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The 2005 MVPs

Most valuable progressives, that is, per John Nichols in The Nation:

U.S. Senate: Russ Feingold
U.S. House: John Conyers
Executive Branch: Lawrence B. Wilkerson
Law Enforcement Branch: Ronnie Earle
Citizen Branch: Cindy Sheehan
Watchdog Branch: After Downing Street

It's nice to see these champions of liberty, equal opportunity, dissent and, yes, moral values getting the recognition they deserve. 2005 certainly started out darkly for progressives, but it's definitely finishing on an upbeat note.

December 29, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Atget, Before and After

Lens Culture presents a fascinating photo essay by Christopher Rauschenberg in which the photographer documents Paris scenes originally photographed by the great Eugene Atget. Though many of the structures remain, it's clear that the city's vaunted streets now lack their once-teeming vitality.

Having photographed all of these scenes, it is clear to me that the Paris of Atget’s vision is still there and available to eyes that look for it...most of all, you can see that the magical streets of Paris are now thickly covered with parked cars.

I'm not sure that going from horse carts to Renaults is necessarily a sign of progress.

(Link via Backwards City.)

December 28, 2005 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Sign of Four

Okay, I'm game.

Four jobs you've had in your life:
1. Credit manager/analyst
2. Burger flipper
3. Radio news reporter
4. Consulting intern/flunky

Four movies you could watch over and over:
1. On the Waterfront
2. Local Hero
3. Diner
4. Clerks

Four places you've lived:
1. Cary, IL
2. Champaign-Urbana, IL
3. Chicago, IL
4. Joliet, IL
(yes, I have only lived in Illinois)

Four TV shows you love to watch:
1. Prison Break
2. The Amazing Race
3. Law & Order
4. Fawlty Towers

Four places you've been on vacation:
1. Alaska (Anchorage, Denali, Homer, Seward)
2. Cologne, Germany
3. Seattle/Olympic Peninsula
4. Boston

Four websites you visit daily:
1. Gapers Block
2. Bookslut
3. Bighappyfunhouse
4. Booga J

Four of your favorite foods:
1. English ale
2. Crab legs
3. BBQ pulled pork sandwiches
4. Chicken and mushroom pizza from Tomato Head

Four places you'd rather be:
1. Home with Julie and Maddie
2. Southport Lanes
3. Denali National Park
4. Writing for a living

(Via Mumble Herder.)

December 28, 2005 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Books Given and Received

I'll take on this meme--and for once, not months after it first appeared.

What books did you give and receive for Christmas?

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Halldor Laxness, World Light
Ursula LeGuin, Catwings
Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis I & II
Nick Hornby, High Fidelity
John McNally, The Book of Ralph
Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Alex Kotlowitz, Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago
Studs Terkel, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Pär Lagerkvist, Barabbas

Jay Ryan, 100 Posters, 134 Squirrels: A Decade of Hot Dogs, Large Mammals, and Independent Rock: The Handcrafted Art of Jay Ryan
Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis
(plus a $35 Powell's gift card)

I'm not at all bothered by the apparent give/receive imbalance, given that my to-read pile was already at 30+ books. Also, a quick trip to the book store is by far the easiest way to shop for my family. I assume they love receiving books; if not, they haven't objected. Until they start complaining, books is what they'll be getting from now on.

December 28, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Welcome to the Police State

Protesting the war? Agitating against corporate policies? Better watch yourself.

According to new documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union, the FBI is using counterterrorism resources to monitor and infiltrate domestic political organizations that criticize business interests and government policies, despite a lack of evidence that the groups are engaging in or supporting violent action.

The ACLU said that the documents released today on Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) show the FBI expanding the definition of "domestic terrorism" to include citizens and groups that participate in lawful protests or civil disobedience.

Apparently, our centuries-old tradition of dissent--which is, after all, what created this country in the first place--will now get you branded as a terrorist by the FBI. And, of course, being considered a terrorist is sufficient grounds for the Bush Administration to detain you indefinitely at Guantanamo or, even worse, at secret prisons in Eastern Europe.

Pack your bags. We might all be going away for a while.

December 28, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kogan & Wendt, Chicagoans

The Bright One has a nice article on the great Chicago journalists Herman Kogan and Lloyd Wendt, whose landmark histories Lords of the Levee and Big Bill of Chicago have recently been reissued by Northwestern University Press.

I suspect that long after All the President's Men has faded into the second-draft mists, two books by Wendt and Kogan will still be read widely -- and for pleasure as well as the facts.

I can personally vouch for Lords of the Levee, a fascinating account of legendary Chicago aldermen John (Bathhouse John) Coughlin and Michael (Hinky Dink) Kenna. I picked up a 1943 first edition almost ten years ago at a now-defunct bookstore on Lincoln Avenue, and it really spurred a revival of my interest in Chicago history, particularly its disreputable aspects. With it being widely available again, Big Bill is now on my list as well.

December 26, 2005 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Good Reading 2005 (aka The Year of William Trevor)

I'm finally getting around to publishing my best-of list for 2005 just about the time when everybody's sick to death of reading such things. But, still, I must go on public record. Hence, here are the best books I read during 2005, regardless of publication year:

1. William Trevor, The Story of Lucy Gault
2. Ward Just, An Unfinished Season
3. William Trevor, A Bit on the Side
4. Joe Sacco, Palestine
5. Alex Kotlowitz, There Are No Children Here
6. Stuart Dybek, I Sailed With Magellan
7. Kirby Gann, Our Napoleon in Rags
8. Ian McEwan, Saturday
9. Davy Rothbart, The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas
10. John McNally, The Book of Ralph

Honorable Mention: Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree; Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of Chicago; Chicago Noir; Stephen Elliott, Happy Baby; Michael Chabon, The Final Solution.

Re-Readings: Aleksandar Hemon, Nowhere Man; Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm.

December 22, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

How Long Must We Sing This Song?

Since I didn't listen to much new music this year, this gets my vote for Song of the Year: a remix of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday", with Bono's vocals replaced by real-life George Bush sound clips. (There's a few other interesting titles on the site, many of them probably not office-friendly.)

Which raises an interesting question...for Bush, are Sundays really that much bloodier than any other day of the week?

(Link via Chicago: Howtown on the Make.)

December 22, 2005 in Current Affairs, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Newspaper Mottos

Just came across this wonderful collection of newspaper mottos.

"No Tombstone is Complete Without Its Epitaph"
Tombstone (Ariz.) Epitaph

"Independent But Not Neutral"
Colebrook (N.H.) News and Sentinel

"It Still Screams"
The Mountain Eagle

"Covers Dixie Like the Dew"
Atlanta Journal

"If You Don't Want it Printed, Don't Let it Happen"
Aspen Daily News

"Good Paper, Good Ink, Good Work and Prompt Delivery"
Osceola (Ark.) Times

"The Only Newspaper in the World that Gives a Damn About Yerington"
Mason Valley News, Yerington, Nev.

You can see more by clicking here...keep hitting the refresh button, and see the mottos change in the top banner.

December 21, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Phoned-In Poetry

How cool is this? Coudal Partners is asking people to phone in their recitations of favorite poems, the best of which are being put online. Already there are poems by Frank O'Hara, Charles Bukowski and Wallace Stevens, among others. I've made my own contribution, phoning in Stuart Dybek's "Twenty Feet Above the Street."

(Link via Maud.)

December 21, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jay Ryan

Nice profile of one of my most pleasant recent discoveries, poster artist Jay Ryan, in today's Chicago Sun-Times.

"People ask, 'Do you get time to do your own work?' Well, yeah -- this is my work. If I wasn't drawing this rocket for a poster for the band Hum, I'd be drawing this rocket for myself."

I've picked up two Ryan prints this year and, I strongly suspect, will be getting another for Christmas. (Don't bail on me, Santa!)

December 20, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Victor Krummenacher

I thought I'd pass along a few words of appreciation about one of my musical faves, Victor Krummenacher. He's best known as the bassist and co-founder of indie rock legends Camper Van Beethoven, but I've found his solo work to be thoroughly rewarding in its own right. While CVB often comes across as sarcastic and smart-alecky (in a good way, mind you), Victor's work is considerably more serious, poignant and heartfelt. He veers far from CVB's typical world-music-on-pureé palette, focusing instead on a very pleasant roots rook vibe. I recently picked up his 2000 release, Bittersweet, which is now unfortunately out of print. (In fact, I bought the very last copy that the record label which he and fellow CVBer Jonathan Segel founded, Magnetic, had in stock.) Looking online, it appears that Aquarius Records still has it in stock, so head there if you interested in buying. Which you should be--I've been enjoying the album immensely.

The label's promo copy sums up the album pretty well:

On his heartfelt new album Bittersweet, Victor Krummenacher tells it like it is, like it should be and like it never was. In his third (and so far best) solo album, co-founder of Camper Van Beethoven and Monks of Doom, Victor Krummenacher, takes the stage with his best friends around him and his heart on his sleeve. This labor of loves lost and found finds Krummenacher in fine mettle, with eleven tales of affairs of the heart that range from country-inflected ballads so sweet they’ll linger on your tongue like grandma’s cherry cobbler, to intense folk-rock and pop tunes that frame Krummenacher’s strong songwriting and authoritative singing with an engaging sound that is rich and polished but never precious.

Magnetic has five MP3s from Bittersweet available for download, all of which effectively represent the album as a whole:

Not Coming Back
Radio Tower
Bust in a Boomtown
Maybe A True Love

Magnetic's catalog page also has MP3s from his most recent release, Nocturne, which I have not yet heard in its entirety.

December 19, 2005 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Survey Says...Impeachment

Survey time: Which action is the more serious grounds for impeachment of a sitting U.S. President?

1] Willfully and repeatedly violating: the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bans unreasonable searches without court-approved warrants; the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which makes it illegal to conduct any electronic surveillance except as "authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order;" and, at the most basic level, the separation of powers doctrine which requires the executive branch to abide by and enforce statutes enacted by the legislative branch.

2] Lying to Congress under oath about an extramarital affair with a White House intern.

December 19, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Kirby Gann, "Tether"

One of my personal favorites, Kirby Gann (Our Napoleon in Rags), has a powerful new short story, "Tether", in the latest issue of the online literary journal Storyglossia.

(Link via Syntax of Things, via The Millions.)

December 15, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Brian Costello

There's a short profile of Chicago writer Brian Costello in the latest edition of Newcity Chicago.

"In 2002, 2003 and 2004, I would write after I saw music," he says. "I would see The Tyrades or the Ponys or Clone Defects, I'd go to sleep and I'd wake up and write. You still have that spirit in you."

I've already pre-ordered Costello's debut novel, The Enchanters Vs. Sprawlburg Springs, the debut release from the new Chicago independent publisher Featherproof Books. (Order #19!) Based on the first chapter, the book looks like a real hoot.

December 15, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Directions in Lewdness

You've really got to hand it to Joliet. Our pervs are true innovators. Sure, any obscene phone caller can make lewd comments or breathe heavily, but here in Joliet, we like to think outside of the box.

Prank calls reported

JOLIET — An East Side woman told police a prank caller has repeatedly called her, and while he does not speak, he does play suggestive music.

The 28-year-old woman told police the prankster has called her since the first day of October.

"Whenever she comes home from work, there are numerous calls on her cell," according to a police report. "When she can answer it, no one answers, but she hears 'porno music' playing."

Her mother and sister also have answered the woman's telephone and heard the music as well.

December 15, 2005 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saying No to N'Awlins

Some New Orleans music stalwarts won't be returning home.

Cyril Neville joins his nephew Ivan Neville, as well as the Radiators and the Iguanas (who are scheduled to play at FitzGerald's in Berwyn on New Year's Eve), as popular New Orleans acts who have settled in Austin. Some even perform in an ad hoc band known as the Texiles.

They sing a different song about the promised recovery of New Orleans.

"Would I go back to live?" Neville asked. "There's nothing there. And the situation for musicians was a joke. People thought there was a New Orleans music scene -- there wasn't. You worked two times a year: Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. The only musicians I knew who made a living playing music in New Orleans were Kermit Ruffins and Pete Fountain. Everyone else had to have a day job or go on tour. I have worked more in two months in Austin than I worked in two years in New Orleans.

"A lot of things about life in New Orleans were a myth."

December 15, 2005 in Current Affairs, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lovely, Indeed...

Penguin Books is reissuing a series of classic books. Ho hum, you say. But wait, there's more...this series will have covers which are designed by modern-day comic artists. The first is Voltaire's Candide, with a cover design by the inimitable Chris Ware. Quite nice.

(Via Gapers Block, where Veronica Bond writes, "Maybe, just this one time, it's okay to judge a book by its cover." Actually, for me, the cover is always an integral part of a book. Bookslut would undoubtedly agree, based on their monthly column "Judging a Book By Its Cover.")

December 13, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

I (Heart) Writeboard

Writeboard is one of the handiest online tools I've come across in ages. Since I was introduced to it a few months back (thanks, Andrew!) I've already used it for online storage of my NaNoWriMo novel, my Christmas shopping list, and a proposal letter for a book for Continuum's 33 1/3 series. It's incredibly easy to use, and perfect for jotting down random ideas that occur during the workday without having to keep track of a pile of looseleaf notes. Though I haven't used it yet as such, it would also be extremely useful for working on collaborative documents with far-flung partners. And best of all, it's free--at least for now. Check it out!

December 12, 2005 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Do As We Decree...

Calvin Trillin's wonderful ode to former corporate malefactors George (Harken Stock Dump) Bush and Dick (Halliburton Gets the Cooked Books, I Get the Options) Cheney preaching to current corporate malefactors, from Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme:

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney Lecture
CEOs on Corporate Responsibility

"Creative accounting" is something we hate.
From now on your numbers will have to be straight.
No taking of options for stock you contrive
To dump when insiders can tell it will dive.
And loans? If you want one, then go to the bank.
These sweetheart loans stink!
They're disgusting! They're rank!
This type of behavior we strictly forbid.
Just do as we say now, and not as we did.

December 10, 2005 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tangled Web We Weave

Let's follow the progression: abhorrent interrogation techniques are used which typically provide extremely unreliable testimony...a coerced false confession is gained...and this false confession, which should have been acknowledged as being tainted, is instead presented as absolute fact and used as justification for an illegal war.

The Bush Administration's moral beacon again comes gleaming through the dark, dark night.

Qaeda-Iraq Link U.S. Cited Is Tied to Coercion Claim

by Douglas Jehl, New York Times

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 - The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.

The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.

The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi's accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.

The fact that Mr. Libi recanted after the American invasion of Iraq and that intelligence based on his remarks was withdrawn by the C.I.A. in March 2004 has been public for more than a year. But American officials had not previously acknowledged either that Mr. Libi made the false statements in foreign custody or that Mr. Libi contended that his statements had been coerced.

(Full story)

December 9, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

My Reading Tastes Redeemed!

Well, now. This...

If you share more than ten books on the New York Times Notable Books of the Year list...then you, too, have been bought out by corporate interests. With almost no books from small presses, only a handful of books by women, a whole lot of books by their own writers, and almost every single book published by one division of Random House or another, the New York Times Notable Books of the Year is quite possibly the most predictable best-of list put out every year.

...makes me feel a lot better about this.

Thanks, Jessa. Your thoughtful words are even more uplifting than a Christmas card, with the added bonus of not including the dreaded "here's a superficial account of what we did this year" letter.

(Link via Bookslut.)

December 8, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Short Stories, Short Listed

Three story collections--Jim Harrison's The Summer He Didn’t Die, Maureen F. McHugh's Mothers & Other Monsters and Patrick O’Keeffe's The Hill Road--have been named as finalists for the second annual Story Prize. Nothing much for me to add, other than that I've been meaning to read Harrison for a while now. I've heard good things about Summer, but I suppose I should start with True North.

December 7, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Worthwhile Article in Forbes. Really.

Forbes addresses the book-digitization brouhaha, departing noticeably from its usual "Corporations! Rah! Rah! Rah!" stance. Both Powell's and San Francisco's Green Apple Books are prominently mentioned.

"Generally, in retail, the customer will take the path of most convenience," says Dave Weich, director of marketing and development for Portland, Ore.-based Powell's, one of the nation's largest independent bookstores with 4 million titles, as well as one of the first to build out an online presence.

"You're making an assumption that someone will go from Google and then out of their way to our site or our store," says Weich. "It's so hard to say what will happen, but it's hard to imagine how a small bookstore will benefit from this."

Weich sees the recent efforts as another step by "very large publicly traded endeavors" to consolidate the power that comes from controlling access to massive amounts of content.

December 6, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

Homeland Insecurity

My, this certainly isn't encouraging. Nor surprising.

9/11 Panel Issues Poor Grades for Handling of Terror
by Philip Shenon, New York Times

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 - The members of the Sept. 11 commission gave dismal grades to the Bush administration and Congress on Monday in measuring the government's recent efforts to prevent terrorist attacks on American soil, concluding that the government deserved many more F's and D's than A's.

The commissioners awarded the grades in a privately financed "report card" that found that four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the nation remained alarmingly vulnerable to terrorist strikes, including attacks with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.


"We have taken significant steps to better protect the American people at home," said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman. "There is more to do. This is the president's highest responsibility."

(Full article)

I couldn't help noticing that McClellan didn't say, "This is the president's highest priority."

December 6, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


The new issue ("No HO HO HO") of Hobart is now online. For those of you already exhausted by all things "Holidays," this may be just the right tonic.

Okay, you got me: none of this month's stories are particularly holiday-themed. I could have gone that route, but I figured I'd leave all the mirth and frankenwhatever to other sites.

I'm pleased to see that this issue includes a new story ("Let the Reader Beware") by Richard Grayson, who has been known to peruse this humble blog now and then.

December 6, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Giant Sand, "Shiver"

Although this video is of the "I don't know what the hell the footage has to do with the song" variety, it's still quite enjoyable to watch and, of course, a great tune. Check it out.

Giant Sand fans will also enjoy this video of the band covering X's "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline." I think the cover was wonderfully appropriate, given how much I thought that early Giant Sand (especially "Ballad of a Thin Line Man") sounded like X.

(Link via Gapers Block.)

December 2, 2005 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fire/Desire: The Songwriter's Curse

I was puttering around the house last night, singing Lou Barlow's lovely "Pearl" and I was suddenly stopped in my tracks, muttering, "Oh my God, Lou's a fire/desire victim, too."

It has occurred to me recently how many fine songwriters, both well-known and obscure, have given in to the temptation to use "fire" and "desire" in a rhyming couplet, despite what a tired cliché it has become. A few others who come immediately to mind are Matthew Sweet ("In Too Deep"), Bono ("Desire"), Chris Mars ("Before It Began") and Victor Krummenacher ("Maybe a True Love").

I'd love to compile a list of other offenders. Can anybody help?

Update: A quick Google search revealed three more prominent offenders just in the first three pages of search results: Jimi Hendrix ("Fire"), Metallica ("Fuel") and Bruce Springsteen ("I'm on Fire"). But, I still beg you, please pass along your own discoveries!

December 2, 2005 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

We (Heart) Booga J

As I've mentioned before, my wife Julie has rapidly made a name for herself in the knitting world, for her highly-regarded felted bag designs, management of the 800-member Knitting Blogs Web Ring, and her own blog. She's also now the debut interviewee in a new online knitting mag, Knitting Fog, which I encourage you to check out.

By somehow finding enough time for her online ventures, homeschooling our daughter Maddie, and the considerable fawning attention I require, she is threatening the theory that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. We should all be as industrious as she is. I'm quite proud of her.

December 1, 2005 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (1)

Final Tally: 32,068 Words

I'm quietly celebrating this morning. NaNoWriMo is officially over, and not only did I reach my word count goal, but I also achieved my personal best, finishing at 32,068 words. More importantly, I actually have the makings of a workable novel, The Wheatyard Chronicles (title very much subject to change).

The story has been somewhat challenging to write, since it's written in first person singular, with the narrator (a rough proxy for myself) not being the actual protagonist. The protagonist (Elmer Glaciers Wheatyard) is a rather reticent person who reveals little about his past life. The narrator is intrigued by Wheatyard, and throughout the story attempts through various means to find out his life story. Since Wheatyard is less than forthcoming on the subject, the narrator has to state many of the fact of Wheatyard's life as mere conjecture or hunches. I'm already aware of the fact that there's far too many appearances of words like "seemed" and "presumably" and "maybe." I suppose that adds somewhat to Wheatyard's mysterious aura, but I still need to improve the prose quite a bit.

I'm also having a bit of trouble with tone. The story starts out revealing the quirks and intellectual antics of Wheatyard, an eccentric and incorrigable rogue, but the passages I wrote during the past few days, when Wheatyard finally opens up to the narrator, are considerably darker (in a Stephen Elliott sort of way, to give you a hint). Once I start rewriting, I'm definitely going to have to figure out a way of better integrating the lighter and darker tones of the narrative. And I do intend to start polishing this story up, possibly as soon as a few weeks from now. I may have lost the urge to rewrite my other novel-in-progress, Eden, but hopefully I'll manage to be more diligent about Wheatyard.

December 1, 2005 in Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (3)