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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Commonplace links

Posted By on 04.30.08 at 12:12 PM

banana nutriment » your dad had a van for a reason

"More to come later today on the pastoral dad-sex ad campaign of canadian club blended whiskey. that and the unhealed wounds of modernity."

Searchers may be near fabled Amber Room :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: World

"He and others have speculated that the cache, if found, could include remnants of the Amber Room, famed for its amber panels emblazoned with gold leaf and mirrors."

Why Jean Nouvel’s 75-Story Tower Is Exactly What 53rd Street Needs -- New York Magazine

"Why is it so much easier in New York to erect a dreary tower than a marvelous one?"

The Arts and Faith Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films™

Dogville? The Big Kahuna? Stevie? Interesting.

Cato-at-liberty » Views of the U.S. in the Islamic World

"Below are a couple of interesting slides from Shibley Telhami’s latest polling in the Islamic world"

Men who explain things - Los Angeles Times

"Credibility is a basic survival tool."

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Nori Tanaka's back in town

Posted By on 04.30.08 at 02:37 AM


The great Japanese drummer Nori Tanaka had lived in Chicago for a decade when immigration authorities forced him to return home last July, and at the time I wrote about his struggle to stay. Now he's back in town, but sadly it's not for good--though he's playing a slew of gigs over the next couple weeks, after that he'll be leaving again.

Wednesday night Tanaka will be at Heaven Gallery to take part in a record-release celebration for The Art of Dying (Delmark), a surprisingly swinging session led by bassist Jason Ajemian early in July 2007, as Tanaka's departure loomed (and Ajemian prepared for his own move from Chicago to New York). Billed as Smokeless Heat for this show (after the album's lengthy closing track), the group is basically the trio of Tanaka, Ajemian, and superb tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman, with support from guitarist Matt Schneider, trumpeter Jaimie Branch, and vibist Jason Adasiewicz (playing marimba).

Though both Tanaka and Ajemian seem to favor settings where the rhythms and textures mutate rapidly and  kaleidoscopically, on The Art of Dying they maintain a hard-swinging pulse. Such a sensibility is at the root of Tanaka's style--he only ventured into more abstract terrain after nailing the basics earlier in his career--but you'll rarely hear Ajemian laying down so many walking lines. I've also never heard him put his penchant for weird vocal incantations to better use--on the spooky, spellbinding "Machine Gun Operator," a simple ascending figure keeps rising into a falsetto cry.

Ajemian wrote many of the album's catchy and often pretty themes, but lots of the credit for the record's success should go to the three guests, who add wonderful harmonic detail and extra melodic lift. The performances are a little rough around the edges here and there--likely due to lack of rehearsal, a persistent problem with folks who don't make enough scratch with their music and have to spread themselves a little thin with various projects--but that's easy to overlook given the lyrical, tender playing and sharp tunes.

For many years Ajemian, Tanaka, guitarist Jeff Parker, and video artist Selina Trepp got together every Tuesday night at Rodan as A Cushicle, shaping rising and falling grooves with purely improvised materials--their shows became one of the most fun and reliable weekly events in town. Parker has kept the gig going (if not the name) with bassist Josh Abrams and drummer John Herndon, but unfortunately the original lineup isn't reuniting while Tanaka and Ajemian are both in town. At least it's finally possible to hear A Cushicle recorded: Ropeadope recently released Introducing the Freakadelic Sessions (available only as a Ropeadope Records digital download), which captures the first set of the group's Rodan show on April 25, 2006. It kicks off with a version of Thelonious Monk's "Think of One," certainly an apt point of departure, but after that the trio's stream-of-consciousness flow never returns to composed material. This approach works because these players know how to think on their feet--though the recording is raw, with the murmuring of the audience audible, the loose electricity that A Cushicle made seem almost routine is on full display.

Tanaka's got more gigs coming up--I hope to highlight some of them later this week.

Today's playlist:

Mick Barr, Octis: Iohargh Wended (Tzadik)
Dewey Redman Quartet, The Struggle Continues (ECM)
Neil Young, Hawks & Doves (Reprise)
Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, Blue Jean Bop! (Capitol)
Notekillers, Notekillers (Ecstatic Peace)

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Traffic control

Posted By on 04.29.08 at 07:03 PM

As if your last experience on the road--any road--in Chicago weren't convincing enough, the numbers [pdf] prove it: traffic around here sucks. Rush-hour drivers in the Chicago area spend an average of 46 hours a year--that's on top of normal traffic times--sitting in congestion. Three of every five miles of local roads are congested, and the total length of rush hour--morning or evening--has grown over the last decade from seven to eight hours a day. Traffic delays result in our cars burning an extra 142,000 gallons of gas a year--and cost us millions of dollars in wasted fuel, time, and business. The Chicago area's congestion is among the fastest-growing in the country.

In other words, it's a good thing the feds are chipping in more than $153 million to help ease traffic congestion here, on ideas ranging from the seemingly obvious, such as improving the efficiency of CTA bus routes, to the kinda innovative, like creating incentives to keep vehicles out of the Loop.

Mayor Daley appeared with federal officials Tuesday to discuss some of the plans, which is itself probably a good thing. The last time someone brought up the possibility of trying to reduce traffic downtown--before federal dollars were offered as collateral--he dismissed the idea.

Last year, 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke proposed City Council hearings on the possibility of imposing a London-style surcharge "in a bid to ease downtown traffic congestion, reduce air pollution, and bolster funding for the city’s beleaguered transit system." Daley's response? He said he had an "open mind," then added, "Let's not rush to that and scare everybody off. We're trying to keep businesses here." 

Business leaders also pooh-poohed the idea and it died a quick death.

On Tuesday, though, the mayor was talking about raising the rates for downtown parking meters and public garages. Essentially, this revisits the idea of a congestion toll--though it technically penalizes people for stopping and parking. 

It's probably not going to be any more popular with the business community than Burke's call for hearings. "We've expressed concern about previous congestion proposals because of their impact on both businesses and their employees," says Justin DeJong, a spokesman for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. "We'll be looking at this more closely in the coming weeks."

But if Daley wants it now (and why wouldn't he?--the city's not paying and it could make the place more attractive to an international Olympics committee), they're going to have to compromise and live with it.

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You Shoot: Ode to Dirty Low

Posted By on 04.29.08 at 06:07 PM

Curtis Locke


Ben & Jerry's ice cream

Posted By on 04.29.08 at 02:18 PM


Today is Ben & Jerry's 30th annual free scoop day, when participating locations give out free ice cream cones all day. In Chicago, that means Navy Pier (700 E. Grand, 312-595-5496). There are also some suburban locations participating; click here for a complete list.

Can't make it today? Try Baskin Robbins' 31-cent scoop night tomorrow from 5-10 PM at all locations. Or if you can wait until May 17, go to Bobtail's free scoop day from noon-3 PM (2951 N. Broadway in Chicago, 1114 Central in Wilmette).

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The long road towards exoneration

Posted By on 04.29.08 at 02:02 PM

Longtime Reader contributor Kari Lydersen co-wrote an outstanding piece for the Washington Post about how hard it is for the wrongfully convicted to be fully exonerated, throughout the country and particularly in Illinois (emphasis mine):

In Illinois, to regain a certifiably clean record and collect compensation -- a lump payment of $60,150 for five years or less in prison, or $120,300 for six to 14 years -- an exonerated inmate must obtain a "pardon based on innocence" from the governor. A 15-member state review board interviews the petitioners and makes a recommendation, but the governor is not obligated to make a decision.

"The governor is not acting on them," said Karen Daniel, senior staff lawyer with the Center on Wrongful Convictions, which is pressing Blagojevich to decide on Pollock's case and others. "In most of these cases, it's really not a hard decision. Sometimes there's still some controversy left after the conviction is thrown out, but in most of these cases there is no disagreement."

Tabitha Pollock was sent to prison after her boyfriend killed her daughter while Pollock was sleeping. She got a first-degree murder conviction because "prosecutors believed she should have known of the danger." She spent six years in prison before the state supreme court threw out the conviction, and she's spent the five years since "free," but technically still a felon, which means she can't be a teacher. For that, you need a pardon from the governor. Who is, of course, Rod Blagojevich. Eric Zorn explains how that works.

P.S. According to her Web site, Lydersen is working on a book about Pilsen, which is pretty exciting. 

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Where's the beef with arugula?

Posted By on 04.29.08 at 01:46 PM


The most salient thing I've read about the Obama/arugula B.S.:

"In other words, purchasing goods in a progressive manner is itself elitist, whereas purchasing goods in a less sustainable manner that suits enormous corporations makes you a populist. . . . I don't know exactly when underdogs, small business people, alternative lifestyles and cultural minorities became the elites, but it seems to be a permanent fixture of conservative ideology in the post-civil rights era. Comparisons like 'arugula track vs. beer track' is one manifestation of that ideology."

In some alternate universe, being a "Niebuhr-reading ESPN watcher" wouldn't make you a freak, but in the bright future of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications, your choice of consumer goods is a cross you have to bear. Anyway, Obama needs to fight back: it ain't arugula, it's rocket!

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Cheap Eats from the 1970s

Posted By on 04.29.08 at 01:17 PM

With our Best of Chicago voting now in session, I started looking through old Reader guides to the city, which included our long-running Cheap Eats roundups. Here's what we were recommending over 30 years ago:

Ratso's 2464 N. Lincoln: Beyond criticism. Ratso's is becoming the city's hottest night spot, and it must be because of the entertainment, because the food is outrageously inconsistent, with even the ingredients in one dish varying from night to night. You can get a very good meal here . . . and you can find a cigarette butt in your salad (I did just a couple of weeks ago--honest). (1975)

Harold's Chicken Shack No. 14 1364 E. 53rd St.: Best fried chicken south of the Loop. $1.85 gets you half a chicken and some greasy french fries. Carryout only; you can phone your order in. Livers and gizzards are also available, but you have to acquire a taste for them. Go easy on the hot sauce. (1975)

Nuevo Leon 1515 W. 18th: Garish sweet-shop decor and delicious Mexican food. Tacos, burritos and frijoles refritos better than any I've had elsewhere, but most of the dishes are Mexican specialties unheard of at El Taco Loco. (1975)

Bucket O'Suds 3123 N. Cicero: Still over 600 bottles of booze behind the bar (and plenty more down in the cellar), still the homemade meals and sauces, still the quintessential neighborhood bar. Try a meatball or Italian sausage sandwich, any of thirteen cheeses (including hot pepper) all for $1 or less, or Brunch a la Skandia (herring, cheese, and crackers) for $1. Top it off with one of 30 homemade alcoholic concoctions like El Caribiano Royale, and you're ready to trade anecdotes and discuss the fine points of sour mash with owner Joe Danno. (Notice, I didn't even mention Joe's exclusive store of pre-Prohibition Old Oscar Pepper sippin' whiskey; that's because there wouldn't be any left for me.) (1977)

Wing Wah 208 W. Cermak: It's been almost a year since we started touting this place as the best Chinese-Cantonese restaurant in Chicago, and thankfully it manages to remain unspoiled and obscure. Part of this, perhaps, is the hours: 5 pm-5 am. Strange, we grant you, but actually quite practical--Wing Wah, you see, is the place where all the other restauranteurs in Chinatown go to eat after closing their joints for the night. The rest of the clientele is made up of half the Chicago police force, a large following from the immediate area, and a mere handful of Occidentals. The secret is to ignore the first menu they give you (it's only four pages, printed on the inside of a red or yellow cardboard sheet) and hold out for the real menu--a small red notebook with typewritten pages and about 60 items listed in English and Chinese. This is where you will find the city's most garlicy garlic shrimp; its best lightly cooked squid; its only conch; plus snails, fish stomach soup, clams in hot sauce, whole crab prepared Chinese-style,  and much, much more, each item on par with the next. The truly courageous will ignore even these listings and badger their only barely bilingual waiter into translating the daily specials written in Chinese on the wall. There they will discover such delicacies as whole red snapper and quick-fried pigeon. We haven't tried the live frog yet--it's killed at your table and eaten raw--but we have checked out the duck's feet, and might we suggest you don't bother. (1977)

John Barleycorn Memorial Pub 658 W. Belden: The quietest of the Northside beer-and-hamburger spots. Classical music, old silent films, and art-classic slides are there to distract you if conversation flags. (1975)

The sickness unto election day: No alarms and no surprises

Posted By on 04.29.08 at 12:42 PM

Why I could never go into politics, part eleventy-million:

In March, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) went to great lengths not to "disown" his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, after fiery videotaped comments from sermons surfaced.

No, "great lengths" would have been if Obama had brought Wright up on stage and said, "Yeah, God damn America, what are you going to do about it." He gave a good speech and kind of split the difference, which is fine. He's also been distancing himself from Wright, which is arguably less fine.

In return, an unapologetic Wright launched a speaking tour, ending Monday, drawing outsized coverage on the hot-button issues of God and race days before crucial votes in Indiana and North Carolina, threatening Obama's presidential bid.

Threatening what? Unless Wright is detaining pro-Obama superdelegates, he's not threatening anything right now. The numbers are still very much in Obama's favor, and I haven't seen any real evidence, besides media fretting, that Wright hurt Obama in the primaries. He did slightly better than/about as well as expected in Pennsylvania, depending on the time frame. Obama will probably lose Indiana and win North Carolina.

Some in the Obama camp were stunned that Wright did not realize the potential harm he could do to Obama's candidacy by reviving stories about Obama's relationship with his pastor.

The big reason I don't think I could go into politics is that I don't think I could sustain the kind of naivete required to believe that a veteran, temperamental preacher--with tons of higher education and years of experience at one of the largest churches in Chicago behind him--wouldn't "realize" what he's doing, or not do it. He's a preacher. That's what he does.

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Comparative ledes

Posted By on 04.29.08 at 12:20 PM


"Frustrated and angry'' about the opportunities Gov. Blagojevich has "squandered,'' former Chicago Schools CEO Paul Vallas said Monday he would be "open to running again'' for governor.


With a bob and a weave and a joke — and a lot of winking — former Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas on Monday made it clear that he is interested in running again for governor of Illinois.

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