Monday, March 23, 2009

Take a bow, Frankie

Posted By on 03.23.09 at 07:10 PM

For the last few weeks, Frank Avila, the lawyer and political activist, has been bugging me to give him credit for being right about how Al Sanchez and the Hispanic Democratic Organization "pimped" other Latino leaders.

I said wait till he gets convicted.

Well, the jury's in and the verdict is guilty. So, OK, Mr. Avila, you've been hammering Sanchez and the HDO for almost a decade, and I can say that you were right.

The most insulting part of Sanchez's defense was his claim that he was somehow or other doing his political shenanigans to empower Latinos. Please--the Hispanic Democratic Organization was all about empowering Mayor Daley, even if it meant plowing over Hispanic politicians. If anything, Sanchez and the HDO undercut the community's empowerment. They drove former state senator Jesus Garcia out of office and have pretty much rendered too many other Hispanic elected officials afraid to speak up.

Not that I'm picking on Hispanic politicians. You can say the same thing about black and white officials, and they didn't even have HDO to worry about. So what's their excuse?

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Chicago Beard nominations--represent!

Posted By on 03.23.09 at 04:23 PM

Not surprisingly our town is all over this year's list of Beard Award nominations: L20 is up for best new restaurant, the Alinea Book is up for one of the cookbook categories, Mindy Segal is in the running for outstanding pastry chef, Spiaggia for service, Bin 36 for wine service, Rich Melman for best restaurateur.

In addition to Paul Kahan's nomination for outstanding chef, The Publican is up for both best restaurant design and graphics. Arun Sampanthavivat, Koren Grieveson, and Bruce Sherman are in a three-way race for best chef in the Great Lakes region. Perennial winner Steve Dolinksy is up for TV food segment, as usual, and the Trib has three nominations--best newspaper food section and two for the formidable Monica Eng (who shares one with Phil Vettel).

Here's the full list of nominees. Congratulations to all.

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Stunt men

Posted By on 03.23.09 at 03:23 PM

During one of many lulls during the full City Council meeting last week, 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore was in the council lounge giving an interview to TV reporters about a new proposal to expand the powers of the inspector general’s office. His colleague Helen Shiller walked by looking skeptical.

“I think it’s a stunt,” she said of the proposal. “It’s a political move.”

For years Shiller was Mayor Daley’s chief council opponent, often casting the only vote against his budgets, criticizing waste, and demanding more funding for social services and development in depressed wards.

A few years ago, though, Shiller made peace with the mayor and got his support for her Wilson Yard project. Ever since she’s been a pretty consistent aye vote.

Shiller herself says she’s just more thoughtful about getting things done, and as a result more successful. It’s true that she’s offered fresh ideas and pushed the administration to move more aggressively on issues like recycling, green job creation, and minority contracting—without holding press conferences.

It’s also true that she’s now at least as likely to speak out against the proposals of the “reform” bloc of the council as anything that comes from the mayor’s office.

“The purpose of an inspector general, I think, in our world, is as a vehicle to address political corruption,” she said in an interview. “I don’t think you do that by making one person all-powerful.”

Unlike Moore and even Daley ally Pat O’Connor, who’s introduced another inspector general ordinance, Shiller thinks it’s a bad idea to give the office the authority to investigate aldermen who, unlike city department heads or laborers, have to face voters every four years.

Shiller also believes that while the office could do more, it’s already having an impact on fighting fraud and reducing waste. She pointed to its report last year on loafing in the Department of Streets and Sanitation.

“That stuff was great, and it’s brought about changes in the department,” she said. “The inspector general’s office is already able to do their work—so what are we trying to fix? All we’re doing here is giving them more power. I don’t think it’s a well-thought-out plan.”

The proposal by Moore and his allies would also boost the inspector general’s annual budget by as much as 50 percent. “If there are specific funding requests from the office, we should hear them, but at budget time they got everything they asked for,” Shiller said. “It’s a little ironic that some of the same people doing this [proposal] joined me about five years ago when we called for eliminating the office because we thought it was such a joke.”

Shiller is no bigger fan of an idea floated by some aldermen to create an independent budget office, which would offer a second opinion on the administration’s financial projections. If aldermen want more scrutiny of the mayor’s budget proposals, she said, they should provide it themselves: “There are 50 of us,” she said. “One of our biggest jobs is voting on the budget, and I happen to think we should read it first.”

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Twittering the New Yorker to Death

Posted By on 03.23.09 at 02:02 PM

So now he knows.

Ron Charles, fiction editor for the Washington Post's Book World, heard from someone he'd identify as a "frequent contributor" to the New Yorker that the magazine was seriously considering a shift to biweekly or monthly publication. Wow! Monday morning he twittered what he'd heard.

About half an hour later, by his estimation, he twittered again. "A staff editor at the New Yorker assures me that TNY is not going bimonthly or monthly. The idea has not been discussed," he announced, and deleted the original tweet from his file.

In the half hour or so between tweets, the New Yorker rumor had flashed across the country, anguishing New Yorker readers and appalling New Yorker staffers. Charles describes the the New Yorker editor who e-mailed him as someone who holds a "senior" position and was "civil but pissed." And who pointed out to Charles how unlikely it was that a mere contributor would know such a thing in the first place.

To say the rumor spread virally would be to flatter viruses, which don't move nearly so fast. Here's an early retweet -- a typical specimen.

When I asked Charles what time he'd originally reported the story he replied emphatically, "I wasn't reporting." No, he was merely passing along something he'd heard to some friends.

"This is my first week of twittering," Charles said. He described himself as feeling "stupid and chastened. It's all part of getting used to this stuff."

Charles asked how I intended to handle the story. I said I'd be blogging it -- and blogging suddenly felt old school. Charles said that naturally if he'd been blogging about the New Yorker he'd have checked it out first.

Before talking to Charles I sought comment from the New Yorker on the rumor and promptly got back an e-mail from spokesperson Alexa Cassanos. "It's absolutely untrue, and frustrating that an unsubstantiated rumor is getting any pick-up at all."

Times are tough.  Cassanos and I talked by phone, and I sent her a link from mourning that a recent 82-page issue of the New Yorker had just under ten pages of ads. But she noticed it was a January issue -- the slowest part of the year -- and she said that among Conde Nast magazines the New Yorker is in the middle in terms of ad losses. And on the other hand, circulation is up 20 percent since 2001 and the renewal rate is 85 percent and the magazine just led all others with ten nominations for National Magazine Awards.

Cassanos made me feel good when she said I was the first reporter who'd contacted her to find out if Charles's rumor was true. (A few others have called or emailed the magazine since.)

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Woot! Sula's a finalist for a James Beard award

Posted By on 03.23.09 at 01:55 PM

The finalists in the 2009 James Beard Foundation Awards, considered the Oscars of the food world, have been announced and the Reader's own Mike Sula is among them. Nominated for his Whole Hog Project in the category of multimedia food journalism, Sula spent a year and a half writing about agribusiness, nutrition, and moral responsibility vis a vis good food, all through the story of the endangered mulefoot pig. His award entry included a feature story, blog posts, and video by Sky Full of Bacon's Mike Gebert.

Paul Kahan, who's a finalist for outstanding chef, also played a major role in the Reader's entry: Kahan was head chef for the Whole Hog Project's climactic dinner. The winners will be announced on May 3 in New York City. Congrats to all.

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The countrypolitan Lily Allen

Posted By on 03.23.09 at 01:44 PM

As a human being with ears and a heart and feelings, I was deeply charmed by Lily Allen's "Smile," but the rest of her debut and her whole teetering party-girl thing left me feeling much the way Ms. Allen apparently does after many of her bedroom encounters.

I like her new It's Not Me, It's You much better, possibly because everything she does to promote it seems designed to make me fall in love with her. The latest salvo: a video for "Not Fair" shot to make it look like she's a guest on The Porter Wagoner Show that almost completely manages to avoid lame country-retard stereotypes.

I give.

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I'm rubber, you're glue

Posted By on 03.23.09 at 01:15 PM

I'm not sure when it went live, but the latest issue of the Chicago-based online zine Blastitude has a great piece by Derek Monypeny about a recent excursion to Morocco. Monypeny accompanied Hisham Mayet, one of the prime movers at Sublime Frequencies, to do some field recordings and research for future releases, and the piece provides a vivid picture of the kind of seat-of-the-pants guerrilla ethnomusicology the label thrives on. Blastitude is definitely a strong supporter of Sublime Frequencies, and I was amused that the zine's review of the label's excellent compilation 1970's Algerian Proto-Rai Underground makes such an odd and unflattering reference to me: "I knew absolutely nothing about Algerian rai music going in to this," writes Blastitude main man Larry Dolman, "and never pursued it for fear of sounding like I was on Peter Margasak's jock."

Speaking of disparaging comments about yours truly, I just learned that Chicago industrial-rock band Acumen Nation (ne Acumen) not so subtly referenced my name in a song originally released in 2000 called "Margasuck." You can read the juicy lyrics here. What's fascinating to me is that the band took so long to fire off their riposte to the one time I wrote about them in the Reader, way back in early 1995. Guys, I'm flattered you remembered. Sorry it took me the better part of a decade to notice.

Today's playlist:

Shirelles, Tonight's the Night/Sing to Trumpets and Strings (Ace)
Francisco Mora Catlett, Outerzone (Premier Cru)
Various artists, El Mapurito: Caribbean Music From Colombia (Buda)
Johnny Burnette & the Rock 'n' Roll Trio, The Complete Coral Rock 'n' Roll Recordings (Hip-O Select)
Spring Heel Jack, Songs & Themes (Thirsty Ear)

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My continuing AIG obsession

Posted By on 03.23.09 at 12:27 PM

The bill that passed the house Thursday, which imposes a 90% tax on bonuses to people who companies receiving more than $5 billion in government money and whose household income is $250K-plus, is a bad bill. As Nate Silver points out, it's basically a machine-gun approach to the problem, encompassing solvent firms that took the money to increase liquidity in the market at the request of the administration, auto companies, and everyone else. The provision that it applies to family income makes it worse - if you make $125k, which is a great salary but arguably not pitchforks-worthy-level-obscene, and so does your spouse (no matter where he or she works), any bonus on top of that gets nailed. It's punitive on a lot of people who actually don't deserve it. And Lawrence Tribe, who'd previously argued that some kind of clawback would be constitutional, says the current bill might not be constitutional because it's, well, punitive.

If I could lay money on it - and where could I, in this economy? - I'd bet it dies in the Senate. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, especially if it's already managed to put the fear of God into the administration. Contra the Trib editorial board and Steve Chapman, who would prefer that you be very quiet so you don't offend the bankers and make them set the economy on fire again, I've no beef with the outrage generally. I just hope that someone in Congress is clever enough to channel it, along with some of the more reasonable proposals floated by people like Silver, into legislation. Congressional aides: you should be reading these blogs.

Which is not to say that the bonuses are an enormous part of the problem. While a "drop in the bucket," as I am sick of being reminded, the rationale for bonuses shifts from performance incentives to retention guarantees when the market turns, effectively making them not performance-based at all: "those working on Wall Street have come to regard their bonuses - their traditional share of the profits - as guaranteed compensation. They want the rewards of ownership with the security of employment. And that's just unsustainable." 

In the NYT, David Leonhardt discusses ways of making compensation less risky.

More on the administration's new toxic assets plan when I've begun to process it, which I unsuccesfully tried to do this weekend. Brad DeLong has a reasonably pro-Geithner plan FAQ, unusual among left-leaning econ blogs; Krugman hates it.

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Designer Lara Miller adds "den mother" to her resume

Posted By on 03.23.09 at 10:54 AM

Last Friday the city announced that local designer Lara Miller has been chosen as the new executive director of Macy's Chicago Fashion Incubator program. Miller, who replaces interim executive director and Macy's buyer Kimberly Prodan, has already put in time on the Mayor's Fashion Council and now will give the six designers in residence at the incubator the benefit of her experience on the grueling task that is launching and running a clothing line.

Miller is one of the city's biggest success stories--she officially started her own line in 2005, and it's now sold in stores all over the country as well as in the UK, Japan, and Australia. Crain's Chicago Business named her one of their 40 overachievers under 40 for 2008. She had some interesting things to say about Chicago fashion when I interviewed her for an Eight Forty-Eight story last fall (her comments start at about 5:18), including this surprising take on our taste in clothes, which didn't make it into the piece:

I’ve actually found that customers in Chicago are more receptive to my fashion-forward pieces than anywhere else in the U.S., which is really interesting. You know, you think my stores in New York are selling my most avant-garde pieces. I actually had to kind of tone down the collection a little bit more and make it more sellable for some of my stores in New York and to get into some stores on the west coast. And it’s really the customers in Chicago who are saying, "Hey, remember that one-shoulder turtleneck shrug thing you did? Can you bring that back?"

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Premieres for local productions Hannah Free and Together

Posted By on 03.23.09 at 09:02 AM


The Chicago-made Sharon Gless film Hannah Free will premiere as the closing-night film of Frameline33: The San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, the world's oldest lesbian and gay film fest. Hannah Free screens June 28, the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

And Together, shot in the western suburbs and starring Barry Bostwick and Cheryl Ladd as an estranged couple reuniting at the holidays, will screen in the Palm Beach International Film Festival April 23-27. Together premiered in December at the Tivoli Theatre.

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Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Romeo and Juliet various locations
July 26
Performing Arts
Sad Clown Annoyance Theatre
July 16

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