Questing through the southwest suburbs yesterday, I stumbled on Cole's Choice, a bulletproof barbecue shack utilizing an aquarium-style smoker--always a good sign. Like many south-side and south-suburban joints (Lem's, Barbara Ann's), Cole's decor is minimalist--two tables, a small fish tank inhabited by a single guppy, and a dry erase board scribbled with the ever popular John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .)
I ordered a link and mini tip combo, sauce on the side, for $9.75, which seemed steep until I opened it in the parking lot across the street--a huge boat of nicely charred (if a bit too cartilaginous) rib tips atop thick cut fries, next to an amazing sausage.
Though I tend to favor the coarse-ground variety of hot link you find at places like Uncle John's and Lem's I was impressed with this long, deep fried tube steak. The interior was finely ground, and though it was probably emulsified with more non-meat extenders than I'd like, it also had a powerful sagey note and a peppery bite. I'm not sure I've seen anything like it, but if anybody out there has, I'd be interested to hear about it.
Cole's Choice Barbecue, 1746 W. 127th, Calumet Park IL, 708-597-2653
On Wednesday Cook County Board president Todd Stroger sat behind the rostrum listening as commissioners led by finance chairman John Daley dissected and debated budget amendments. On Thursday he told them it was their job to get a budget passed; he'd already done his work by proposing a plan that would raise sales taxes and add jobs. On Friday he sued.
"In the performance of his duties, President Stroger submitted his executive budget to the board's finance committee on October 17, 2007," says the complaint, filed in county court by Stroger, state's attorney Richard Devine, and sheriff Tom Dart, naming all 17 board members as defendants. "All conditions precedent to the board's duty to adopt an Annual Appropriation Ordinance have taken place." The suit asks the court to order commissioners to keep meeting until they have a budget deal done and, in the event the deadline passes, to authorize county treasurer Maria Pappas to make payments to keep the government running.
Late Friday word circulated that a deal might be in place. Commissioners would agree to raise the sales tax one percentage point in return for Stroger agreeing to farm out management of the county health system to a private firm--essentially a compromise floated earlier by commissioner Larry Suffredin.
But a last-minute deal isn't going to undo the impression of many taxpayers that the board is full of ineffective grandstanders and the government dismally managed. And some of the most frustrated citizens are the people who work for the county and don't consider themselves waste.
"The taxpayers and citizens brought them in to do a job--and no one's doing it," one longtime county employee told me Friday evening. "It's time to get some younger people in there with some fresh ideas."
The county went through a budget crisis last year too. This employee can explain, far better than I can, what he's seen and been through since then:
"I've worked for the county for more than 20 years, and last year they cut my pay. Some people who'd just come in didn't get their pay cut. It was about $7,000 a year; I was making about $79,000, but I've been working there more than 20 years. In fact I haven't had a raise since [my boss] came in there. Some of the people he's brought in have. But that's how this county works. It's all politics. All of the offices have stuff going on that shouldn't be. Our office isn't squeaky clean, either, but I really don't get involved in it. I usually do my work and keep to myself.
"Right now I don't think this is just Todd Stroger's fault. Everybody says he doesn't have the right experience, but they're just looking at him as a scapegoat. They should just sit down and work together. The problem is that everybody wants to be the commander in chief. Everybody wants to have the power.
"All this mess has got to go. Sooner or later they're going to have to change things. They're going to have to think of the people paying the taxes.
"I have bills to pay too, and taking $7,000 away from me--I worked more than 20 years for that salary. I haven't missed work. I've never been late to work, not one day. I've never played around on the job or anything like that. I'm from the south--my father was a sharecropper who worked hard, and I'm his son. I believe in working hard. I've worked hard and I have a home. I've got gas bills and kids I'm trying to support, but this is politics. What can I do about it?"
The title track from Agwambo (Kanyo), the new album by veteran Kenyan band Bana Kadori, is like a burned-out car left by the side of the road: it's an optimistic benediction for opposition leader Raila "Agwambo" Odinga, written when he was expected to win the presidential election held in December. Of course, Odinga was edged by incumbent Mwai Kibaki, and widespread suspicion of voting fraud helped plunge what had been one of Africa's most stable countries into fierce political and ethnic violence that's left more than a thousand dead, hundreds of thousands driven from their homes, and the nation in shock. Kenya has been battered economically as well, and many formerly integrated neighborhoods have become homogenous ethnic enclaves. Yesterday Kibaki and Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement in Nairobi, brokered by Kofi Annan, that creates a powerful new prime ministerial position for Odinga, but considering that the two men have failed to work together in the past, the future of this new government is uncertain at best.
The Bana Kadori song was recorded last summer during the band's first American tour, which included shows for expat Kenyan communities in Pennsylvania and Texas and a New York rally for Odinga. Most of the tune is sung in Luo, but it also includes an English-language litany of Odinga's virtues: "He has suffered through detention without trial / For the sake of liberation / He was a staunch advocate of the Second Liberation / That gave Kenya the historic repeal of section 2A / That brought multiparty politics to our land," and so on. It's not exactly poetry, but given such enthusiasm it's easy to see why Odinga's defeat--especially in what seems likely to have been a corrupt contest--would come as a bitter blow to so many.
Benga, the modern guitar-driven dance style that dominates Kenya's musical landscape, is a major part of Bana Kadori's sound, but the band also has a deep love for Congolese rumba and uses its languorous, soothing grooves to temper benga's energy. The music is wonderfully stripped down--none of the chintzy synths that so many African pop stars use, just electric guitars, percussion, saxophone, and bass. Perhaps the most satisfying element is the gorgeous, lush harmony singing. It's one thing for a group to nail a chorus, but these guys often sing whole songs together without the slightest wobble out of tune. The record was produced by Nyathi Otenga Flying Studios (the mobile setup run by Alex Minoff and Ian Eagleson of Extra Golden, who also own Kanyo Records), and they captured the music honestly and without fuss. Let's hope Kenya's future is as smooth as this album.
Liu Fang, Silk Sound (Accords Croises)
Vinicius Cantuaria, Cymbals (Koch)
Farmers Market, Surfin' USSR (Ipecac)
Box, Studio 1 (Rune Grammofon)
Todd Stroger, the Last Honest Politician:
"Right now, we have a situation where it's more about personality than it is about the county," said Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
The Sun-Times's Steve Patterson, who's been riding Two Percent Todd all week, has a nice roundup of Stroger's PR revolving door:
"Mullins will take over next week as Stroger's fourth PR chief in just 14 months. . . . Mullins would supervise another former Stroger PR chief, Chinta Strausberg -- who is now paid $99,807 a year as Stroger's liaison to churches -- as well as $85,000-a-year hospital spokesman Sean Howard, who was fired from Stroger's political campaign after he was arrested on charges of stalking a woman."
The Trib has a story about Evan B. Dooley, a trader at MF Global who cost them $141.5 million by making bad bets on the chaotic wheat market, something that's fascinated me recently. The New York Times has a bit more on Dooley himself. MF Global's stock took an immediate hit. It's a lot of money, but it's not on the level of other rogue traders.