Friday, February 27, 2004

Breaking Out The Shorts

And they still fit after as winter scurries out of here. It's a twisted world we live in when there's snowstorms in the Southeast and we're in the middle of a very balmy thaw. It's safe to say that I can shelve the salt until next winter.

Aaron Patterson, a wrongfully convicted former Illinois Death Row inmate whose sentence was commuted and pardoned by former Governor George Ryan, is campaigning for the Democratic Nomination 6th Congressional District of the Illinois House of Representatives against incumbent Patricia Bailey. I looked at the map for the district this afternoon; a distance of one block is all that separates me from the possibility of having Aaron Patterson as my state representative. After having witnessed a stump speech by Patterson last night I am breathing a heavy sigh of relief that gerrymandering has prevented that from happening.

Patterson gave his stock speech last night about his history with the state prison system- how, as a former gang banger, he was beaten and tortured into confessing to double murder in 1986. Patterson was suffocated with a typewriter bag and pummeled with a phone book. He managed to find a paper clip and used it to scratch his claims of torture and innocence into a bench.

That experience is the foundation for his campaign. Patterson promises to form an "innocence commission" if elected to the state legislature whose sole purpose is to monitor and investigate the claims of innocence by Death Row inmates. Never mind that Illinois currently has no inmates on Death Row since George Ryan emptied it as his last official act as Governor.

It's what Patterson told the audience after his campaign pledge that startled me. At the urging of his "associate": Fred Hampton, Jr., the son of the Former Black Panther leader murdered by Chicago police in 1969, Patterson began a long, meandering speech about a "revolution" taking hold. It sounded as though he was trained in saying the lines. Patterson tripped over his words numerous times during the speech.

Finally, he summarized by saying, "It's time for a revolution. If the ballots won't bring it about, the bullets will!!" The hip-hop artists left onstage had to pick up the pieces of Patterson's lyric threat. "Sometimes in order to bring about change," one of them said, "you need some bloodshed. Hopefully we won't have to come to that."

Patterson's run is a long shot, at best. Bailey is running with the full weight of the Daley machine behind her. But should Patterson pull an upset, he should seriously consider getting some more rational advisors to help him with his platform. Unless, that is, seventeen years on Death Row makes him believe those words.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Money Green Only

Meanwhile in today's Sun-Times Mary Mitchell's turned her "somebody-done-some-black-woman-wrong" song toward the upscale State Street boutique G'bani. The store, owned by African American couple B.J. G'bani and Trevian Kutti, put together a unique merchandising campaign this month: "Whites Only" and "Colored Only" window displays.

Ms. Mitchell wrote, "... (S)tanding on the sidewalk, peeping at the shoes, I knew the truth. The offensive window display was being used to sell shoes."

Wow! I knew that and I'm not even a journalist!

More from Ms. Mitchell: "G'bani's marketing strategy is edgy and slick, but it is also irreverent and disrespectful to the people who died so a different generation of black people could sell toe teasers on the Gold Coast."

That's the conundrum with merchandising and advertising. There is an artistic merit to all advertising and merchandising that gets lost in translation when it is infused with commerce. This is particularly offensive to some when advertising incorporates imagery or visuals that have a shocking emotional value, like G'Bani's take on Jim Crow signage.

I seem to remember Accenture using sound bites from Dr. Martin Luther King in Super Bowl ads a few years back. Those bites are not public domain- the King family oversees tight control over Dr. King's image and writings. I'm sure they were handsomely compensated for the use of the footage that ran in the ad. Is the allowing of Dr. King's words to market an accounting firm any worse than taking hurtful imagery and selling shoes like G'bani?

Ms. Mitchell's column is much a much-needed voice for the African American community in this city. Over the past eight years she has written her column Ms. Mitchell has brought to light countless examples of the continued prejudice against African Americans. However she doesn't do it enough. Far too often her columns take on the embittered voice of a woman who hasn't forgotten or forgiven that her man ran out on her, which clouds her judgment sometimes and frustrates her readers with cries that she's a "one-issue" woman airing her own dirty laundry out in public.

I think Ms. Mitchell's barking up the wrong tree here. For all her righteous indignation about G'bani's window displays and her accurate assessment that racism is still alive and well in America, G'bani could be held up as an example of what Dr. King fought for. It's clientele is diverse- if well-heeled (pun intended)- and it's minority ownership in a traditionally white populated neighborhood is testament that we don't live in times of legalized segregation anymore. The images that disturbed Ms. Mitchell and many of her readers are over forty years old now. Their hurt should diminish and heal with time, if we allow it.

I remember that the Chicago Public Schools didn't implement desegregated busing until 1977. I know because I was one of the first schoolkids on the CTA buses heading to the North Side for a better chance at a quality education. But I've also learned not to emotionally fly off the handle when I'm brought face-to-face with imagery I don't agree with, like the G'bani window displays. Maybe Mary Mitchell could afford to be a bit pragmatic.

Then again, maybe Ms. Mitchell's angry because she can't afford the shoes G'bani sells on a Sun-Times columnist salary.

Goin' to The Chapel...

San Franciscans watch out. Rosie O'Donnell's coming to get married. Apparently she was appalled at the Shrub's comments about seeking a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. While I have no right to criticize her decision, it does smack a little of opportunity. I mean, they've only been marrying gays for a couple of weeks in San Francisco. She could've been there sooner with her resources.

Maybe she has some leftover M&M's from the Martha Stweart trial to toss at the crowd when she does tie the knot.

The Priorities of Chicagoans

It's the type of story tailor made to provide levity at the end of a local newscast. But this is Chicago, where we turn a blind eye to our mayor when he tears up airport runways in the middle of the night and wiggles his way free of a hired truck scandal custom fit to reward political patronage and influence.

The big news here is we're gonna blow up a baseball, people. We gonna blow it up reeealll goooooodd!!!

It's called the "Bartman Ball" and it is the most recent symbol in a near-century of futility by the Chicago Cubs. For those of us who care about baseball- and the Cubs- enough to pay attention, the Cubs were only five outs away from making the winning their first National League pennant since 1945 when Bartman interfered with a possible play by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou on the foul ball. Alou couldn't make the play and the Cubs, who were leading 3-0, went on to lose the game 8-3 and eventually the series. Since then the Cubs have emerged as pre-season favorites to win the National League pennant and boast arguably the best starting rotation in the major leagues. Meanwhile Bartman has pulled an Osama, becoming a recluse and refusing to give interviews on the subject.

The foul ball has taken on a life of its own. Recovered by a lawyer after Bartman's deflection and removal from Wrigley Field amid death threats from fellow Cubs fans, it was sold at auction for over $113,000 to Grant DePorter, the general manager of Harry Caray's restaurants. Since then, the ball has become a media circus that can only have happened in Chicago. Under constant security, the ball has been treated to a lobster dinner, a "nap" in a baseball glove, and a deep tissue massage. I kid you not. Reports of Costa Rican hookers being flown in to send the Bartman ball off "like a real man" by the State Legislature have not been confirmed. All this leads up to the destruction of the ball later this evening. While officials are being tight-lipped about how the ball will be destroyed, they have asked the city for permission to use explosives.

Meanwhile, busloads of people who should be doing more productive things with their lives- like go to school, work, or post an entry in a weblog- are converging upon Channel 5's new window studios to get a look at a bona fide woman from New York. NBC has brought Katie Couric in to officially christen the new studios and hopefully cut into the sheeplike housewife cult of Oprah Winfrey. The past two mornings Tribune plaza has been littered with the predictable array of crudely drawn homemade signs with Couric's name misspelled. "Kattie, Elmwood Park loves U!!"

Yup. We have our priorities.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Talkin' 'Bout A Revolution That Needs To Be Put On Hold

I voted for Ross Perot in 1992. The reasoning was simple: although I am morally opposed to everything the GOP- more accurately, the neo-con idealogues who've hijacked the party- stands for, I sniffed Bill Clinton out as a carpetbagger long before Stuttering John asked Gennifer Flowers if she would sleep with any of the other candidates.

One thing that Slick Willie advocated that I actually liked was his promise to allow gays in the military. For the record, I am not a homosexual, but I don't agree with the Armed Forces policy towards gays in the military. The argument that gays and lesbians in uniform would be bad for morale was the same argument the top brass used to disallow blacks, Latinos, and women from serving for so long. In the years since, it's also been proven to be an unfounded argument.

So, after Clinton won in '92, took office, and immediately waffled on that campaign promise with the inane "don't ask, don't tell" policy, I decided to speak my mind. It was March 1993 and I was due for an annual performance evaluation. Back then it was customary for the end of an evaluation form to contain some space for the one being evaluated to express some feelings about shipboard life under the assumption that it would not be counted against him in evaluation. I had just finished reading Randy Shilts' book on gays in the military Conduct Unbecoming and was feeling pretty emboldened.

So when I came upon the question I wrote, " I believe that the President should not have waffled on his stated campaign promise to allow gays and lesbians to serve proudly and openly in the United States armed forces. I believe that the discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military is a contradiction of the basic Constitutional rights and freedoms of expression we have sworn to uphold and defend with our very lives. Such discrimination makes me ashamed to put on a Navy uniform at times."

Apparently my division officer didn't see things my way. A easygoing Vietnam veteran and chief warrant officer, he pulled me aside three days later and asked me to have a word with him and the Chief Engineer, a short balding man with a Napoleonic complex and a stickler for military bearing. We clashed a lot.

"I read your comments at the end of your evaluation," said Warrant Officer. "Care to explain?"

"It's pretty straighforward, sir." I said.

The Chief Engineer, who didn't like me because I was pretty straighforward, cleared his throat and spoke in his Kermit the frog croak. "So you're saying that you think two hundred years of policy should be thrown away-" he snapped his fingers- "just like that?"

"Yes, sir," I replied. "I do."

"Why would you write something like that? Do you have some of these tendencies?" The Chief Engineer became agitated. "Are you a homosexual?"

I stared at him with a poker face and answered, "Not that it's any of your business, Commander, but if you don't ask I won't tell." Then I winked at him and blew him a kiss

His face grew redder than the red trucker hat he wore that designated him as a member of the engineering department. He ran up to me and got in my face, our noses almost touching. Behind him, my division officer didn't know whether to laugh or pull the Chief engineer away. The chief engineer screamed, "I know you only have a year left on your contract, but I'm letting you know that I'm watching you and if you so much as breathe wrong I will bring charges up against you so fast that your head will spin." He backed away from me, smugly assured in his authority.

I raised myself from the desk I was leaning against. "I heard that all the time in boot camp, sir. And I wasn't scared of it then, either." As the chief engineer left the office Warrant Officer put an arm around my shoulder and asked, "Why do you pull this shit? Why do you insist on speaking your mind all the time. You'd be on the fast track to an officer candidacy if you just keep you mouth shut, you know that?" I looked at my reflection in my boots and said, "Sometimes you have to speak your mind in order for things to change, sir."

"Okay I agree with you, off the record." Warrant officer had a sober expression on his face. "But do you think that'll change things overnight."

"I never thought it would, Warrant," I replied. "But I guarantee you'll never forget that I showed the fortitude to stand up for what was right even when it was wrong to do so."

Four years later I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain my military records in order to use my GI Bill. While reading my records and letting the memories flow back like a swelling river I came across some information I never knew. The Chief engineer filed a complaint against me and asked that I be investigated by Naval Investigative Service for alleged homosexual activity. The complaint was never acted upon as it never went past my ship's Commanding Officer.

I remembered that today when I heard that the Shrub proposed a Constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriages. If there is anyone who reads this who still doesn't think that we are entering a cold Civil war, now do you believe me?

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Ralph Nader: Mark III

I was halfway into my mocha this morning when I turned on my television and heard the words that no rational person in America really wanted to hear.

"I am announcing my candidacy for President of the United States as a true independent."

And I thought, as Ralph Nader hit his stride with his constant references to the "two-party duopoly", that Washington DC is "corporate occupied territory", and that he is running to bring voters into the democratic process, that this is exactly the problem with a candidacy like Ralph Nader's. He has no reasonable answers for the problems that plague the nation.

Four years ago I voted third party. It was an easy decision: I knew that Gore had Illinois won for months leading to the election. I also wanted to vote my conscience, knowing that I couldn't reasonably choose between Gore and Bush. So I voted Libertarian. I was damned if I was gonna throw my vote to the Nader cult of personality.

Ralph Nader is another member of a group I like to call "chicken little liberals." These are progressives and far left leaning liberals who constantly complain that the two-party system needs to be overhauled yet do nothing about it. They're people who can mass up on a moment's notice for protest marches but have no concrete plans laid out if government wants them to sit down and negotiate. They're the people who scream at the top of their lungs that your vote doesn't count for so long that we actually believe it.

Ralph Nader is their Don Quixote, jousting at windmills to the raucous cheers of thousands of people who won't even register to vote.

Already people are touting Nader as a spoiler candidate. Democrats are fearful that Nader's candidacy will siphon votes away from likely Dem nominee John Kerry. Some folks out there apparently still blame Nader's 2000 campaign as the reason the country hasn't gone to hell in a handbasket under Al Gore, conveniently forgetting that if Gore campaigned the first six months with the urgency of his las six weeks the Bush strategy of mass disenfranchisement in Florida would have been a moot issue.

The stakes are higher in this election. Four years of Bush/Cheney have polarized this country like at no other time in recent memory. The strong turnouts for the Democrat primaries have shown that people are truly concerned about the direction of the nation. I don't think that it's far fetched to state that this election could be for no less than the survival of the nation; a "cold Civil War", if you will. For all Nader's bluster about the corporate takeover of the Federal government people are concerned enough about the crass hubris of Bush Administration policy that they'll be at the polls in November. The stakes have been raised so much that this Nader candidacy is no more than an afterthought.

Friday, February 20, 2004

You can send a jock to school...

I found the best piece of unintentional humor today in the Sun-Times sports section. I'd like to share it with you.

"(C)oach Barnett is brutally honest."

That wonderful punch line was supplied by Colorado linebacker Sean Tufts. Tufts was defending his coach, Gary Barnett, the former Northwestern coach whose program in Boulder is now embroiled in a major scandal involving football recruits attending sex parties during visits to campus and alleged sexual assaults by Colorado players. Barnett is currently on paid administrative leave after attacking the football skills of former Buffaloes placekicker Katie Hnida, who has alleged being raped by a fellow CU player four years ago.

Barnett, in a monumental lapse of judgment, responded to Hnida's allegations by relating what a terrible kicker Hnida was and that football players respect "ability."

"I don't care if you're 90 years old, if you can play football the players will respect you," Barnett said, leading some to believe that Hnida's alleged rape was avoidable if she could have split the uprights with a forty-yard field goal into a crosswind to beat Nebraska.

I sit here typing thinking to myself that while karma is not instant, when it comes around it sure as hell does get you. Gary Barnett is finding that out the hard way right now.

Barnett first rose to prominence in 1995 after guiding traditional doormats Northwestern to the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl appearance. Projecting to the public a persona of a firm but fair-minded coach- a father figure for the previously sadsack purple clad Wildcats. That image was a pentimento; an image covering another. In short order Barnett was exposed as an opportunist and braggart who was quick to deflect blame when scandal arose.

Reports leaked to newspapers that Barnett had arranged to interview for the open head coaching position at UCLA while preparing Northwestern for the Rose Bowl were verified when he actually interviewed for the Bruins' job. Barnett said afterward that he was "weighing his options." Northwestern promptly signed him to a megabucks multiyear deal.

The following year he guided Northwestern to a share of the Big Ten title, entertained more offers from other universities interested in his services, and continued using those offers as leverage against Northwestern. In the midst of all this, four of his players were implicated in a gambling and point shaving scandal. The father figure Barnett promptly cut ties to the players, claiming the gambling scandal to be a "betrayal."

As the Wildcats football fortunes began to wane, Barnett worked hard to keep his profile as a taskmaster elevated, even as the buzz got louder about how he was "weighing offers" (read: campaigning) from other universities. Finally, in Spring 1999 he interviewed for the Colorado head coaching position vacated by Rick Neuheisel and openly lied to his Northwestern players that he "wasn't going anywhere."

Two days later, Gary Barnett resigned to take the job at Colorado.

The Buffaloes job was a dream position for Barnett: a high profile job at a football powerhouse where he apprenticed as an assistant coach under Bill McCartney. McCartney himself was no stranger to seeing his football players implicated in criminal behavior at Colorado; the rap sheet of criminal behavior of players under McCartney's charge range from shoplifting to- surprise- sexual assault (McCartney's own daughter was impregnated by one of his quarterbacks.) McCartney went on to become a "born again" Catholic and found the fundamentalist group Promise Keepers, effectively pulling a Pontius Pilate with regards to the CU football program.

The CU scandal is the most glaring example of the blurred line between college athletics and big business/entertainment. Powerhouse college football programs constantly deal with a melange of shady outside influences- boosters who never truly left campus after graduation, street agents offering star athletes everything from phone cards and clothes to cars and loose women, a governing athletic body in the NCAA that reaps billions in revenue for the universities it represents while treating student athletes like indentured servants- and the CU campus was recently named the nation's top party school by The Princeton Review. CU also wasn't taking the charges seriously until the governor of the state practically ordered an investigation into the allegations.

But I don't think for a second that Gary Barnett did not know the severity of the allegations when this behavior was happening for over twenty years at CU. At the very least Barnett is guilty of turning his back and ignoring the situation. He'll be the first one to lose his job in the scandal, but he shouldn't be the last.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

True "Afterglow"

It's a bit after 3 p.m. local time here and I've been up for a few hours now. Yesterday was extremely draining as I effectively was at HotHouse for close to twelve hours doing my in-house chores there and later hosting "Speak Easy."

I set the bar a bit high for last night, expecting a crowd of around 100 peeps. We had 74 paid, which still ain't nothing to sneer at on a Wednesday night (if I include the readers, musicians, and comps we had close to 100 people last night!) I'm chalking it up to a case of setting the bar a bit too high. Still, my thanks and heartfelt gratitude go out to those who did come out last night. The readers were a diverse and talented crew who gave their all and Marvin Tate brought the house down. On top of all that the bar made some good money, which is a bonus and one of the points I look for when producing these things. If the bartenders are happy (and since I work at HH I can figure these things out by asking) we stand a good chance of returning.

I'm gonna let this sink in and start preparing for a slew of Write Club projects: lining up readers for the next "Speak Easy" in May; a mentoring program for young writers; involvement with Make- A chicago Literary Journal; and the final filings for Write Club Chicago's non-profit status, which we should have all funding for after last night.

In the meantime I picked up the new album by Garrison Starr Tuesday and wanted to give a plug for it. She's got this cross breed of Melissa Etheridge, Steve earle, and power punk going on. Her last album, Songs From Take-Off To Landing was a mixed bag that came off sounding like music you'd hear on a very special episode of "Smallville." This album sounds more assured and confident. Get it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Silly Groundhogs!!

There are those of us hung up on the Julian calendar waiting for March 21st to roll around so we can break out the shorts and send Old Man Winter off with a size 11 wingtip lodged in his keister. Then there are those of us who know that today is the first true day of Spring as pitchers and catchers report to spring training at camps throughout Florida and Arizona.

I went to bed last night happy, secure in the knowledge that the Cubs finally agreed to terms with Greg Maddux and making an imposing starting rotation even stronger. With Juan Cruz primed to finally have a breakout year it is not a far-fetched possibility of the boys in blue fielding a six-man starting rotation of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Maddux, Matt Clement, Carlos Zambrano, and Cruz. It is a dream and probably unlikely, but if Cruz does pitch well enough to warrant spot starts, the wear and tear saved on the big fours' arms will be tremendous. Last year Prior, Wood, Zambrano, and Clement each logged over 210 innings pitched, mostly on power pitches. As a result, their arms gave out on them as the playoffs progressed.

Maddux, the epitome of the control pitcher, can teach them the benefits of painting the corner and changing speeds. In his prime, Maddux's signature outing was the 80-pitch complete game. His four Cy Young awards command respect. You better believe that the rotation will listen.

The other benefit of the Maddux signing is that catcher Michael Barrett gets to learn to call a baseball game from one of the greatest pitchers ever. Barrett is one of the wild cards for the Cubs this season; he was signed for cheap amid cries from Cubs fans and Jay Mariotti of the Sun-Times to spend money on Pudge Rodriguez, the NLCS MVP. However, Rodriguez and his agent, the detestable Scott Boras (who's also Maddux's agent) typically set the asking price too high. Rodriguez eventually signed with the Detroit Tigers, where he'll be more of a teacher than a playoff contender.

The other major factors for the Cubs this season are the recovery of Corey Patterson from knee surgery and the mind-set of Sammy Sosa. Fans should know about Patterson's condition in short order. With a steroid scandal unfolding a legion of media attention will be focused on Sosa, who has more home runs since 1998 than any other hitter in the major leagues.

Sosa's been relatively injury-free since 1997. He hasn't had the chronic knee and back injuries that plagued Mark McGwire in his final playing days and Barry Bonds today, injuries also symptomatic of excessive steriod abuse. But short of volunteering to give weekly urine samples to an independent lab, the rumors of steroid abuse will hound Sosa and might take his head out of the game quicker that a high-and-tight fastball.

Which brings me to my next question about Sosa: now that he's had a whole winter to reflect, does he have the mentality to dig in the batter's box and not give up the inside of the plate to pitchers who watched how hesitant Sosa was at every heater that was above the letters and inside last season. Sosa's at his best when he's dug in and spraying the ball to all fields- of all the sluggers in the game his ratio of pull homers to opposite-field home runs is nearly equal- and taking the first pitch. After hitting two moonshots in the first two games of the NLCS, a Josh Beckett brushback pitch in Game 5 effectively took Sosa's bat out of the series.

The Cubs need the warrior that Sosa claims to be to fulfill the championship predictions of the experts this season. I'd start by having Wood throw at his head in Spring training to see where his mind is.

Monday, February 16, 2004

The Afterglow in Cliche Form

Hope you're all recovering nicely from the chocolate/food/sugar/drink/drug/post-coital buzz of the weekend. Remember: only eight more months until Sweetheart's Day and you get to do it all over again, so start scraping away those dimes now.

I still haven't come up with anything to open Wednesday night's show, which is probably just as well since I was far too long-winded during the first show. It might be best to just get up there, improvise and give the stage to those who deserve it. I've been in touch with everyone and they're all ready to read.

If all the featured readers and musicians bring ten people each via word-of-mouth, we'll have 150 people in the house Wednesday. I figure I'm good for twenty people myself, and the rest of the Write Club folks can bring in their complement. Translation: we're gonna have a good-sized house on Wednesday. Oh, well. The proof is in the pudding.

Otherwise, I wanted to write about this Love detector that the Sun-Times felt the need to devote 1-1/2 column inches Friday on Page 3.

The web site says that "The Love Detector for PC software can determine if that person is in the mood for lovin' by charting that person's 'real' feelings on a computer screen at the other end of the line." The Sun-Times piece quoted a college freshman who said, "He said things like, 'I totally like you.' I'm like, you don't even know me."

I don't know. I still think a Stoli Vanil and diet coke is the perfect foil for a computer program.

Friday, February 13, 2004

For Lovers Only...

Valentine's day cards with true sentiments. Check them out here.

They're Back!!!

Went to a screening of the documentary Afro Punk at Hothouse last night. It deals with racial identity within the punk rock scene, following the lives of four black musicians who have dedicated themselves to the lifestyle and their experiences with "duality"- being black in a largely white scene. The Chicago black punk rock community did a great job of getting the word out. The place was packed with scores of punk rockers watching the screen attentively. The evening was capped off by a one-off reunion show by Marvin Tate's D-Settlement. The ads for the screening were calling it "the reunion show" but the particulars are rightfully taking things one step at a time. The farewell concert nine months ago was the result of a lot of growing resentment within the band.

But when D-Settlement hit the stage last night it felt right, like nothing had happened. It was a good opportunity to confirm with Marvin his appearance at next week's "Speak Easy." Apparently he committed at the right time for it: Marvin's gonna be on a future episode of HBO's "Def Poetry Jam." No doubt he'll add some much needed original flavor to the festivities.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Primary Colors

Last night I was at a fundraiser for Barack Obama's Senate campaign and I left feeling like I had attended a tent revival. I had been leaning towards Obama for weeks but last night pushed me well over the edge into activist territory.

The average voter won't have his mind made up until days before the primary, if then. That still hasn't stopped Blair Hull from flooding his campaign coffers with fifteen million dollars of his own money, with a personal fortune of nearly five hundred million more at his disposal. Obama, who has the support and endorsement of nearly every non-partisan political organization and Democratic machine in the state, faces a hell of a climb in the next five weeks if he is to become only the second popularly elected African American male senator in the history of the Senate.

Hull has the name recognition right now, largely because of the money he's been spending. However, in an age of attention deficit disorder and soundbytes, political campaigns are more like sprints. For all of Hull's money and media saturation, until four years ago he wasn't even a part of the democratic process. In other words, the man never bothered to vote.

The other thing that irks me about Hull besides his money is the feeling that he's capitalizing on the perceived cynicism of the voting populace. Peter Fitzgerald spent twelve million dollars of his own fortune in 1998 to oust Carol Moseley-Braun from the Senate. It was twelve million he didn't need to spend; a majority of Illinois voters were already disenchanted by Moseley-Braun's conflicts of interest and associations with African dictators that he would have voted for anyone besides her. Fitzgerald, in my mind, has acquitted himself very well.

The reliance on his personal fortune to finance his campaign has resulted in Fitzgerald being largely resistant to the lobby culture on Capitol Hill. Fitzgerald hasn't played the compromise game well, alienating both Senate Democrats and even some of his staunchest Republican backers on the Senate floor. The cries of gifts to the banking industry that Fitzgerald made his fortune have largely been wolf cries, as he has concentrated on making tough stances for the citizens of Illinois.

But his most notable achievement has been his nomination of Patrick Fitzgerald to the US Attorney's office in Illinois. An nomination that Peter Fitzgerald insisted he have final say over his senior Senate partner Dick Durbin, the Pat Fitzgerald nomination gave Illinois a bulldog of an attorney and resulted in an avalanche of indictments to the former power circle of former governor George Ryan, including Ryan himself, harkening way back from when Ryan was Illinois Secretary of State during the licenses for bribes scandal. Coupled with the reform-minded legislative victories of current Governor Rod Blagojevich, politicians from both parties are looking over their shoulder.

Peter Fitzgerald is the anomaly. Blair Hull has made affordable health care his primary campaign issue. As more information comes out about poorly conceived the Bush Medicare package really was, that's like taking a stand against sour milk.

Obama is also in favor for affordable health care. As a union lawyer he's also against the Patriot Act and the unlawful incarceration of people under it, fully realizing that these incarcerations are also violations of our own civil rights. Obama eloquently articulates his distaste for the Bush administration without becoming shrill and vindictive. His endorsements speak for themselves and he will not spread negative campaign ads in the upcoming weeks, hoping that his credentials speak volumes for him. He's an adept coalition builder- his state senatorial district stretches from the Gold Coast to the Oakwood/Kenmore neighborhood. In short, he represents both the richest and poorest citizens of Illinois in his district.

You can find out more information about Barack Obama by clicking this link.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Super Music Tuesday

It was an unseasonably warm day two years ago. I was researching a coupe of jazz musicians for some interviews I had landed, so I rode my bike to Tower Records on Clark Street to buy some cds and get some exercise in the meantime. I found what I was looking for and was browsing around the new releases when I came across an album on sale for $8.99 that looked like a perfect impulse buy. You know, something that you don't really need, but it's cheap so you're not wasting that much money on it anyway. If it turns out to be a good buy, you made a wise purchase. In the case of buying this record, if the album sucked I could always take it to the nearest used record store and recoup a couple of bucks from what I spent.

That album was Come Away With Me by an unknown singer named Norah Jones. Two years, millions of records, and eight Grammy awards later we know how that story turned out. I wasn't really thinking about that until I was reading Jim Derogatis' review of Jones' sophomore effort today in the Sun-Times. Seems he doesn't understand her success. I'm no expert on these things, but I'm guessing that EMI's decision to put it for sale at $8.99 was the catalyst, followed by the good reviews, then the buzz.

Come Away with Me was one of those albums that sold stronger as the word of mouth spread about it. The fact that Jones had great chops was a bonus.

So I bought the new album today and it looks like Blue Note/EMI isn't taking any chances. Tower had it for sale at $11.99. It's solid. Haven't really listened to it yet because I've been busy listening to today's impulse buy.

Probot , Dave Grohl's underground metal project, fucking kicks it. This takes me back to living in Tennessee as a high school sophomore when David Anglin was the coolest kid I knew because he owned a copy of Venom's Welcome to Hell and had a morphine habit. Hard to believe there was a time when I thought my soul was condemned to eternal damnation because I dared to listen to Mercyful Fate.

And at $9.99 it was an absolute steal.

Monday, February 09, 2004

...And Show Some Jazz Hands

Last night was a Carnivale celebration at HotHouse and, although I only worked four hours, I had to slog through the evening. Chicago Samba is a wonderful band, gracious men, but they can sometimes draw the most inconsiderate fans in the city. I'll be the first to admit that I don't have the best barside manner sometimes, but some people were pushing just the right buttons last night.

I came into work late having traveled from a dinner party in Ravenswood Manor. I didn't want to work, to be honest, as the guest of honor at the party was my best friend in town from Nashville. I transferred trains at Belmont, which was a mistake because the Red Line was reduced to one track from North/Clybourn to Grand. Once I arrived I assessed the situation: the bar was three deep all around with people demanding caipirinhas. I handed the floor manager my coat and started to cull the easy orders first.

Bad idea. The beer drinkers turned out to be the most high-maintenance people at the bar. And all it took was one guy to set me off.

"Hey, pal! Get me two Miller Lites right now!"

I've learned to bite my tongue over the years- it took me two years to swallow my pride and mix cognac with cranberry juice when someone asks- but I couldn't let this go uncontested.

"What do we say?" I asked, trying to get a "please" from him.

"Right now. And a shot of Jaegermeister."

That did it. I looked at him and sneered, "Aren't you a little old to be drinking Jaegermeister?" I popped open the beers, collected his money, and handed him his change. Almost immediately the crowd dispersed from the bar, as if they could read that the mood was about to change. The other two behind the bar looked around and wondered why things slowed down. They saw me giving this guy back the grief he gave them all night long and shook their heads.

As I said, I sometimes don't have the best barside manner, but I do know how to read a customer. You have to in order to make any money doing this. It's more than just knowing what goes in a dreamsicle shot, or serving up a kamikaze in under five seconds. Flexibility is key. You need to know when to listen, when to be a comedian, when to stand down the unruly ones, and when to be crass. Friday night a Lincoln Park Trixie asked for three shots of Patron chilled. To the point she asked that it be "shaken so hard it looks like semen."

Sometimes when you're set up with a softball like that it's hard not to swing for the fences. As I poured the aerated tequila into its intended glasses, she carped loudly to all within earshot about not having a boyfriend.

I responded, "Well, when you talk about semen in public all the time, it can be hard to consider you relationship material."

She laughed loudly, placed the glass to her lips, and tilted her head back. Letting some tequila run down her chin and neck. I smirked and said, "Oh, a sloppy swallower." Patron came shooting out of her nose.

Moments like that are priceless.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

This Posting is sponsored by store bought almonds and tap water

During his opening monologue Tuesday night Jimmy Kimmel showed a picture of Rosie O'Donnell heading into the Martha Stewart trial with two family-sized bags of M&M's- one plain and one peanut- and said, "You can't pay for that kind of product placement."

Or maybe you can. In the photos O'Donnell has the M&M logos faced prominently towards the camera. And what reason was there for O'Donnell to even be at the courthouse besides her offering "moral support" to Stewart?

We've come a long way from the days where Rod Serling blatantly shilled for Winston cigarettes druing "Twilight Zone" episodes (a practice occasionally mocked by Conan O'Brian.) Such obvious commercial endorsement is shunned these days. However, with the consolidation of media companies in recent years the art of "cross-promotion" is fast rising. Witness Disney's promoting its movie "Miracle" on ESPN's "Sportscenter" all week. The once indelible line between news and commerce has become increasingly blurred as media corporations work to recoup their expenses.

Then there's advertising disguised as subtle conversation. Last year on "The Tonight Show" Drew Barrymore and Jay Leno did a question-and-answer session about Barrymore's favorite meal, which she said was grilled cheese sandwiches. What stood out about it was Barrymore's unabashed hawking of Kraft American cheese singles, which she used to "rock the grilled cheese." The following day Howard Stern, that king of the subtle advertisement, dissected the entire interview and theorized that Barrymore was being paid to hawk Kraft cheese singles. Naturally, nothing can be proven as no one was talking.

It's possible O'Donnell's M&M's-on-the-courthouse-steps photo op was a paid advertisement; she might be looking for ways to recoup the nearly thirty million dollars she lost staging the Broadway flop "Taboo." More likely O'Donnell was there to rehabilitate her recent "bitchy dyke" image. After all, if liars get cancer, M&M's make people fat.

Man, that would look good on an ad.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Random Thoughts From The Corner of 31st and Halsted

I’m at the coin laundry wasting quarters on the Galaga video game instead of feeding them to the dryer so I don’t roll up ten pairs of damp socks. I’ve loaded my clean laundry into my pull cart for the three block trip back to the apartment and get outside when I spy the night attendant sitting in the driver’s seat of her Dodge minivan bouncing her big ass up and down. I look at her and think, “What the hell?” when I make out the faint sound of music coming from the car. I focus my ears a bit to hear what’s making her move like she just rubbed off a good one. I recognize the song as “My Mind’s Playin’ Tricks On Me” by the Geto Boys. She looks at me and now I’m bobbing my head up and down. ‘Cause this is the south side of Chicago I’m writing from and when you drop some classic old school shit like Geto Boys, you have to recognize.

Geto Boys was the shit when I was twenty-one and a punk: a pimp, a drug dealer, and a psychotic Jamaican dwarf from Houston rapping these unvarnished accounts of death and life in the Third Ward neighborhood of Houston. For this white boy who was expanding his musical horizons past Metallica and Megadeath, Geto Boys were gangsta in a way that N.W.A. couldn’t dream of being. Sure, Run-DMC was all cool and positive; Chuck D rapped about serious thought provoking issues; the Beasties were taking to the stage with giant inflatable cocks and paper plates full of cocaine; and 2 Live Crew just said “ho” and “bitch” a lot over Casio keyboard rhythms. But Geto Boys were the original Boys N’ The Hood. They had a song called “Gangsta of Love” where they managed to rhyme “hold ‘em” with “scrotum.” You just know that someone was inspired there by a quality teabagging.

The album that “My Mind’s Playin’ Tricks On Me” is listed features the coolest and most disturbing cover I’ve ever seen in my life outside of G.G. Allin records. The cover had Bushwick Bill, the dwarf, sitting on a gurney in a hospital. One side of his head is wrapped in bloody gauze, covering the socket where his girlfriend took his eye out with a shotgun. Willie D and Scarface- the pimp and drug dealer, respectively- are flanking this crazy fucking midget. They’re staring real hard at the camera and the low-rent lettering on the album read, “We Can’t Be Stopped!!” And that left an impression on me, because if this crazy motherfucking Jamaican dwarf can survive a point-blank shotgun blast to the head and only lose an eye, they probably couldn’t be stopped.

Anyway, “My Mind’s Playin’ Tricks On Me” is about as perfect a song as you can find in any genre. It’s four minutes of Willie D smoking killer weed and seeing things, Scarface packaging Gold Medal flour as cocaine, and Bushwick stealing candy from trick-or-treaters. But what set the song off for me was the guitar loop that was the backbone of the song. It was this sweet R&B riff, do do-do do do do do, do do-do do do do do. That guitar line sounded like it belonged in one of the better blaxploitation flicks, or when Jim Kelly’s picking out all those concubines in “Enter the Dragon”, then looks at the madam and says, “Forgive me if I forgot anyone. I’m very tired.”

The laundromat attendant and I finish our moment and I walk past the gas station. There’s this crew of white trash wiggers from the wrong side of Halsted huddled by a van trying to look hard. They’re failing miserably. There’s a jack under the van lifting it off the ground, but none of these dumbasses knows the first thing about changing a tire. At least, no one seems to be taking the lead in changing the tire. Instead, they dig their hands deeper into their pockets, scowl some more, and wait for this tire to miraculously change itself. They’ve got their stereo in the van booming out some old school DMX. Which is cool, I guess, except they’re more worried about rapping along with the radio and looking cool for the girls who are nowhere to be found instead of changing the tire. I feel like telling them that no one finds seven scrawny and damp teenaged dropouts looking at each other in the freezing mist to see who’s going to change a tire cool. I opt to just shake my head slightly at them as I walk by with my clean laundry, remembering that there was once a time when I was in their position right now.

I imagine if Bushwick Bill were here, he’d take that tire iron and start cracking kneecaps until that tire got changed.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Where Can I Get A Nipple Shield Like Janet Jackson?

So, let me get this straight. CBS refuses to air the winning ad in MoveOn's "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest because it's "controversial", even though MoveOn raised the corporate ransom needed to air the ad on the biggest ratings night of the year, but Janet Jackson can expose her right breast at the end of the halftime show? Coupled with the G-String streaker at the second half kickoff and this is one of those times I wish I had cable.