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Friday, November 28, 2008

Alien nation

Posted By on 11.28.08 at 06:19 PM

This is what it would look like if Vermeer had ever decided to make a bloody horror movie. —Carina Chocano in the LA Times on Let the Right One In

We used a painting by Raffaello [Raphael], from the Vatican, to have a color guide. He uses gray in a very interesting way, as if it was white. Because we have so much white in the film from the snow we have to find some way to communicate all this hard white light. ... If you don't know which way to turn, you can always ask the masters. —Tomas Alfredson in a Paste magazine interview

So maybe we should blame Alfredson for the misleading emphases on Renaissance antecedents in the reviews of his echt modernist "vampire" movie Let the Right One In. Since Vermeer seems less relevant here than, e.g., Le Corbusier—or postwar International Style architecture in its generic white-wall phase—in generating the film's luminously antiseptic look and feel. Which does indeed come across as alienating, though NOT, as some critics insist, depressing. Or maybe the right word's disjunctive—the way Alfredson makes sure the visual landscape never parses out, that every compositional through line runs up against a barrier, a kind of minimalist fragmentation of the image. Which, of course, keeps everyone in a state of perpetual imbalance, like one of Sean Scully's discoordinating canvases. Still want to explain the subliminal queasiness you're feeling? Then consider E.M. Forster's familiar maxim in reverse: Only disconnect. 

Which is modernism—or a variety of it—in a nutshell, our magical/disconsolate home in the world, sans invitation. Keep the right ones out!

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Wait till next year . . .

Posted By on 11.28.08 at 05:20 PM

I'm always ragging about the city's lack of commitment to public school sports - except, of course, almighty basketball -- so it's good to point out a little good news from today's prep bowl: Loyola Academy 17, Lane: 0.

Yeah, the public school lost -- for the third year in a row and the eighth time in this decade, for those keeping score.

But you have to appreciate what the public league is up against when it comes to football. Publis schools have less money than the privates to spend on facilities, equipments, coaches, trainers, etc. And of course, the Catholic schools have no residency requirements, meaning they can openly cherrypick the best eighth graders from all over the Chicago area. The public schools can only take kids who live in Chicago or are clever enough to devise a phony address in the city (just kidding -- sort of).

I always root for the underdog and in this case, Lane put up a great fight. They were only down eight at the half. And it was still very much a game in the fourth quarter.

In fact, the whole game pretty much came down to one play late in the third quarter. Losing 8 to 0, Lane had the ball inside the Loyola 40. It was fourth and about ten; instead of punting or trying a long-shot field goal, Lane went for the first down. Quarterback Luis Negron made one hell of a run, twisting, turning, diving for that first down. I thought he had it. But, alas, he fell less than an inch short. 

Loyola took over on downs and marched down the field for the touchdown that put the game out of reach. 

Oh, well, see you on the basketball court. 

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Chicago family rescued from the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai

Posted By on 11.28.08 at 04:59 PM

Chicago investment banker Carol Mackoff and her husband, Judge Benjamin Mackoff, a retired Cook County judge, as well as her sister and a family friend were rescued today after 48 hours in captivity at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai.

Mackoff told CNN:

"We locked every possible lock on the door and put heavy suitcases against it," she said. "When the explosions started and smoke filled the hallways we put towels at the bottom of the door."

She said she was told that attackers opened doors across the hallway and had thrown grenades inside.

"All we were thinking was 'Please don't try and blow this door open,'" Mackoff said.

The couple communicated with their children by texting them, and used their phone to escape:

The Mackoffs escaped the hotel after getting a call on that phone from an Indian army colonel, Carol Mackoff told CNN. "He said we will give you a password and if we come to the door and give it to you, come quietly with us," Mackoff said."

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Daily -- HIV screenings

Posted By on 11.28.08 at 04:23 PM


Since Monday is World AIDS Day, here's a reminder that the Howard Brown Health Center (4025 N. Sheridan) offers free HIV and STD screenings daily at its on-site clinic and several remote locations (find details here). The Broadway Youth Center (3179 N. Broadway) offers youth (up to age 24) the same services, as well as free medical care and counseling, year-round, too. There's no appointment necessary, and rapid HIV tests (including an oral-swab version for those who don't like needles) deliver results in 20 minutes. Call 773-388-8895 for more information.

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"The Man with the American Thing in His Leg"

Posted By on 11.28.08 at 03:41 PM

"That's because Isse and his fancy surgery scars offer what little tangible evidence exists of a bare-knuckled war that has been waged silently, over the past five years, with the sole aim of preventing anarchic Somalia from becoming the world's next Afghanistan."

It's been a rough day, clearly, but one of the things I'm thankful for is new Paul Salopek dispatches.

Bad news for mulefoots

Posted By on 11.28.08 at 03:09 PM


Mike Gebert reports at Sky Full of Bacon that Maveric Heritage Ranch, a South Dakota farm that raises rare breeds of livestock and has the largest mulefoot hog herd in the country, suffered a barn fire last week that killed more than 40 rare hogs, including several mulefoot sows with their litters of piglets, a Wessex saddleback boar, and a guinea hog boar, as well as a stallion and several cats. As Mike Sula has reported, mulefoot hogs are extremely rare, and the entire breed is in danger of dying out. Farm owner Arie McFarlen said:

We cannot replace our rare breed pigs. They simply do not exist. Our work for nearly ten years has been to preserve and save these breeds of pigs. We cannot begin to express our sense of loss over these animals, not just from our lives, but from all future generations.

This tragedy has made it even more clear to us that these rare breeds are in a very precarious situation. At any moment, a disaster, accident or disease could take yet another species from this planet.

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I read the news today, oh boy

Posted By on 11.28.08 at 01:52 PM

"For a long time, there have been red flags about [Chicago Reader parent company Creative Loafing, Inc's] priorities. A few years ago, administrators fired all of the reporters at the Tampa paper—and thought no one would notice. While the company paid bankers $6 million in interest in the last fiscal year, total editorial expenses were only $5 million, testimony to the company’s philosophy that more is preferred over better."

Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop doing tryptophan.

It's a chilling read, but for me the key graphs were:

"In 2000, Eason paid far too much for his family's papers. He was forced to borrow up to the full value of the company and then bring in Cox Newspapers as an 'equity partner' to pay for the rest. When that marriage soured, Cox exited with a good return on its money, leaving CL swamped with debt."

and, later:

"When Eason’s piranha-like investment advisers pitched acquiring the Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper to lenders last year, they wrote a glowing analysis that claimed, despite falling revenues, that the combined company would grow from $43 million in 2007 to almost $48 million in 2012. The company’s blue-ribbon board of directors clearly didn’t buy the pitch—the entire board, with the exception of Eason, quit.

"Then the big 'oops' happened. In the year that closed last June, revenues had fallen to about $36 million. They are now headed for less than $30 million, and may hit a $20 million annual level in the near future. Eason has had trouble paying the loans almost from the day the deals were done. The value of the company is in freefall."

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Midwestern kalimbas and major-label Braxton

Posted By on 11.28.08 at 01:23 PM


In this week's paper I wrote a Critic's Choice for the Nomo concert tonight at Schubas, and in it I mentioned that bandleader Elliott Bergman makes and sells his own line of electric thumb pianos. His partner in the venture is Warn Defever, known best as the brains behind His Name Is Alive. A couple weeks ago they announced a new run of kalimbas of various sizes and materials; judging from their online catalog almost all have been sold, but the photographs of these lovely instruments are still worth a look.

Also in this week's paper is my review of Mosaic's excellent new box set of Anthony Braxton's complete Arista recordings. In the weeks following its release last month a bunch of bloggers went crazy with Braxtonia; the excellent Destination: Out posted repeatedly and at length about the Chicago native's work.

Today's playlist:

Sons & Daughters, This Gift (Domino)
Lou Donaldson, Here 'Tis (Blue Note)
Bennie Maupin Quartet, Early Reflections (Cryptogramophone)
Tomasz Gwincinski & NonLinear Ensamble, The Moon Music (Kilogram)
Breeders, Mountain Battles (4AD)

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving: is it over yet?

Posted By on 11.26.08 at 06:38 PM


The past week of surfing food-related blogs and online publications (not to mention reading restaurant PR) has made me wish Thanksgiving was over already. I like the holiday fine--any excuse to eat works for me--but the endless recipes and cooking tips and advice for how to organize everything are overwhelming. I think

That said, a few Thanksgiving-related things I've come across have made me smile (Schrambling's piece included).

1. Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas of Alinea demonstrate how to cook a turkey sous vide (parts 1 and 2), hard on the heels of another demonstration in the same kitchen. Having experimented with the cooking method myself recently, I'm impressed.

2. Cake Wrecks features turkey cakes, cornucopia cakes, and fall creations. And more turkey cakes.

3. Serious Eats photo of the day: a pretty amazing cupcake

4. The Web site Instructables celebrates the excess of the holiday with instructions on how to make a recirculating gravy fountain, a modular pie cosahedron, a giant fractal pecan pie, and liquid nitrogen ice cream, not to mention how to use spreadsheets to organize cooking dinner for 42 people.

5. And, of course, there's always the turkey cannon

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I can haz rap songz?

Posted By on 11.26.08 at 05:37 PM

So we've got Roomba Cat, Hotstylz' "Lookin Boy," more cats, dudes who decided to take the time to write an entire alternate rap to "Lookin Boy" about cats and then make a video for it, and a special cats-on-treadmills montage outro. So "Lookin' Kittie" has about half of my "favorite things" list covered. Well done, Boyfriends Incorporated.

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