Thursday, March 25, 2004

Mixed Blessings

Well, we're finally getting some balmy temperatures round these parts but the tradeoff is that they're coming with showers. It's been overcast the past two days with intermittent rainfall. I don't care, really. I finally got to open the windows and air this apartment out.

Otherwise, things have been uneventful. I've been busy doing nothing, actually. That sure as hell eats up a lot of time. You wake up at ten a.m., check your mail, and spend the morning reading the police report detailing Richard Simmons' arrest on assault charges and suddenly it's 2 p.m. Yup, it's hard work maintaining fair-to-middling.

My only other concern is that I just watched the Tori Amos episode of "Soundstage" and actually enjoyed it. I'm all conflicted and never was a cornflake girl, either.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Random Thoughts From The Corner of 31st and Halsted, Part 2

So I was crossing the street at 31st and Halsted this afternoon. The light was green for about ten seconds and I was balancing my umbrella and paper when I heard this loud wet skidding on my left. I turned and saw this mini-truck thingy closing fast. I jumped out of the way and turned around. The woman behind the wheel had her hazards blinking like she had to be where she was going right then. Her truck stopped exactly where I was standing in the crosswalk. I stared at the wheels, everything still registering in my head. "You asshole!" I yelled. She glanced at me, threw out an apology, and skidded onto 31st Street, hazards blazing in the haze.

I finished crossing the street and gave myself a few moments to let everything. I never thought for a moment that the truck could've thrown me out into the intersection if she hit me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Whoa, man!!

So I entered my apartment around 10:15 last night and turned on the television to catch the primary results. Lo and behold, there was Barack Obama accepting the Democratic nomination for Peter Fitzgerald's US Senate seat, which was an understatement at the very least.

The Tribune reported this morning that Obama's percentage of the vote almost doubled that of state Comptroller Dan Hynes with Blair Hull finishing a distant third in the running. Having funded his campaign to the tune of $29 million of his own money, that roughly translates to $260 a vote for Hull, who has a valid reason to lay partial blame on the media for the implosion of his campaign. At the very least Blair Hull will be remembered as the Howard Dean of this primary campaign. YEEEEEAAAAAHHHH!!!

Obama's victory was not surprising. What was shocking was the support he had statewide and the State party's inane decision to play politics as usual by endorsing Hynes. Hynes' reliance on the city's white and Latino wards was hampered by his milquetoast campaigning; resultingly Obama outpaced Hynes 66 percent to 16 percent in Chicago.

Ramsin has a detailed analysis of Obama's victory over at The Howtown that reads a bit like sour grapes to me, but we know the old adage about opinions. The Humble Wiz is particularly incensed that Obama drew comparisons to Harold Washington with his final ad prior to the polls opening. However, last night's victory was not dissimilar to Harold's '83 mayoral primary win over Jane Byrne and Richie Daley the overbearing district manager. In short, pundits, experts, Democrat hardliners, even Ramsin underestimated the black vote, which sided overwhelmingly with the charismatic Obama. So did liberals. The Tribune article reports a nice story of futility in Gene Schulter's 47th ward, where ward foot soldiers blanketed the streets with Hynes literature. The 47th went to Obama 60 percent to Hynes' 25 percent.

That still doesn't account for Obama's support in the collar counties and downstate. While the media's reprehensible portrayal of the Hull/Brenda Sexton divorce was the major factor in his Dadaelean fall from grace, Hull can also lay blame at his campaign managers for not having a thorough understanding of Chicago/Illinois politics (another point on which I agree with Ramsin.) He might also blame his fortune, as one could make an educated guess that Hull's self-centered largesse turned a lot of working-class voters toward Obama.

While Obama's win by no means harkens the demise of the Cook County Democratic Machine Mach II, their support of Hynes was baffling. Here in the 11th ward, every tree, light pole, and window was littered with Hynes posters, usually joined in tandem with Cook County Commissioner John Daley. They'll simply regroup and throw their considerable clout behind Obama.

Obama will go on to face Jack Ryan for the Senate seat in the November election and the Wiz is saying that with the right campaign Ryan could make it a squeaker. Again, I humbly disagree. One thing the state GOP should be worried about it is that Obama's statewide vote total last night far outpaced the cumulative vote total of all the Republican candidates, which can be used as a barometer of the health of the statewide GOP. In short, not good. Consider Jim Oberweis with his paranoid commercials on illegal immigration and name recognition won 23% of the GOP vote. If the GOP had their eggs in one basket, Oberweis could easily be the nominee.

Either way, I'm never eating his ice cream again.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Winter's Last Gasp

I've been procrastinating on some writing-related things lately so I didn't step out of the house until five this evening. Christ, was it that fucking cold out all day? It was nice to just get lost in actual work for a change. I wrote a nice story that I'll be editing this weekend and possibly posting here once I take it to a couple of critique groups. The next Write Club meeting is in a couple of weeks. I think it's time for some of the core members to start working towards getting published, so the emphasis of the next meeting is on query letters. Anyone who might be interested please e-mail me for details.

Anyhoo, look for some record reviews on Jazz Review in the next week after I've given these albums some time to sink in. Also, on the Speak Easy front, it looks like we'll be hosting another one on May 23rd. It'll once again be at HotHouse and I'm looking to improve on our paid attendance last time.

With regard to Make magazine, a media kit has been written and we'll be approaching funders shortly once we've taken care of the edits. I'm working hard to not get over-enthused. Don't want to jinx things.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Take the Good, Take the Bad.

While I was settling in at work this morning Tim received a phone call. He politely took down the phone number given to him by the person on the other end of the line and hung up. Then he turned my way.

"Word association, Chuck," he said. "Kim Fields."

"Huh?" I grunted. I opted for hot cocoa at Intelligentsia this morning.

"Kim Fields."

"Tim, I've only been awake for an hour," I said.

Tim stared at me slightly disappointed and said, "Kim Fields, man. You know, 'Tootie?'"

I rubbed my eyes in anticipation of the migraine. "'The Facts of Life' Kim Fields?" I was slightly interested.

"Yeah. The same."

"What about her?"

Tim had an evil glint in his eye. "She's billing herself as a smooth jazz artist now and she wants to play here."

I stopped typing e-mail. "No way!"

"Really. That was her on the phone," Tim said. "She wants to book a gig here."

We laughed in unison when he said that, humming the theme from "The Facts of Life" for emphasis. Later, as I was dealing with liquor salesmen I began to think, if Tim was on the level, how sad it is that someone who had some measure of success in entertainment is now personally cold calling clubs around the country looking to make a living. I mean, it wasn't that long ago when Kim Fields did an extended engagement of "The Vagina Monolouges" in Chicago back when that play was so ubiquitous. Now ahe's doing a total left turn and trying to recast herself as a singer.

It reminded me of a broadcast fax we received in the office one day last year. It was an announcement that longtime rock-n'-roller Rick Derringer was also making the move to smooth jazz. The fax listed his credentials, the promotional push to spread the word of Derringer's "conversion", and some of the hits Derringer would be playing in concert- "Hang On Sloopy" and a re-arranged version of "Rock-n'-Roll Hootchie Koo" titled "Jazzy Koo."

I can empathize in a way. I once caught Pat Travers in concert in a bar on a Florida military base fifteen years ago. His band's gear was set up on a small riser above a dance floor straight out of "Saturday Night Fever." That dance floor also doubled as Travers' light show.

Travers and his band of hired guns hit the stage and bookended their set with the two songs I came to hear: "Snortin' Whiskey, Drinking Cocaine" and "Boom Boom!! Out Go The Lights!!" It was obvious to my nineteen-year-old ears that Travers was going through the motions twelve inches above that flashing dance floor. I doubt his fee barely covered his expenses. But he did it anyway, and the twenty-five or so people who deigned to see the show enjoyed every bit of it.

I compared that to the Derringer fax and Kim Fields this afternoon on the way home. Sure, Pat Travers phoned in a show fifteen years ago. But at least he gave the fans what they wanted. What they didn't want that night was "Jazzy Koo" or Tootie tackling Sade.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Sweet Nothings for the Weekend

Off the top of my head there are five things I could be doing instead of typing this and waiting for my Real Player updates to download. But it's overcast outside and I don't have to meet friends for dinner until six, so HEEWIIIYYAAMM!!!

I've made it known that I'll be voting for Barack Obama in two weeks, but still I find it appalling that the media waited until Balir Hull had a sizeable lead in various polls to make his divorce from Brenda Sexton a campaign issue. As Ramsin pointed out over at The Howtown, Mark Brown admitted in his Tuesday Sun-Times column that the media knew of the details of the Hull/Sexton divorce but "sat on it" until the right moment. That right moment was a ten-point lead over Obama and Dan Hynes with Hull readying for the kill (bad pun.)

According to Brown's logic a man like Blair Hull, who put forth some serious time and effort to mold himself as a credible candidate for Senate, should have known that his rocky divorce from Sexton would become a campaign issue. Hull was aware of that: his campaign platform portrays him as a devoted single father. I, for one, don't think it's too much to ask to let sealed records stay sealed. Both Hull and Sexton were initially willing to underplay the importance of the records to his campaign's credibility.

It harkens back to the "where there's smoke there's fire" approach to reporting these days. Someone on the Culture Dump message boards the other day accused me and others critical of the Bush administration of "throwing shit against a wall in the hope that something sticks." In Blair Hull's case, its those since unsealed divorce records that might just cost him a shot at the Senate, when there are more credible reasons to not vote for him. It's a shame, really. Those records are the one small turd that hasn't fallen off the wall.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Whoa! Could Jeff Skilling of Enron be next?

Martha Stewart Convicted

I bet K-Mart is already setting its Martha Stewart Living brand at liquidation prices. I'll be checking the Sunday circulars. I need a mandolin for the kitchen.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Why Can't I Ever Get Arrested?

The first Chicago Critical Mass bike rides started in 1996 under the leadership of Chairman Thar and the other "nodes" at Lumpen. My first participation at one was on a Saturday in early spring (Critical Mass rides were not yet synchronized with other cities to fall on the last Friday of every month.) We massed up outside Wrigley Field before a game against the Braves- the pitching matchup was Greg Maddux versus Kevin Tapani, I believe- and there was a very strong turnout, about 300 cyclists. The weather was crisp and sunny. I brought a windbreaker for the possibility of riding along the lake.

We set out from Wrigley around noon, just as the traffic to the ballpark was creeping to a halt. Our convoy sliced through the congestion like a hot knife through butter. We stayed in a tight formation heading south on Clark Street. Within ten minutes we rolled past Tower Records on Clark towards Old Town. Our formation began to stretch out like a supply convoy on a beeline to Baghdad. That's when the first squad car started to tail us, flashing his berries laying on the siren. Some of the riders in front flipped the cops off and sang, "We are legal traffic, we will not be moved!!" The rest of us kept pedaling and kept our mouths shut. Another squad car drove past us, its lights strobing in a military cadence. We thought nothing of it as we passed the Village Theater.

It was at Clark and Goethe that the road block first appeared. Those in front saw it as they rounded the Village but said nothing to those of us in the middle of the pack. They just packed it in tighter and slowly built up speed. When the front of the convoy reached Goethe Street, they kicked it into high gear and pedaled past the foot cops, easily rounding onto State Street.

The rest of us weren't so lucky. By the time we reached the corner the cops were ready. There was one in particular, a uniformed sergeant who stood five-four, maybe five-five. He was wearing state trooper shades and a serious Napoleon complex. Years of meticulous attention to Chicago Police Department uniform regulations resulted in his having the type of mustache one finds only on cops, soldiers, or porn stars. He came to us flexing his right hand and reaching for the mace with his left screaming, "All I need to do is get my hand on one of you fuckers, so you better slow down right now!!"

I thought I could steer clear of this cop, so I hopped the curb. He timed my hop perfectly and latched onto my seat post like a vise. That's when I shifted down for easier pedaling. The added torque unsettled his balance and he lost his footing, still clutching my seat as I dragged him down Goethe Street. Another cop stepped in front of me and stopped my forward progress altogether.

I stepped off the bike and placed my hands in the air to show I would not resist if I was being arrested. The little cop rushed towards me, tire tracks marking his uniform and face. He had the mace in hand and would have used it if the other cop hadn't stepped between us. He placed a firm but steady shoulder on the first cop, walking back toward the squad car. I slumped to the curb and stayed there.

After a twenty minutes of debating whether or not my dragging of the short cop down Goethe Street by my bike constituted resisting arrest, the second cop gave his assurance that I would be taken care of and that he would kick the short cop's ass if he didn't shut up and let him handle the situation. I was politely ticketed for obstructing traffic and riding my bicycle on the sidewalk. My license was confiscated and I had to report to traffic court in two weeks time. The short cop hissed at me that I had gotten lucky that day and that he would remember my face. I waved at him and saddled up.

As I turned south on State Street I biked past five or six paddy wagons and an equal number of police vans. The wagons contained the cyclists in front of the caravan; their bikes were in the vans.

"You just got lucky, you know that?" A cyclist said as he rode up to me and extended his hand. "The road block at Goethe was just a means to get the front runners onto State Street, where the paddy wagons were waiting for them."

I breathed a sigh of relief. "I guess," I allowed. The cyclist identified himself as a lawyer and said that the paddy wagons were headed for Meigs Field where a temporary holding facility was set up.

"Shouldn't we rally some people together to bail them out?" I asked.

The lawyer spat at the paddy wagons and said, "Fuck those anarchists. They were willing to leave us holding the bag back on Clark Street. Let's go to Greektown and have some saganaki at the Athena Room. I'm buying; you earned it!" We passed the Haymarket memorial on Randolph and I wondered if a revolution can sometimes happen on an empty stomach if the strength of conviction is still there.

The Politics of Cynicism (cont'd.)

Check this out:

Furor Over Bush's 9/11 Ad

And I thought I was being optimistic in saying they'd wait until convention time to exploit it.

What Took 'Em So Long?

My friends have long known that I listen to Howard Stern in the morning. I find it necessary to temper the seriousness of public radio with the Stern's unique mix of freaks, lesbians, crassness, and astute interview skills. When he's on top of his game, Stern is the best in his craft. Stern's also at his best when he plays the role of the wounded everyman, railing against slights both real and perceived.

Which makes the past three weeks sort of a renaissance for Stern and company. It began with Howard commenting on the news that his longtime assistant producer/sidekick "Stuttering John" Melendez had been hired as the new announcer of "The Tonight Show." Stern spent the better portion of that week criticizing Jay Leno for being "creatively bankrupt" and needing to hire Melendez in order to bring in the coveted 18-35 male demographic that flocks to David Letterman's "Late Show" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

The tirade against Leno seemed like a tune-up to his current battle with Clear Channel Entertainment, the radio conglomerate that has a kung-fu grip on the radio and concert industries. Clear Channel dropped Stern's show from six of its stations on February 26th, citing a change of broadcasting policy in the wake of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl halftime show and the flap it stirred.

Liberal pundits theorized whether Clear Channel dropped Stern's show after Stern's change-of-tune on his support of the Bush administration. A staunch advocate of the war in Iraq, Stern criticized Bush after the President announced his intention of introducing a Constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. It is only in the past two days that Stern has joined the chorus and touted this angle, as pointed out in today's Salon column by Eric Boehlert (you might have to get a Premium day pass from Salon in order to read the story.) Not only has Stern banging the drum loudly, he's done his homework, as well. Stern has been relentless in pointing out the connections between the Bush administration, Clear Channel CEO Lowry Mays, and Clear Channel board member Tom Hicks- who, incidentally purchased baseball's Texas Rangers from a ownership group headed by Bush.

The loss of six stations in Stern's "stolen police vehicle recovery network" will not hurt him financially. What Stern is rallying against is the censure of his right to free speech, which Clear Channel is cloaking under the guise of business. For all his crassness and base behavior on air, Howard Stern is one of the fiercest defenders of civil liberties in the country. With a loyal national audience of over twenty million people hanging on his every word, Stern has an influence that is undeniable, as evidenced by a hit movie, two best-selling books, and a legitimate third-party candidacy for the Governorship of the state of New York (Stern resigned his candidacy when he refused to disclose his personal finances.) Conservatives are rightfully worried that Stern may use his bully pulpit to sway voters away from Bush.

Another former Bush supporter who has changed stripes is gay conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan wrote a well-thought out post chastising the President for his aforementioned stance on same-sex unions and Sullivan's intent to pull his support of Bush this year.

Sullivan's one of the few moderate/conservative pundits I have the stomach to read- his arguments are well rationalized and he gives liberals reasonable room for debate and to prove him wrong- but his staunch support of the Bush administration the past three years confounded me. The Justice Department has arrested and detained hundreds of people under the patriot Act. We incited a war against a country whose dictator we had reasonably in check, using a preemptive strike argument that has been proven irrevocably to be false, and now we're stuck in that same country with no concrete plan to turn its governing over to its own people. Only now is Sullivan changing his tune because the President is encroaching on his civil rights.

While I don't doubt the sincerity of Sullivan's convictions, I find it hard to believe that he couldn't see an administration so deeply indebted to the religious right would not turn its eye on "immoral" behavior such as homosexuality.

Oh, well. Better late than never.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Where's bin Laden?

Meanwhile, over at the Culture Dump message boards, McMahon just posted reports from the Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency and the state-run Pashtun radio service regarding the capture of Osama bin Laden being the reason for Donald Rumsfeld's trip last week to Pakistan.

Citing a "very reliable" source, Pashtun said, "The capture of the al-Qaida leader has been made sometime before, but (US President George W.) Bush is intending to announce it when the American presidential election is held."

If the reports are true- and I have my reservations as to their veracity- then the Bush administration would be pulling what I have dubbed a "Reagan's first inaugural." This refers to the release of the embassy hostages from Iran about two hours after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President in 1981. Five years later, this was the foundation for the Iran contra scandal. Investigators alleged that the Reagan campaign camp promised arms to the Irani government if they released the hostages, but waited until Reagan was actually sworn in to seal the agreement.

Liberal conspiracy theorists will have a field day with the Pashtun report since any conservative transgression is a wound they never allow to scab over and heal. However, it would be fit the dirty trick m.o. of the Bush administration to wait for an opportune moment to spring the news. Remember, Saddam was captured over the Christmas holiday as sort of a gift from the President to the country. "We haven't found WMD's, but we found the guy we claimed had them." If Osama bin Laden has been captured and the Bush administration sits on this for months, only breaking the news as a means to boost approval ratings, it should be considered a criminal offense.

If credible media outlets start investigating this and find some credence in the Pashtun and IRNA reports, it could force Bush's hand before he's willing. Nothing better could seal his reelection than to show the country that he's captured the "face of evil" on the eve of the election. I, for one, am hoping that if Osama hasn't been captured he's found seclusion in the deepest cave he can find, coming out on the eve of election to say, "Neener, neener, neener!"

For what it's worth...

Count my $9.50 among the $117.5 million that Mel Gibson's "The Passion of The Christ" raked in the past five days. Roger Ebert noted on "Ebert & Roeper" this weekend that the focus of controversy has shifted from whether the film is anti-Semitic to whether the depiction of Christ's execution is too violent.

For what it's worth, I found neither to be true. While the violence in "The Passion" is very graphic, it is not the most violent film I've ever seen. Then again, after years of being subjugated to summer blockbusters maybe we as a culture are just numb to images of viscera.

"The Passion" is also not so much anti-Semitic as it is a lesson in how politics are universal, even when conducted three thousand years ago in two dead languages and Hebrew. The scene where Pilate and the rabbinical council led by Caiphas play chess over the fate of Jesus is a sophisticated brand of moral chess. Both realize that Jesus is a reactionary, a revolutionary that must be dealt with, but neither wanted to assume the responsibility of his death. It's like when we were grade schoolers playing a game of dare.

"You do it."

"No, you do it!"

"Oh, I insist!"

"If you want it done that bad, you do it!!"

It's understandable; in politics lawmakers try to absolve themselves of the hard decisions all the time in order to save face. That doesn't necessarily make them racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic. If anything, "The Passion" is making me reassess whether anarchy could work as a feasible political model (I kid.) It has left an even more bitter taste in my mouth with regard to monotheism and organized religion in particular.

As humans, we cannot separate ourselves as humble messengers of God's word from the gnawing feeling that we are above others in spreading the same. The ego of man is too strong to allow the word of God to be enough for the laity. Eventually, the messenger of God becomes a shameless politician. And as we know, the separation of church and state is always a delicate balance, even with Constitutional protection against abusive influence and overlapping by either side.

I can say with assuredness that this movie is an artistic marvel. If Gibson made "The Passion" in order to start a serious discussion about the need for Christ in the lives of Christians, he succeeded. When the credits rolled there were no repeating of quips, no smartassed comments being made by viewers. There was a certain solemnity with which viewers filed out of the theater that one only sees at funerals. To say the audience was stunned would be an understatement. I haven't been this floored by a movie in a long time.