Sara Paretsky’s Blog

Barack, Gates, and America’s Most Segregated City
August 14, 2009, 9:33 pm
Filed under: U S Politics

A reporter asked me recently how I feel, as a Jew, when I tour in Germany. I said I feel like a ghost–in every major city there’s a Jewish museum with an armed guard outside, housing relics of a people who’ve vanished. At the same time, I find that history weighs heavily on people, making them grave and thoughtful.  I never feel more fully engaged with the people I meet than I do in Germany.

I wonder sometimes how our history weighs on us European Americans, not just the history of slavery, of Jim Crow and lynch mobs, but of the deliberate creation of a poverty-ridden ghetto in a city like Chicago.
In April, 1917, the Chicago Real Estate Board drew up a plan for block-by-block segregation. Housing would be opened to Negroes in an adjoining block only when every unit in the current block held an average of four people per room.
Chicago’s realtors adhered enthusiastically to this plan until it was finally declared illegal in the late 1960’s. The city was by then the most segregated in the nation, a dubious title which the Chicago Tribune says still stands today. Not only that, the forced over-crowding created poverty-ridden slums. Schools in the black community were never funded at the level they were in white neighborhoods.
One of the programs I support in Chicago is called Girls in the Game, which provides a combination of sports, health, and self-esteem education to about 2,000 Chicago public school girls. The need is particularly important for black and latina girls, because recess and physical education have all but disappeared from schools in Chicago’s non-white neighborhoods. It’s cheaper, and easier, to keep kids penned up all day, cramming rote memorization down their throats so they’ll do better on test scores.
In many Chicago public schools, children are punished for speaking to each other in the lunch room. The now-dead and unmourned Henry Horner homes on State Street were dubbed “Public Penitentiaries” when the first Mayor Daley built them: many of our city’s schools take on that role today.
Boys have as much need for physical exercise as girls, but for them, at least, there are organized sports programs after school. Girls in the Game reaches about 1 percent of Chicago’s public school girls. It’s a drop in the bucket, but at least someone is putting in a drop.
I thought about this history during the recent brouhaha over Professor Gates and the Cambridge police. When the great John Hope Franklin taught history at the University of Chicago, his teenaged son was stopped by the police when he was going up the steps to his home.
When Barack Obama was first elected to the Illinois legislature, he also taught at the University of Chicago law school. One of his colleagues, a friend of mine, told me back then that Barack had been stopped by Illinois State police for driving while black between Chicago and Springfield. The President has never alluded to his own experience with Chicago’s fraught racial history, but that might explain his own off-the-cuff remark about the Cambridge police when he first heard of the incident.
I don’t know how we move away from the slums and the gangs they foster to a vibrant city.  I don’t know how we get a mayor who’s not much interested in such problems to pay attention to them.  I guess I don’t know much, so if anyone has helpful advice–pass it on.

July 4
July 4, 2009, 2:20 pm
Filed under: gun violence, Reproductive Rights, U S Politics

On July 4, I have a ritual that includes listening to Paul Robeson sing “Ballad for Americans,”  reading the Declaration of Independence aloud with my husband, and eating chocolate ice cream.  The last ritual is a remainder of my childhood 4ths, when we made ice cream in my mother’s old hand-cranked churn.  The Ballad is also a childhood icon.  I grew up thinking that Robeson had sung it for FDR at his first inaugural, but it turns out that the song wasn’t written until 1939.  We had a set of 78’s, which my parents had bought in 1941 when they first started to date.

I grew up imbued by my parents with a passionate belief in American ideals of liberty and justice and I often feel baffled and frustrated by our divagations from those standards.  The Supreme Court and the Presidency both seriously undermined our fundamental freedoms in the last decade, while the third arm of the government, Congress, has been so busy feeding at the public trough that they’ve paid no heed. When Justice Scalia ruled that it’s okay for police to break down people’s doors without showing a warrant, there was no outcry in press or Congress.   And the behavior of the executive branch makes for a mighty uncomfortable reading of the  Declaration.

Among George III’s abuses detailed by Jefferson are:

“For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences”

I think we’d all hoped Barack would end secret courts, and bring any suspected terrorists to trial, rather than holding them indefinitely.  We’d all hoped for more daylight on torture committed by our government.

The one right that keeps expanding here is handgun ownership.  Congress is now allowing weapons in federal parks.  Arizona, in the same week that it sharply curtailed abortion rights, expanded gun ownership rights.

But it’s the 4th of July, time for ice cream and parades, not for worrying about 2 billion handguns in a time of high economic anxiety.  I’ll think about that tomorrow.  In the meantime, Happy 4th, and wherever you are on this planet, I hope you find a way to live your life in freedom, as FDR said, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and above all, freedom from fear.

The murder of Dr Tiller
May 31, 2009, 9:59 pm
Filed under: gun violence, Reproductive Rights, U S Politics

Dr. George Tiller was murdered in church this morning by an anti-abortion fanatic.  Dr. Tiller’s clinic in Wichita, Kansas, was one of three in the country where women could receive late-term abortions.  He and his clinic have been targets of violence for years.  This morning, he was murdered in front of his wife, who was singing in the church choir.  

I cannot begin to say how sickened I am by this wanton, heinous act.  As I find out any information about memorial funds or actions, I’ll post them.

Manifestation à la rue
April 27, 2009, 5:15 pm
Filed under: Education, U S Politics

In the north of the northern hemisphere, April is the month of wild mood swings.  One day it’s 80 under a beaming sun, the next it’s 50 with a bracing rain-filled wind sweeping down from Canada–the tail end of the Alberta Clipper that freezes Chicago for three months, or, in the case of this past winter, six.

Today, April 27, is indecisive.  High winds, fast-moving clouds, jackets one moment, shirtsleeves the next.  And so, with banners threatening to take flight, and all our flyers under rocks, a group of us met outside the Field Museum in Chicago to alert Boeing’s shareholders that their company participates in torture.

Boeing owns a company called Jeppesen, and Jeppesen has been providing services to the CIA to allow them to carry prisoners to overseas countries where they will be tortured.  Here’s a copy of one of their invoices:

Taken from ACLU website: Jeppesen invoice for transporting Mohammed El-Zery from Sweden to Egypt on a Gulfstream V Aircraft

Taken from ACLU website: Jeppesen invoice for transporting Mohammed El-Zery from Sweden to Egypt on a Gulfstream V Aircraft

I think it’s an interesting corporate policy that they don’t accept checks.  Cash is a good way to do shady business, as the Mob can attest.  For more details about Jeppesen, and the ongoing ACLU suit to try to end torture, and to force the CIA to publicize their behavior, you can go here.

Boeing’s headquarters are in Chicago, and, with a group of other activists, including Catholic sisters who are committed activists for social justice, and Bob Clark from the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights,  I go each year to inform their shareholders about their company’s acts. The Field Museum, where the meetings are held, has an odd public-private relationship with Chicago–it’s not a publicly owned museum, but some of the land on which it sits is public property. Last year, we were harassed and intimidated by  security guards who pretended to be with the Chicago Park District.  With the support of Chicago police, they herded our band of protestors into a so-called First Amendment box, about half a mile from where shareholders were entering the museum.  I wrote about the experience last year for the Outfit collective blog.

After that stressful experience, we called on the American Civil Liberties Union for help.  They explained in writing to the Chicago police what our First Amendment rights were for congregating, for distributing literature, and for being on public property.  

This year, we had a peaceful outing.  The ringleader of the  security staff wore his corporate outfit this year instead of pretending he was a city employee.  We don’t know whether he and his brothers worked for Boeing, or perhaps for Red Hawk, one of the 200 private quasi-military firms that do a big business in Africa and the Middle East as private military and security companies: we saw beaucoup Red Hawk vans in the museum’s private parking lot, next to the entrance where the shareholders were meeting.  

We left feeling happy that, thanks to the ACLU and our own determination, we had been able to stand up for the First Amendment.  We feel sad that President Obama isn’t willing to go further on ending U.S. participation and complicity in torture.  He has so far agreed with Mr. Bush that all documents pertaining to CIA rendition flights constitute state secrets that cannot be revealed.  He’s mute on the School of the Americas.

If you have the stomach for it, and want to know more about what has been done in our name, you could watch Taxi to the Dark Side. I can’t figure out how to upload videos into my blog, but here is an excerpt presented by Bill Moyers.

Manifestation à la rue: thanks to prodding from readers after my whine about hobbies, I started taking French lessons.  I learned last week that 30 % des françaises ont participé à une manifestation à la rue pendant leur vies.  I don’t know what percentage of Americans have participated in a demonstration during their lives, and I don’t know if it’s good or bad never to have gone out–but I came home with mixed feelings: I’d done a good deed, standing up for civil liberties.  ABut the feeling of having been out on the street means one feels one’s done enough, and then, back to the comfort of the daily routine.

Adios, Texas?
April 23, 2009, 10:58 pm
Filed under: reading, U S Politics

Texas Governor Perry isn’t ruling out secession as the statement of the proud and independent people of Texas to the U.S. government.  Texas is tired of paying federal taxes and getting nothing back, apparently.  And 51 percent of Texas Republicans support Perry and secession.

However, Texas has benefitted mightily from their association with the United States, and if they’re serious about leaving, then on their way out the door they should return the wealth they’ve accrued .  Texas came into the union originally because they couldn’t meet their debt obligations from their war of independence from Mexico.  They decided the easy solution was to get Uncle Sam to take on their debt.  

The fiercely independent Texans demanded that they come into the Union as a slave state and that the federal government assume their debt as a condition of participation in the United States.  Through a complicated set of transactions, including spinning off part of Texas into current-day New Mexico, and turning Texas’ low-valued land into debt collateral, the United States agreed to Texas’ terms.  Slavery continued in Texas until well past the Civil War; the state didn’t think it necessary to implement the Emancipation Proclamation, and it took President Johnson a while to decide that African-Americans could be free there.

In 1850, Texas’ $15 million in war bonds represented a quarter of the federal budget.  Inflation-adjusted, that’s $370 million.  On the other hand, one could argue that they owe us a quarter of the current federal budget. It wasn’t cheap to force them to comply with abolition.

Moving forward 130 years, when Ronald Reagan deregulated the Savings & Loan business, free-wheeling S & L managers managed to create a financial crisis that cost U.S. taxpayers $1 trillion.  Texas had led the pack with deregulation, starting in the 1960’s; half of the failed S & L’s were in Texas.  That’s another $500 billion.

And it was a president afrom the great state who mired us in a war whose off-book cost is $3 trillion and rising.cagle00luck_war_slogan_500

So–give us back our $3.87 trillion, and you can return  Texas to independence, or to Mexico, with our blessing, Governor Perry.

And the winner is…
February 16, 2009, 12:34 am
Filed under: reading, Reproductive Rights, U S Politics

 It’s that time of year, winter bleeding into spring, when we celebrate Black History, Women’s History, and the Oscars.  So here’s a little quiz to get  you in the mood.

Note: I post twice a month on a blog called the Chicago Outfit Collective, and this is what I plan to put up on February 18, when it’s my turn to post there again.  I realize that many of you are international readers and that this quiz is totally US-centric–but if you have some international questions you think I should add, let me know.  I’ll post the answers next week. 

 1.  Who is Loveleen Tandan? 

2.  Recent reviews of the work Tandan co-created appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, The New Yorker, and Time-Out Chicago.  Plus or minus two, how many times was Tandan’s name mentioned in total in all these reviews?

 3.   Age cannot wither her 

a. What was the age difference between Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate?

b.  What is the age difference between Hoffman and Emma Thompson in Last Chance Harvey?

c.  How old was Julia Roberts when the studios decided she was no longer the sexy young love interest, but was now the quirky aging feminist, Katherine Watson, in Mona Lisa Smile?

Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts






(Note: Roberts may be making a glamour queen comeback for studios desperate for star power) 

4.  Match the person to the organization or movement they founded or led.

            i. Ella Baker  ii. James Bevel  iii.  John Lewis  iv. Doris Nash  v.  Fannie Lou Hamer    vi. Dorothy Height vii.  Martin Luther King

            a.   SNCC (Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee)

            b.   Mississippi Freedom Party

            c.   National Council of Negro Women

            d.   Nashville-Jackson Freedom Ride 

Ella Baker

Ella Baker

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

5.  Of the women leaders listed, which were invited to speak at the Lincoln Memorial when King made his famous “I have a dream” speech? 

6.  Sticks and stones

            “Hottie,” “chick,” and “babe” are often used as synonyms for “woman,” including sometimes in the Chicago Outfit blog.

            a.  What images or feelings do these synonyms elicit?

            b.  List three synonyms for “man” that elicit the same images or feelings

7.  Three years after graduating from university, U.S. women’s salaries are what percentage of men who are doing the same work, with both working full-time?

a. 100 (i.e., equal)

b. 127

c. 75

d. 62 

8.  Thirty years after graduating from university, women’s salaries are what percentage of men who are doing the same work, with both working full-time?

a.  100

b.  127

 c.  75

d.  62

  9.  Before becoming White House social secretary, Desiree Rogers headed:

Desiree Rogers

Desiree Rogers

a. The Social Register

b. North Shore Gas

c. The Illinois State Lottery

d. The North Shore Gourmet Club

e. People’s Gas 

10.  Support for contraceptives for low-income women was removed from the economic stimulus bill because:

a.  Women need to have more babies to pay for the stimulus package down the road

b.  Babies require women to spend more money on health care and diapers which will further stimulate the economy

c. Women who decide when and whether to get pregnant are “playing God” with their bodies and need men in government or religion to tell them “how to live their lives right.” 

11.  What percentage of movies released between 2004 and 2008 depict the female lead as a stripper or a hooker or both?

a. 7

b. 27

c. 67

d.  87


Reigns of Terror
January 24, 2009, 3:58 am
Filed under: Reproductive Rights, U S Politics

 I think I spent a good chunk of the last eight years writing letters to W, to his secretary of state, and to my senators, protesting everything from  W’s dismemberment of the environment, to the war in Iraq, the war on women, and the constant threat of attacking Iran.  We Americans have killed a lot of people in Iraq and Afghanistan; we’ve left behind uranium-tipped bullets and other appalling agents of destruction.  

As a direct result of 8 years of W’s iron-fisted Global Gag rule, 43 million women in Asia, Africa and eastern Europe are dead or seriously ill because U. S. policy forced the closure of medical clinics, including not only abortions but pre-natal care and general health care.

I say all this not just because the cloud is beginning to lift with Barack, but because from time to time, someone will write demanding to know why I don’t denounce Israeli behavior in Gaza, the West Bank or elsewhere.  No one ever asks me to denounce any other behavior, not even American.  Only Israeli.

So let me say here: I denounce all slaughter.  I denounce U.S. slaughter in the Middle East and Central Asia.  I denounce Robert Mgabe for the genocide he is committing in Zimbabwe: he is actively allowing cholera to run rampant through his country, on top of the dire starvation he has engineered.  

I denounce honor killings.  I denounce the slaughter of women who have been raped.  I denounce Israeli destruction of families and homes in Gaza.  I denounce Nigerian atrocities, and those committed in China.  I denounce Pakistani atrocities.  I denounce enslavement of girls and women in the brothels of Thailand, and I abhor those men who rape girls.  I denounce throwing acid on girls trying to go to school in Afghanistan. I denounce the enslavement of women and the refusal to allow us to freely choose when and if we will become pregnant.  I denounce Nicaragua for imprisoning women who’ve had abortions.  

 I denounce U.S. torture of suspects.  I denounce those who fire rockets into Israel. I denounce the Chechniyan atrocities, and those in Georgia, and those in Uzbekhistan, and those in Congo.  I denounce those who seduce people into becoming suicide bombers, while hiding safe and sound somewhere else.  And the ongoing genocide in Darfur, which no longer even rates a line on the evening news.

Now, do we all feel better?

What exactly have I accomplished, except to show that I’m another chardonnay, or in my case, cappuccino liberal.  I was at a bookfair in Europe 2 years ago, having dinner with a Lebanese bookseller.  W and Cheney were once again ramping up their war rhetoric against Iran and I was terrified that we would do the unspeakable.  The Lebanese bookseller said that until you have lived through war you have no idea how terrible it is, and I’m sure she’s right, but we were sitting in a private home overlooking a private lake, drinking lovely burgundy–both of us: “This is terrible,” she said, sip.  “Horrible,” I agreed, sip.  I felt nauseated with myself–a parody of a John LeCarre novel.

 My acts are puny and singularly ineffectual: letters, op-ed pieces, lectures.  The occasional useless outraged phone call to W’s White House, or to a foreign envoy.  I’m not sure what else I could do, except I know I should do it more.  And turning Israel, or any other country, into the Only Demon, is a convenient way of forgetting what may be happening in one’s own backyard.  Just look at America, the demonization of Iraq–and the 43 million dead women we’ve left in our wake.