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Monday, July 31, 2006

The age of Aquarius--er, Os Mutantes

Posted By on 07.31.06 at 05:30 PM

Brazil’s Os Mutantes made its long-anticipated Chicago debut at the Pitchfork Music Festival last night, and I can’t honestly say it was worth the wait. I’m very happy to say I've seen them—which is to say all ten of them, though only three original members were on hand. But as my companion Michelle pointed out, if I didn’t know the band’s old recordings or its colorful backstory I would’ve been utterly perplexed that this group was playing an indie-rock festival. They played a bunch old classics, including “Baby” and “Bat Macumba,” but they sounded strangely toothless. Weirder still was the presence of two throaty back-up vocalists—who, paired with brothers Arnaldo Baptista and Sergio Dias, and new lead singer Zelia Duncan, gave many of the tunes a strong whiff of early-70s peace-and-love musicals like Hair and Godspell. The amazing thing to me was how many people stuck around to catch the headliners on Sunday—I'd guess about 90 percent of the crowd hadn’t heard the band before. The Pitchfork brand is nothing to sneeze at, I guess.

Earlier in the day I caught good sets by Mission of Burma, Yo La Tengo, and Glenn Kotche. I didn’t attend the last year’s Intonation Festival—which Pitchfork curated—but I have to say that as much as I dislike these sorts of outdoor music festivals, I had a great time. The vibe was terrific—people seemed to enjoy themselves without getting wasted and the staff was laid-back.

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Green markets, and a Chicago survey

Posted By on 07.31.06 at 11:17 AM


Over at Gristmill, Jason Scorse--an environmentalist who believes in market principles, and an economist teaching at the Monterey Institute of International Studies--posted his four favorite policies for cleaning up the world:

"Eliminate all natural-resource subsidies.  Subsidies to timber companies, fishermen, farmers, and the oil and gas industry are by far the most damaging environmental policies engaged in by governments around the world." These subsidies both encourage environmental degradation and make natural resources seem cheaper than they are, making it hard for alternatives to compete.

"Expand property rights in areas where they are weak or non-existent.  The areas in the world where we witness the greatest levels of environmental degradation (the oceans, many large tropical forests, and the atmosphere) are those where property rights are absent, unclear, or poorly enforced." Whether held by individuals, groups, or governments, make those rights clear.

"Empower society with information.  Basic environmental science is something that will be underfunded in a pure 'free market,' because it is rarely profitable; therefore, governments should do more to support scientific research."

"Enlarge green markets through government purchases.  Since governments are some of the largest buyers of natural resources in the world (e.g. paper, power, food), their purchases have a huge impact on markets and the environment."

There are some interesting comments both at Gristmill and at Environmental Economics, where Scorse also posted.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Adam Bilsky ( of DePaul's Management of Public Services Graduate Program would like to know "what obstacles currently face supporters of green residential building in Chicago, and what action steps might remove them to stimulate market demand." If you'd like to help, take  his survey (confidentiality promised) before Thursday at It's not excessively long.

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The wacky, wonderful world of the WFMU blog

Posted By on 07.31.06 at 08:21 AM

I don’t think there’s a more entertaining blog out there than the one published by WFMU, the fantastic free-form radio station based in Jersey City, New Jersey. It’s amazing enough that the station allows anyone outside of listening range to receive a high-quality stream—and then leaves its shows on the server in perpetuity—but its MP3-heavy blog is something else altogether. There’s an astonishing mix of aural oddities—some for laughs, some for provocative listening. Recent highlights include songs about squirrels, a weird video mash-up of Primus and Bollywood legend Mohd Rafi, and strange Jew’s harp songs from an obscure album recorded by notorious McCarthy-era snitch Harvey Matusow. There are also plenty of videos and crazy links offered. Many of the station’s excellent DJs contribute to the site, so there’s always a diverse array of stuff getting uploaded. It’s a great way to waste an hour or ten. [Editor's note: the station's location has been corrected.]

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Surprises right and left

Posted By on 07.31.06 at 06:28 AM

Some predictable people provoke unexpected thoughts, and it's not even the dog days yet:

  • The Ayn Rand Institute--which I'd always thought of as existing to provide rationalizations for right-wing assholes--does the opposite when confronted with President Bush's veto of stem-cell funding: "The government should get out of the business of funding science. But so long as it is involved, it must scrupulously respect the separation of church and state. Its funding decisions must be made on rationally demonstrable, not faith-based grounds. Bush's veto clearly violates this principle."

  • And anti-corporate crusaders Russel Mokhiber and Robert Weissman take a week off from Boeing and Wal-Mart to whack liberal/left groups. They draw on a forthcoming book by Columbia University sociologist Dana Fisher, How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America: "Fisher's study finds that most of the national environmental, student, and progressive groups have shut down their internal grassroots operations and outsourced door-to-door fundraising to a handful of large national canvass operations. Fisher says these national canvassing operations are the point of entry for hundreds of young, idealistic and politically aware people. But instead of funneling these people into a lifetime of progressive politics, more often than not the national canvass operations, run as secretive corporate top-down bureaucracies, burn their idealism and spit them out onto the trash heap of politics." Woops.


OK, maybe you could have predicted these in hindsight, but they woke me up.  (Any current or former canvassers out there who can tell more?)

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Best of the Wal-Mart brouhaha

Posted By on 07.30.06 at 07:46 AM


You just know the flood of words for and against Wal-Mart and Chicago's regulation of its wages is just starting. Here are the best thoughts I've seen:

Scott Gordon at the Beachwood Reporter investigates Wal-Mart's claim that the council vote cost the city $6.5 billion, and calls bullshit on it.

Michael Van Winkle at the Heartland Institute keeps the libertarian case short, cool, and simple. Most commentators talk as if the big boxes will either walk or stay. But the real effects will be subtle, at the margins, and based on profitability, whether they involve building slightly smaller stores, stores just outside the city limits, automating more entry-level jobs, or opening stores that later close. "ANY law that decreases a store's profitability relative to other stores in the same system also puts that store a disadvantage in the internal competition for resources," he writes. If you prefer your libertarians angrier and more expansive, try this.

Saul Levmore, dean of the University of Chicago Law School, observes that a progressive city income tax could have been used for the same purpose, and more efficiently--if anyone trusted the city to spend the proceeds appropriately.

Soap Blox Chicago has a map showing the location of wards of aldermen voting against the ordinance.

Alysia Tate of the Chicago Reporter writes in the Tribune that the council ducked the issue of underdevelopment in the inner city.

If you're not confused enough yet, there's a nice summary of the bottom-line-driven "greening" of Wal-Mart over at the environmental site Gristmill. 



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Saturday, July 29, 2006

When you wish you weren't in Kansas any more

Posted By on 07.29.06 at 07:30 AM


A Wichita TV report tells the sad story of a California couple, J.R. and Robin Knight, proprietors of the bed-and-breakfast Lakeway Hotel in Meade, Kansas (population 1,671). They and their business are in danger of becoming outcasts because they fly a rainbow flag. 

"Knight says the [local] radio station has called him threatening to remove the restaurant's commercials if he does not remove the flag. A local pastor stopped by [and] said it was equivalent to hanging women's panties on a flag pole. When Knight jokingly said he might consider that--the preacher said he would have him arrested.  His business has suffered--down to only a few local customers. The folks in Meade who've boycotted say it's too offensive for them to eat there."

The couple are Californians who came to town and refurbished the downtown edifice a couple of years ago. It seems unlikely that enough tolerant or pro-gay outsiders will be able to visit southwestern Kansas and spend the night to overcome the effects of local ill will.

Three thoughts:

(1) No wonder small towns are dying. I grew up in one in downstate Illinois. They're nice places to live--so long as your skin color and ideas fit in.

(2) Cosmopolitan outsiders can be just as provincial as locals. This is not to excuse the apparent prejudices of many Meade residents, but if you move to such a place you've gotta know what you could be in for.

(3) The most sensitive (and funniest) recent exploration of this kind of affair -- what happens to outsiders in rural and small-town neighborhoods--is The Real Dirt on Farmer John, a documentary on the proprietor of Angelic Organics in Boone County, Illinois. If you haven't seen it, you're missing a good thing.  (Caveat lector: I reviewed it in the Reader January 20 and consider John a friend.)

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Fred Anderson isn't sitting still

Posted By on 07.28.06 at 06:59 PM


As I mentioned yesterday, Chicago tenor saxophone great Fred Anderson is gearing up for the reopening of his jazz club, the Velvet Lounge. But that doesn’t mean his horn is gathering dust. Last night he joined an excellent trio from Boston at Elastic, and he sounded as good as ever. The trio, led by pianist Steven Lantner (pictured), was forced to operate a bit outside of its usual orbit. The music was a kind of harmonically complex postbop informed by both by the masterful composer and neglected improviser Herbie Nichols and obscure Boston abstractionist Lowell Davidson, juiced with hearty swing rhythms. For much of the night Lantner was forced to comp for Anderson, laying down dark chords for the master reedist to extrapolate over, but when the saxophonist laid out the pianist delivered an astonishing torrent of tricky pianism that recalled the early work of Cecil Taylor, stoked by the rhythm section of bassist Joe Morris and drummer Luther Gray. After the first set Dave Rempis, who organizes the Thursday night jazz series at Elastic, mentioned that a new club was opening on Friday night--the Velvet--to enthusiastic applause.

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In the new world, everyone gets rated all the time

Posted By on 07.28.06 at 11:35 AM

Anyone who's ever hung out in the halls of academe will want to devour Terry Caesar's clever article on over at Inside Higher Education:

"One thing you immediately learn when you visit RATE is that students generally seem to care more passionately than you realized, and some are able to write with more wit than you saw in your own course evaluations," he writes. "A Top Twenty from the site circulates online, including 'Three of my friends got A’s in his class and my friends are dumb,' 'If I was tested on her family, I would have gotten an A,' and, my own favorite, 'BORING. But I learned there are 137 tiles on the ceiling.'

"From a reader’s point of view, who cares if these comments are accurate? They’re fun to read. From a colleague’s point of view, who cares if just about any comments are just? They’re irresistible to read, like gossip. RATE opens up the whole evaluative process insofar as teaching is concerned. Suddenly students get to say what they really think, not just to themselves but to a potential audience of thousands. Rather like guests on certain afternoon television talk shows, individuals feel inspired to be more recklessly candid."

In other words, sites like this are doing for educators what blogs are doing for journalists: the pros get to be publicly judged (and often smeared) by unqualified amateurs--who are also their customers.

Caesar doesn't mention the counterpart underground site Rate Your Students, now in estivation for the summer. It may make better reading for rant-lovers over 30, and in any case the slackers and nimrods often vilified there aren't named or shamed in public as the teachers are.

And yes, there is one for high schools nationwide. No doubt there are pearls of wisdom buried here somewhere, but this randomly selected comment will do for most: "she is f-ing awesome she passed me and I never showed up 4 swimming!!"

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Who are you and what have you done with the Heartland Institute?

Posted By on 07.28.06 at 06:59 AM


Twenty-one years ago I kicked off my job at the Reader with a monstrously long profile of the then-newborn Heartland Institute and the philosophy of libertarianism.

For years now, Heartland has been frittering away its credibility, wasting its resources, and discrediting libertarian thought in general by claiming there's no such thing as climate change--and that if there is, people have nothing to do with it.

Libertarians pride themselves on dealing with the economic world as it is, not as do-gooders wish it was. Why should it be different where other sciences are involved? Real climate scientists agree that there's a problem here that we need to deal with. Hell, even Lloyd's of London has figured that out. There are ways of dealing with climate change that will enhance government power, and ways that will harness the power of the market to improve matters. Those are the issues worth debating, instead of presenting Michael Crichton--a fiction writer with a flimsy conspiracy theory--as if he were some kind of authority on the planet's climate system.

A good deal of my writing over the years has been influenced by libertarian thinking, much of which I learned at Heartland. These days I find myself hesitating to mention their good stuff because of their crackpot position on climate change. It gives the impression that libertarianism really is a right-wing philosophy, lined up with anti-science Republicans who think evolution is some kind of dubious hypothesis. What possible reward could be great enough for intelligent people to seek such company?




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Thursday, July 27, 2006

The New Velvet Lounge

Posted By on 07.27.06 at 04:42 PM

The "soft" opening of Fred Anderson's new Velvet Lounge takes place tomorrow night, Friday, July 28, with a sextet led by drummer Isaiah Spencer, who played the final sets at the previous space. The old club on Indiana closed back in April, and although an official "grand opening" is planned for the new location at 67 E. Cermak the weekend of August 10, Anderson says he wants to get the new location up and running to work out any kinks. He'll be featuring music five nights a week, including the famous Sunday jam session--currently led by saxophonist Greg Ward--but he says once the club is running smoothly he hopes to feature music every day. The calendar on the club's Web site hasn't been updated yet, but Anderson says it will be shortly.

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