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Monday, March 31, 2008

Keeping it real

Posted By on 03.31.08 at 08:48 PM

As someone said in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." So there isn't much time to get this right. The legend of Katie Hamilton is closing fast.

Hamilton is the Tribune intern who starred in the take-that-Sam-Zell video that recently won a Sun-Times contest. After the Sun-Times ran a big story singing her praises, the Tribune gleefully revealed what was up. I posted an item on this blog trying to give credit to the actual schemers behind the caper, John Kass did the same thing and went into more detail in his Tribune column, and there were other efforts here and there to tell the tale and get the facts right. But on Sunday America's paper of record, the New York Times, ran a short piece in its baseball preview section (but not posted online, apparently) that said:

"With Sam Zell flirting with a new name for Wrigley Field, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a contest encouraging fans to produce music videos in protest. The winner was Katie Hamilton, a student at the University of Illinois and a Chicago Tribune intern, who rewrote the lyrics to the 1984 Twisted Sister anthem, 'We're Not Gonna Take It.'" 

I guess this is what we all want to believe, and in the long run it may be what we all will. Says Hamilton, "That's definitely how it's come across -- that I concocted it and I ran with it. I wish I had." By her own admission, Hamilton didn't write a word -- "and I feel kind of bad because it's my face on the thing and it's Kevin who put together the gang." That's feature writer Kevin Pang, who by Hamilton's account got together with reporter James Janega and some other Tribune musical talent "and jammed and came up with the lyrics."

Hamilton was chosen to front the stunt because nobody at the Sun-Times would know who she was, and when you watch the video you'll see her happily strutting her stuff in front of the camera. "It was awesome," she says. No legend's necessary.

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You Shoot: Banking/Earth Hour

Posted By on 03.31.08 at 06:57 PM




The New Reformers

Posted By on 03.31.08 at 06:22 PM

You never know what injustice is going to stir the soul of a Chicago alderman.

For instance, a few days ago aldermen Tom Allen (38th Ward) and George Cardenas (12th Ward) were moved to outrage by the $75,000 Shakman compensation award to Jay Stone, son of alderman Bernard Stone (50th Ward).

Federal monitor Noelle Brennan awarded Stone the money on the grounds that his 2003 campaign for 32nd Ward alderman was unfairly torpedoed by the throngs of patronage workers who were dispatched by Donald Tomczak to work for Ted Matlak, the incumbent.

"We've got potholes to fix. We spend $20 million on snow removal and the federal monitor decides in her infinite wisdom to give somebody $75,000 because they lost an election? Can I sign up for that program?" Allen told the Sun-Times.

Cardenas was even hotter. "It's an outrage. This is crazy," he told Spielman. "The monitor has no clue."

I realize it may seem odd that Alderman Stone's son would claim benefits for the excesses of a machine that his father has loyally served. And, yes, Matlak probably would have beat Stone in 2003 -- though not by as much -- even without Tomczak's muscle.

But you can't blame Jay Stone -- an passionate independent -- for the politics of his father, who didn't even support him in the race.

Furthermore, political campaigns are at the heart of the Shakman case. The compensation awards stem from a lawsuit filed by Michael Shakman in 1970 after his unsuccessful run for delegate to the state constitutional convention. Shakman argued he lost because because of all the payrollers forced to campaign for his machine-backed opponent.

Eventually, Shakman's lawsuit freed payrollers from having to campaign for the machine. And it freed independents, like Jay Stone, from having to face an election-day patronage steamroller. It's one thing if all those city workers really were for Matlak. It's another thing if they were coerced. Funny, Matlak didn't do nearly as well after the feds shut down Tomczak's political organization (Matlak lost to Scott Waguespack last year).

So, yes, Allen could have filed for Shakman compensation, provided, like Stone, he had enough guts to go up against anyone with as much clout and city workers as Matlak had back in 2003.   

I appreciate that aldermen Allen and Cardenas are finally speaking out against wasteful city spending. But I find it curious that they choose to take their first great stand over the relative peanuts dished out to Stone. I mean, just think of all the potholes we could have filled and the snow we could have plowed with the money saved from, oh, let's see, Hired Truck, the Duffs, the Soldier Field renovation, overruns at Millennium Park, the Block 37 underground train station, and countless TIF handouts to well-connected downtown developers. Funny, those scandals and deals came and went with nary a peep of protest from Cardenas, Allen or most of their council colleagues.

I suppose the aldermen are selective opponents of wasteful spending. As long as it's Mayor Daley doing the wasting, it's OK. 


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Acclaim for Mick Dumke

Posted By on 03.31.08 at 05:59 PM

The Reader's Mick Dumke was hailed last Saturday night in Beverly Hills. At a banquet attended by many of LA's most glittering swells, who gathered to enjoy a "gourmet vegan" meal and celebrate the rights of animals, he received a Genesis Award from the Humane Society of the United States. Each year the society honors journalists for work that focuses on animal issues; Dumke was cited for best newspaper magazine feature for a piece he freelanced to the Tribune Magazine before coming on staff here, "Ruffling Feathers: Once Viewed as Crazies, Animal Rights Activists Say Their Message Is Starting to Get Through," which presented a "new perspective on the animal rights movement, acknowledging the mainstream acceptance of the issues the movement espouses." Here's a link to a summary of his winning article -- unless you're a subscriber you'll have to pay to read the whole thing.

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The structural deficit that ate Chicago

Posted By on 03.31.08 at 05:48 PM

The Stroger family has a way with words:

Donna Dunnings blamed a "structural deficit" in the budget where revenues can't keep pace with expenses.

“In fact, that structural deficit is living and breathing, and the sales tax is by no means the answer to that,” Dunnings said in response to a question at a City Club of Chicago luncheon. “So, we have to look at other revenues, as well as cost containment.”

I was an English major, so I don't know what a living, breathing structural deficit is. Sounds pretty bad! Maybe data input is the problem. Besides, she needs her raise because she has all that college debt to pay off:

Dunnings told CBS 2 she works hard and is better qualified than her predecessor, Tom Glazer.

"I have a master's degree from Northwestern University," Dunnings said. "I think Mr. Glazer went to the University of Illinois at Chicago."

At UIC they only train you on dead structural-deficit corpses. Kellogg grads learn "cost containment" to trap feral structural deficits.

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Like father's hero, like son

Posted By on 03.31.08 at 03:57 PM


When Steve Earle named his son Justin Townes Earle (pictured), it’s like he was daring the kid to grow up to be a musician. As if having a famous dad weren't enough pressure, Justin got his distinctive middle name thanks to the elder Earle's friendship with one of America's greatest and most tragic songwriters, Townes Van Zandt.

"Anyone who tries to live up to Van Zandt is a fool," Justin says in his press bio. "I'm honored to carry the name, but if I spent my life trying to live up to it, I'd have a pretty miserable life." Though he may not be making himself miserable, neither does he try to wiggle out from underneath that weighty legacy: on his impressive solo debut, The Good Life (Bloodshot), he raises the stakes for himself by embracing the same traditions that his father and Van Zandt did, even writing the same kind of emotionally fraught ballads. He draws on other old-school influences too: "What Do You Do When You're Lonesome" slips into the space between "Honky Tonk Angels" and "Heartaches by the Number," and "Ain't Glad I'm Leaving" is pure Hank Williams.

What might be most notable about the album is that Earle, though only 25, can traffic in styles that predate his own birth but maintain a voice all his own, unmarked by any era and remarkably free of affect. I was plenty skeptical at first, but each additional listen has made me more sure that this guy's the real deal. Earle opens for the Felice Brothers on Tuesday night at Schubas.

Today's playlist:

Keiji Haino, Uchu ni karami tsuiteiru waga itami (PSF)
Gil Coggins, Better Late Than Never (Smalls)
Brian Eno, Thursday Afternoon (Astralwerks)
Scritti Politti, Early (Rough Trade)
Carlos Barretto Trio, Radio Song (Clean Feed)

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It's opening day, let's play two

Posted By on 03.31.08 at 02:59 PM

One for the other team, and to address an absence of vulgarity, which no limerick contest is complete without. (Apologies to Richard Pryor.)

Deadline poets should always work blue
Especially when describing a screw
What the hell is Zell doing?
Giving fans a cold screwing
And it's not just cold, it's deep, too

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Limerick maverick

Posted By on 03.31.08 at 01:16 PM

I got your limerick right here.

Last century it wasn't thought dumb
To name Weeghman Park after a gum
Almost a hundred years later
A new kind of hater
Thinks poor Sam Zell is a bum


About Wrigley I'm wholly nonplussed
Oppose Zell? I don't see that I must
I don't stand athwart history
Only bad baseball gets t'me
Ashes to ashes, and gum to dust 

Worth noting: the anti-Zell limericks at the Beachwood Reporter are far superior to the ones the S-T has collected (they seem to be missing a line in their own doggerel); h/t Ryerson in comments. Also, revised the first one slightly to avoid word repetition.

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Tava: not just for transgender veterans

Posted By on 03.31.08 at 11:42 AM

For reasons no one I've talked to here is sure of, last week we got a lot of free samples of Tava, Pepsi's new fruit-flavored, caffeine-free "zero calorie sparkling beverage" at our office*. We love free shit as much as the next guy, and as rule around here, anything that's up for grabs gets snapped up quick, regardless of whether it's any good. But the Tava--well, we still have a refrigerator full (literally) and it's not going very fast.

Looking at the ingredient list--sparkling water, citric acid, natural flavor, citrus pectin, aspartame, and a bunch of preservatives, dyes, and vitamins--it's not hard to see why. Nothing in this stuff has ever come near any real fruit as far as I can tell. One coworker described its taste as "synthetic," while another who's particularly sensitive to aspartame thought it had an aftertaste of burned plastic.

I thought an intern pretty much nailed the taste when she compared it to "bad Kool-Aid," (although I didn't know there was any such thing as good Kool-Aid--I thought people just used it to dye stuff). Asked to rank the flavors, another intern declared the Tahitian Tamure "really nasty," the Brazilian Samba "less nasty," and the Mediterranean Fiesta "least nasty." The best review I've heard is from a coworker who thought it was too sweet, but since we were standing next to a refrigerator full of it, grabbed a can, saying, "Well--it's free. Maybe I'll get used to the taste."

Possibly the most interesting thing about Tava is that, according to the New York Times, Pepsi is marketing its new product mainly online, skipping the traditional television and print ads. But when I google "Tava," the first three nonsponsored links that come up are a Wikipedia entry and the Transgender Americans Veterans Association Web site (twice). Then come some suggestions that maybe I meant to type "Teva," and finally, "Also see tava pepsi." If they're really all about the online market, they might want to pay more attention to these things, and maybe get some Web gurus to move it up the list. It doesn't look like its popularity is going to be moving it up anytime soon.

*It's been pointed out to me that my first sentence isn't totally clear. To clarify: we get stuff all the time from companies trying to get publicity; what's unusual isn't that we got free samples of Tava, but that we got so many of them. 

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Richard Roeper, ur-blogger

Posted By on 03.31.08 at 11:37 AM

Journalists sometimes get weirded out by the brief, stream-of-consciousness treatment of news by bloggers, but Richard Roeper's column is considered normal. I don't understand it, either.

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