Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Secret" Mucca Pazza show

Posted By on 01.31.07 at 07:04 PM

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Just announced: the twentysomething-piece circus-punk marching band Mucca Pazza (whose show at Schubas' Tomorrow Never Knows festival earlier this month was sold out by 10 PM) is playing a "secret show/open rehearsal" tomorrow night at the Hideout; it starts at 10 and the cover is $8. The Hideout PR machine promises brand-new material.

In case you can't get in, their next not-secret show is February 23 at the Double Door

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Cry 96 Tears for Question Mark

Posted By on 01.31.07 at 06:48 PM

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Yet another depressing public service announcement: earlier this month, the Michigan house belonging to Question Mark of Question Mark & the Mysterians burned to the ground: photos of the damage are here. As you can see, a total loss--including, of course, all the memorabilia from his entire career. Local news report here; maybe the saddest part is that his seven Yorkies died in the fire.

If you're familiar at all with the Mysterians' story (recounted nicely by my colleague J.R. Jones in the linked article), you might guess that despite their million-selling hit "96 Tears" Question Mark and his bandmates weren't exactly set for life, an impression upheld by the fact that his house and everything in it were reportedly uninsured. 

He's putting out a call: anyone who has memories to share (perhaps someone who photographed or taped his Empty Bottle performance from a few years back?) please visit the Mysterians' MySpace page or send  stuff to Question Mark & the Mysterians, PO Box 96, Clio, Michigan 48420.

Benefit concerts have been announced for Detroit, Saint Louis, and New York, and one is being planned for Chicago (at the Empty Bottle) in March. See the official benefit page for updates and donation information.

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David Radler's daughter

Posted By on 01.31.07 at 06:37 PM

It can be a heartwarming sight when the next generation steps up -- depending on what you thought of the first generation. Word comes that a string of nine small newspapers in Rhode Island is being sold to a company headed by Melanie Radler. Her father, David Radler, started out with his own little papers in Canada and wound up publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times and COO of Hollinger International, where prosecutors say he and his longtime (until recently) pal Conrad Black pocketed money hand over fist. In March Black goes on trial on corruption charges in federal court in Chicago. Radler has pleaded guilty and turned state's evidence.

Melanie Radler is a 1999 Northwestern law school grad who went to work as a litigator for Winston & Strawn, the law firm chaired at the time by Jim Thompson. Back then the former governor was on cordial terms with Radler and Black -- in fact he presided over the Hollinger board's all-important audit committee. Today that's all history Thompson would probably rather forget, and Melanie Radler has surfaced as president of RISN Operations Inc., the firm buying the Rhode Island papers. The vice president is Roland McBride, who might be described as an old crony of her dad's. He's CFO of Horizon Publications Inc., of Marion, Illinois, a small newspaper chain that Radler still controls and that Black used to own a large piece of. Horizon shows up right in the middle of the Hollinger scandal. According to the 2005 indictment, noncompete payments written into the deal when Hollinger sold some publications to Horizon for more than $43 million in 1999 meant that Black, Radler, and a third defendant "had, in essence, negotiated an agreement with themselves . . . not to compete against themselves . . . resulting in them paying themselves . . . approximately $1.2 million."

McBride was also CFO of the American Publishing Company -- a Hollinger subsidiary that by the end of 2000 had sold off virtually all its newspapers. Nevertheless, the indictment says, in 2001 four Hollinger officers were paid a total of $5.5 million (in checks backdated to 2000, with almost all the money going to Black and Radler) in return for their promises not to compete with the APC if they left Hollinger. They took the money, the indictment marvels, not to compete "with a company that was, for all intents and purposes, no longer in the newspaper business." A special committee of the Hollinger Board investigating the scandal would identify McBride as the APC officer who signed the checks and characterize the explanation he gave as "completely nonsensical."

McBride and Melanie Radler couldn't be reached to talk about their new adventure. A Rhode Island journalist tells me the outgoing owners, the Journal Register Company, "bled these newspapers down to a fraction of what they used to be." If Melanie Radler has inherited any of her dad's genius -- or if dad's lurking in the background of this deal -- she'll show them. David Radler never saw a turnip that wasn't a little plumper than it needed to be.

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RIP NCBG

Posted By on 01.31.07 at 04:39 PM

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The CTA's falling apart, the CPS is in constant financial crisis, the city's squandering hundreds of millions in TIF funds--and now we've lost a group that made it its business to keep tabs on this sorry mess.

The Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, one of the city's only independent budget watchdogs, is shutting its doors. "We're closing shop on Friday," says Jacqueline Leavy, NCBG's executive director. "Basically, our grant money dried up."

Founded in 1988, the nonprofit NCBG scrutinized city, CTA, and CPS budgets. But perhaps its most significant achievement was the creation of a TIF fact book profiling the 140-plus tax increment financing districts in the city. Monitored only nominally, TIFs function as virtual slush funds for the mayor. The NCBG did its best to take the lid off.

According the Leavy, NCBG's been feeling the budget pinch for the last few years (staff had been cut from ten to two). "Foundations change their priorities," she says. "Some foundations have a rule they will only fund you for two or three or five years. We could not find replacement sources."

The NCBG plans to keep its main Web site and CTA site operating for at least six months. It's planning a farewell party on March 15 at 5 PM at Garfield Park Conservatory.

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Spanish double shot

Posted By on 01.31.07 at 01:15 PM

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Two radically different strains of Spanish music will be presented tomorrow night, February 1, at the Chicago Cultural Center. At 6 PM the Madrid-based group La Musgaña play their first Chicago date in more than a decade—they played the Old Town School back in 1995—working a style that’s got nothing to do with flamenco. On the recent Temas Profanos (Mad River) the group delivers an ancient sound that reflects Spain’s northern European roots,  combined with Moroccan elements. In northern regions like Galicia and Asturias certain Spanish groups play straight-up Celtic music, but La Musgaña work in the middle, sculpting melancholy melodies on accordion, bagpipes, and wooden flute over nimble electric bass lines (and sometimes jaunty hand percussion). The group isn’t overly concerned with purity, but they do manage to preserve an oft-ignored part of Spain’s rich musical heritage. That said, I have an almost irrational dislike of Celtic music, so don’t expect to see me down there.

At 7:30 the 22-year old flamenco dancer David Perez Almagro takes the stage joined by musicians from Seville’s La Union's annual Festival El Cante de las Minas. It’s one of the first events in this year’s Flamenco Festival 2007, which severely pales in comparison to the last few installments. Legendary guitar innovator Paco de Lucia plays Symphony Center on February 13, and France’s sorta-flamenco stars the Gipsy Kings play House of Blues the following two nights, but both acts were already on national tours. In the past the festival has presented more interesting cutting-edge, established, and upcoming acts: Esperanza Fernandez, Jose Merce, and Son de la Frontera. This year the schedule seems like it was an afterthought. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the lackluster programming follows the departure of Michael Orlove (from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs) from helping to organize the festival.

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Ruhlman on Achatz

Posted By on 01.31.07 at 12:33 PM

Speaking of Michael Ruhlman, I just found out he'll hit Chicago on Sunday, March 4, to interview Grant Achatz live on the Steppenwolf stage. !!! Despite having some issues with his most recent book, The Reach of a Chef, I still count him as one of my favorite food writers--elegant and passionate but with the research chops and bulldoggish tenacity required of the best narrative journalists. His previous book, The Soul of a Chef, is the book that got me hooked on food writing in the first place, serving as the philosophical anchor of a piece I wrote about Charlie Trotter's in 2001. And while my feelings about fine dining and its mandate of excellence uber alles have gotten waay more complicated over the years, as I've been to lots more fancy restaurants and gotten paid to write about them to boot, I still go back to Ruhlman's book when I'm trying to tease out the difference between art and affectation. Watching a writer talk to a chef in a dark theater on a Sunday afternoon may not be the height of glamour, but I have to admit I'm looking forward to this with an excitement that  may betray an unhealthy degree of geekitude.

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More conservative climate quackery

Posted By on 01.31.07 at 11:59 AM

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Joel Makower at Two Steps Forward treats Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel with amused contempt. I'm just pissed.

Last week the Climate Action Partnership -- including corporate giants BP, Caterpillar, DuPont, and General Electric -- called for a national limit on carbon dioxide emissions to combat climate change. (Their report, "A Call for Action," is here [PDF].) Strassel says they'll make money on the deal -- and therefore it must be a Bad Thing:

"The cap-and-trade climate program these 10 jolly green giants are now calling for is a regulatory device designed to financially reward companies that reduce CO2 emissions, and punish those that don't.... DuPont has been plunging into biofuels, the use of which would soar under a cap. Somebody has to cobble together all these complex trading deals, so say hello to Lehman Brothers. Caterpillar has invested heavily in new engines that generate 'clean energy.' British Petroleum is mostly doing public penance for its dirty oil habit, but also gets a plug for its own biofuels venture.... What makes this lobby worse than the usual K-Street crowd is that it offers no upside. At least when Big Pharma self-interestedly asks for fewer regulations, the economy benefits."

Strassel appears to be criticizing what economists, using 18th-century verbiage, call "rent seeking," which is trying to make money by influencing legislation rather than by making better products. An honest argument from this point of view would propose that all lobbying and political contributions by for-profit entities be universally banned. But Strassel isn't making an honest economic argument. She's OK with some companies' rent seeking and not others, because she assumes -- without even attempting to provide any evidence -- that deregulating Big Pharma has no downside and cutting CO2 emissions has no upside.

Strassel's column is considerably less intelligent than this summary makes it sound, veering wildly from the above "point" to criticizing proposals that CAP hasn't made, then criticizing what she predicts will be the inaction of the Congressional Democrats on this issue.

Makower, by contrast, is well worth reading in full. He includes links for investors smart enough to want to make money from a runaway climate train, as opposed to standing on the tracks claiming it'll never come. 

 

 

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First Look: Kim's Korean Restaurant

Posted By on 01.31.07 at 10:53 AM

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A friend who avoids Chinatown has a theory that the relative economic affluence of some suburban ethnic enclaves make them more friendly to authentic, highly specialized restaurants than those in the city. This flies in the face of the knee-jerk prejudice that the 'burbs are a wasteland of bland conformity--and certain meals I've had in the last year support him. Can you find better handmade noodles than Katy's in Westmont? Or a more dramatic, fortifying goat stew than Chun Ju in Morton Grove?

Last night I was introduced to another, Kim's Korean Restaurant, at 1827 W. Algonquin in Mount Prospect (847-427-1642). Kim's specializes in samgyeopsal, uncured pork belly from "black pig," a heritage breed otherwise known as the Berkshire or Kurobuta. Meat from these animals is prized for its marbling, tenderness, and a flavor far more memorable than industrial supermarket pork.

In Korean samgyeopsal means "three-layer" pork and refers to the alternating strips of fat and meat in the belly. At Kim's you can order it with one of five different marinades (red wine, red wine and herbs, soybean paste, bamboo leaf, and garlic and curry). Thick matchbook-sized slabs are cooked on a tilted griddle (the fat runs into a bowl), wrapped in red leaf lettuce or circular slices of daikon, and accented with a variety of condiments (soybean paste, soybean powder, a fruit and onion sauce, spicy green onions, and of course, kimchi). There are quite a few other dishes made with the pork belly, not grilled tableside, and plenty without.

You can find samgyeopsal in plenty of city restaurants, but no one does it with more focus, variety, and care than Kim's; a full review is pending.

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Bourdain on Top Chef and Cleveland

Posted By on 01.31.07 at 09:13 AM

Guest blogger Anthony Bourdain weighs in on the Top Chef talent over at Michael Ruhlman's blog--and though I'm down with the Mike love, I can't agree with his assesment of the finalists. Ilan is a tool. Foam on Marcel! (Hey, I've avoided blogging about Top Chef all season--cut me some slack.)

There's also some pretty entertaining audio in which the pair expound on the glories of the Cleveland food scene and do their mutual fear and loathing shtick. It's basically a 15-minute sequel to the notorious Vegas episode of No Reservations and, presumably, a preview of what the forthcoming Cleveland episode of NR--complete with drag-racing scene--might promise.

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Stuck in the middle in Illinois

Posted By on 01.31.07 at 06:18 AM

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Ranking states economically is usually a game played to promote some political idea. At least the Corporation for Economic Development's 2007 "Development Report Card" is more sophisticated than the usual business-climate rankings.

"In the 1980s, 'economic development' was frequently viewed as primarily about companies. This outlook was further popularized by the many tools available that compared states’ 'business friendliness.' While these ratings captured some important points, they often emphasized 'low cost' instead of 'high value.' The cheapest locations—those with low taxes and wages—got the best grades.  These tools encouraged policies to weaken regulation, even if that regulation protected things like the environment and worker safety. An area’s good business rating could be damaged if workers were paid wages and provided benefits that were sufficient for their needs, even when public incentives were provided to their employers."

CFED's more balanced report card uses 67 measures for each state, including infant mortality rates, teacher pay, and income distribution. It gives Illinois mixed grades, ranging from an F in "employment" to an A in both "competitiveness of existing businesses" and "financial resources." Overall, Illinois' grades seem a little better than average. Last summer the more conventional Forbes.com ("the best states for business") ranked Illinois a dismal 44th out of 50.

While the two rating schemes often disagree, they don't seem radically out of line with each other. CFED's only straight-A states, Delaware and Connecticut, were ranked 8th and 28th by Forbes. Forbes.com's favorite state, Virginia, got  straight Bs from CFED; Forbes.com's least favorite state, Louisiana, got two Fs and a C from CFED.

But things are about to change. Illinois' greatest strength in the 2007 CFED report card was being number two in "change in energy costs." Com Ed's big rate hike seems likely to blow our 2008 report card.

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