The Philadelphia Rebound: Philly Politicians Don’t Stay Down Long

Former state Sen. Vincent Fumo leaves the James A. Byrne US Courthouse in Philadelphia, secure in the knowledge that he’ll rise again. (AP | Matt Rourke)

In May 1903, as part of a series about American cities, muckraking New York reporter Lincoln Steffans wrote in McClure’s that Philadelphia was regarded as the most corrupt city at that time. Other corrupt cities eagerly pointed the finger at Philadelphia, he noted, “as worse — ‘the worst-governed city in the country.'” Steffans himself acknowledged Philadelphia’s corruption, but felt what distinguished it was that it took place in a city that had access to and experience with reform. Other cities were just as corrupt, but their citizens might not know any better, while Philadelphians seemed to be making a choice. He wrote:

“The people” seem to prefer to be ruled by a known thief than an ambitious reformer. They will make you convict their Tweeds, Mc-Maneses, Butlers, and Shepherds, and even then they may forgive them and talk of monuments to their precious memory…

Some traditions die hard. Read more »

How Will NBC10 News Report on the Fattahs?

It was 12:49 p.m. and the big headline on CBS Philly’s website was “PA US Rep Chaka Fattah Indicted in Racketeering Case.” On the ABC 10 website the headline read: “Rep. Chaka Fattah Indicted in Racketeering Case.” The headline on NBC10’s website at the same moment? “Pregnant Women Fear Transportation Trouble During Papal Visit.” Read more »

New York Times on Penn’s Problems With Suicide and Perfectionism

Terracotta Heraldry on the Duhring Wing.   | Steven Minicola, University of Pennsylvania  Communications.

Terracotta Heraldry on the Duhring Wing. | Steven Minicola, University of Pennsylvania Communications.

Today’s New York Times has an article on campus suicide that features the story of Kathryn DeWitt, a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Like her classmate Madison Holleran, DeWitt was a standout student and athlete in high school, but arrived at Penn to find that plenty of other students were just as remarkable as she was — and many were such high achievers, they made DeWitt feel inferior. In what seemed like countless ways, DeWitt imagined she didn’t measure up, as the TimesJulie Scelfo writes: Read more »

The Best Philadelphians 2015

Clockwise from upper left: Mayor Michael Nutter, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Adam Granduciel of the band War on Drugs, Nerlens Noel, Todd Carmichael, Courtney and Chad Ludeman. Illustrations by Brett Affrunti

Clockwise from upper left: Mayor Michael Nutter, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Adam Granduciel of the band War on Drugs, Nerlens Noel, Todd Carmichael, Courtney and Chad Ludeman. Illustrations by Brett Affrunti

This group of Best Philadelphians should have so many more people on it — several million more — because every Philadelphian is a Best Philadelphian. Every single one of us should get a gold star, dammit, especially when it’s snowing outside and the buses aren’t running and the ramp to 95 is closed. But all yearbooks must have superlatives, so we do want to highlight some people who have made this a banner year — starting with the guy who kind of runs things in this town. Read more »

Kaukab Siddique Keeps Saying Terrible, Anti-Semitic Stuff on Facebook

I wish I had never looked at Kaukab Siddique’s Facebook page.

But I couldn’t help myself—I got curious when I saw that the Lincoln University professor was making headlines across the country for remarks that included phrases like “dirty Jewish Zionist thugs.” “Well, that sounds intriguing,” I thought, not really taking it seriously. See, I often forget that people think horrible things about Jews. It’s 2015, for god’s sake, and I rarely encounter blatant anti-Semitism or discrimination due to my being Jewish. And unlike past generations of my family, my life is not significantly more difficult because I am a Jew. It is sometimes socially uncomfortable, and I do sometimes hide the fact that I’m Jewish, but I am not treated like a pariah.

So it’s easy for me to live in a bubble of denial, especially now that I no longer subscribe to publications from the Anti-Defamation League. Read more »

The Homeless Have a Home: It’s Philadelphia

A homeless camp at 16th and Vine. Photo by Liz Spikol, 2014.

A homeless camp at 16th and Vine. Photo by Liz Spikol, 2014.

I know she didn’t mean it to be cruel, when she said it. She was just a sheltered kid from Roxborough doing a park cleanup to satisfy a school requirement on a pretty weekend morning. She told me she hardly ever went into “the city.” Her exposure to people in adverse circumstances, I’m guessing, was limited.

We’d paired off to pluck Philly’s flotsam and jetsam out of a woodsy area near a highway. It wasn’t necessary to pair off, but she seemed to feel safer with an adult. I thought about how funny it was that she saw me that way, as the grownup — was I going to feel like one too, at some point?

She was chatty, in a good mood, but at one point she caught a whiff of something foul, wrinkled her nose and said, “Ugh, it smells like the homeless.”

“The homeless.”

Read more »

Millennials More Likely to Look for Yoga Porn Than Prior Generations

Millennials are into this. No kidding. | Screenshot of "hot yoga" scenario from Pornhub.

Millennials are into this. No kidding. | Screenshot of “hot yoga” scenario from Pornhub.

Pornhub Insights, the research and analysis branch of the adult video purveyor Pornhub, teamed up with Mic and published an analysis of the habits of Pornhub’s millennial users — those between the ages 18 and 34. With 18.35 billion total visits and 78.9 billion videos viewed in 2014, Pornhub certainly has plenty of data to mine, and some of the generational differences are frankly shocking. (NSFW, obviously.)

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Pennsylvania Is One of Top 20 States That “Americas” the Hardest


The real estate website just came out with an unconventional listicle that, like some cowboy-hatted, flag-shirt-wearing country singer, initially used the word “America” as a verb, i.e., “Which U.S. State ‘Americas’ the Hardest?” Now, before you flee for some David Foster Wallace-dotted hills in search of depth and substance, let me qualify this listicle by saying it was written by Ryan Nickum, who—despite turning out such blog posts regularly—is smart and funny and wise. (He also has a keen understanding of Philadelphia even though he lives in Seattle, hence his short-lived Tumblr Philly’s Basement Bars.) Readers weren’t totally understanding the use of America as a verb, so Nickum changed the title to the more palatable “Which U.S. States Are The Most ‘American’?” But that doesn’t convey the same flushed-faced patriotic fervor, if you ask me.

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Not Just Aging Hippies at Brian Wilson Show

Brian Wilson at the Mann. Photo by Brad Maule

Brian Wilson at the Mann. Photo by Brad Maule

A friend texted us when we got to the Mann Music Center in Fairmount Park last night to see Brian Wilson: “Saw Liz’s piece about Brian Wilson today. Figured you might be here amidst the aging hippies.” Indeed we were, but there were fewer aging hippies than I’d anticipated. Or, better said, there were a lot of aging hippies but plenty of young people, too. I would characterize the audience mix by the contrast in people in the immediate seats around me. Right in front of me were two guys in their 20s, clean-cut and enthusiastic. In front of them there was a man in his 70s, I’d guess, wearing a calculator watch and what I thought was a hearing aid but which proved to be a profusion of ear hair. They were all white, but there were also people in the vicinity who weren’t. That surprised me, as I tend to think of Brian Wilson/Beach Boys fans as a pretty homogenous bunch, but it wasn’t the last surprise I’d have that evening. Here are 12 Other Surprises From the Brian Wilson/Rodriguez Show at the Mann.

1. Songs by opener Rodriguez were well known by the crowd. The 2012 documentary about Rodriguez Searching for Sugarman not only won the Academy Award, it won every other documentary film award it could possibly scoop up, from Sundance to BAFTA. Still, I had no idea that three years later the man who was essentially a musical oddity in the U.S. would have enough fans that they would clap and cheer with delighted recognition at the opening bars of his songs. Some even sang along. Though he had to be helped on and off the stage by people on either side of him, he was in pretty good voice as he sat in a single spotlight alone and played his guitar. If ever a guy were meant for an intimate venue, it’s Rodriguez, but the Mann’s pavilion—with its homey wooden beams and lightning bugs flickering in the darkness—came close.

Read more »

My Reverence for Brian Wilson

Via Shutterstock

Via Shutterstock

The first time I heard the album Pet Sounds I was at my friend James’ place in Graduate Hospital, when it was still possible for a struggling actor to live in a communal house with artists and photographers and pay very little rent. We had gone to college together, at Oberlin, where he was in the school’s music conservatory, and we got to know each other when we played father and daughter in a play. I was not in the conservatory—or the “con,” as it was known—but I had con longings. My mother had been a child piano prodigy who studied with Seymour Bernstein (now the subject of an Ethan Hawke documentary), and our home was filled with classical music, and a reverence for it. I took to music easily too, whether sung or played, and I was in countless ensembles and musicals and choirs. Still, I didn’t have the persistence or natural gift that would make me a conservatory student, so I took ad hoc piano lessons at the conservatory and felt a swooning envy of the kids who spent their days and nights immersed in key signatures. Kids like James.

One of the best things about Oberlin was that I was able to meet other students who understood what music meant to me, and who heard it in the same way. So when James—a brilliant musician himself—would recommend something, I knew it would be good. In the case of Pet Sounds, he was appalled I’d reached adulthood without listening to it. “Isn’t it just California surf rock?” I asked.

At this point, James knew where I’d been since college, which is to say, in and out of psychiatric institutions where I’d been given punishing drugs and shock treatments; and living with my parents so I wouldn’t try, again, to kill myself. Though I was living alone now, I was still struggling with the demons of mental illness when James had me sit down on the couch across from two very large speakers and turned off the lights. Read more »

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