential primary campaign and the fact that Obama's approval ratings have been soaring lately despite his manifest failure to keep any of his campaign promises are strong indicators of a society that has completely lost its ability to think critically.
Anyway, food for thought. As for Chicago, it sounds like my former place of residence is in deep do-do. Maybe someday, someone who lives there will give more of a shit about the endemic local corruption than they do about who looked good at the fucking Grammys.
Bonus: Tift Merritt is the anti-Katy Perry