Sunday, December 30, 2007

Facebook vs. face time

After visiting family, I'm spending a little time with Facebook. If it didn't seem so creepy, I could have asked my niece and nephew to friend me and saved the trip. But that would not have led to curious after-dinner conversations about vector graphics, teaching and 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Facebook friends seem to spend more time on trivia quizzes, which is why I'd rather befriend than be friended. My friends lead more interesting lives outside Facebook. But you gotta start somewhere, and it might as well be in learning the music tastes of the IBM help desk at work. (Metal. Who knew?)

So after changing copyright dates on my websites I broke down and started accepting Facebook friends tonight, since we all seem to be killing time right now. Not as much fun as a spy novel (this weekend, Richard Clarke's "Breakpoint") but still liable to keep me up past my bedtime. Let's watch what happens.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The wild colonial blog

Return with us now to colonial Boston, a half-century before the Tea Party. The Puritans were in charge — the Salem witch trials were as recent a memory as the Iran hostage crisis is now — and Increase Mather had still to hand the North Church keys to his son Cotton.

One of the parishioners was candlemaker Josiah Franklin. He dreamed of a better life for his sons, perhaps their entry to Boston's first estate as clergymen. But making soap and candles did not make Josiah a man of means. Harvard was not in his sons' future.

So son James went back to England to apprentice as a printer and returned by 1718 with his own shop, printing Boston's second newspaper, the Gazette. When his youngest brother was 12, James took him on as an apprentice.

The publisher was the local postmaster, which was a convenient arrangement. When the postmaster received newspapers from England he could repurpose that content. Unfortunately the next postmaster sent the work elsewhere and James was running a job shop. But James admired the essays and pamphlets circulating in London during his apprenticeship. One familiar byline from those days, Daniel Defoe, had just published a novel, "Robinson Crusoe."

James Franklin's young friends had literary and political pretensions as well. Today they'd start a blog. Instead, James Franklin launched his own newspaper, the Courant, and took on the issues of the day. Smallpox was epidemic in Boston, for instance, and Cotton Mather, who once had studied medicine, had learned from his slaves about inoculation. Mather promoted the practice, and editorially the Courant found nearly any civic benefit proposed by the clergy suspect.

The teen apprentice also had writing aspirations, despite a mere two years at Boston Latin School. He was a voracious reader and had learned much about the language as a typesetter, but James was not going to let him write. What was 15-year-old Benjamin Franklin to do?

The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin,  LL.DPoor Richard might have had coined an answer years later, or maybe Ben cribbed the idea reading Plato by candlelight: Necessity was the mother of invention. He disguised his handwriting and slipped a letter to the editor under the printing-house door.

"It was found in the morning, and communicated to his writing friends when they call’d in as usual," Franklin wrote in his Autobiography. "They read it, commented on it in my hearing, and I had the exquisite pleasure of finding it met with their approbation, and that, in their different guesses at the author, none were named but men of some character among us for learning and ingenuity."

Thus it was that Ben Franklin started his career as an essayist by making things up. The teen author wrote as a preacher's widow, Silence Dogood. The pen name was ironic: Silence was a scold, who announced herself as an enemy of both vice and power who would enlighten the Courant's readers with a short epistle every two weeks.

The ruse was not only successful in fooling his brother's literary circle, but young Franklin would keep it up over the better part of a year. Silence Dogood's letters were front-page material for the Courant. For one thing, they were entertaining. One of the widow Dogood's proposals would give spinsters a cash award. They could even keep the money if they later married, as long as they did not consort with their husband for more than an hour at a time.

The publisher also might have found a plainspoken preacher's wife a convenient foil for the highfalutin Puritan establishment. In one early letter widow Dogood instructs readers how to write their own epitaph with all the appropriate cliches: "cold, cruel death, unhappy fate, weeping eyes etc." Another letter relates a dream in which Harvard scholars copy the archbishop of Canterbury's sermons, presumably for their own use on graduation from divinity school.

This was cheeky but by no means out of the ordinary for the Courant, which was risky business with the clergy so close to the courts. When the Courant that summer suggested that the government was inept in dealing with piracy, James Franklin was thrown in jail. Young Ben was left to run the paper, but couldn't resist getting in a few digs himself. Ms. Dogood submitted an essay critical of preachers turned politicians, a group that would have included the governor.

By fall Silence fell silent in the Courant's pages. By then Benjamin Franklin's name was on the masthead as publisher. This was another ruse. James had been freed from jail on orders that he stop producing the Courant, but was still running the newspaper under his brother's name.

But within another year James would be running a help-wanted ad for a new apprentice.
Ben was looking for true journeyman work, with less political heat. Poor Richard would coin a phrase years later, "He makes a foe who makes a jest." Like W.C. Fields' vaudeville epitaph, he would rather be in Philadelphia. And writers from Fields to Mike Royko to the anonymous bloggers of Daily Kos can trace a strand of their DNA to Ben Franklin and his first alter ego, the good widow Silence Dogood.

They've given you a number, and taken away your name

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The picture of health

I did not recognize my mother. In a hospital room she was tiny, propped up at an odd angle in a tall bed. And the lines on her face did not match the contours of my memory. Mom is always the same age in my mind, a time when I'd be playing on the beach and she was soaking up sun. Not at 76, paying for her luminous tan.

Dad gave us the green light for our weekend visit, but we were her first new visitors. She was finishing her lunch, or trying to. Her chicken soup was tasty days ago but a salty, unappealing broth now. Of course the menu had changed after surgery, but we needed a fixer. Mom called a nurse.

Nurses' watchful eyes and comforting words were much appreciated in her first unsteady attempts out of bed. One nurse lowered her guard with Mom as well. She had a 90-minute commute home when she finished her double shift and was trying to figure out what food she was going to get on the table when she got there. "I just want things to be perfect," she told Mom, crying.

"I don't know why she was telling me all this," Mom told us, choking up herself at the recollection. I changed the subject: A nurse at Rush had a similar long commute and crummy hours. She cared for my mothe-in-law when we had to add an emergency-room visit to her vacation itinerary.

Dad too has had enough hospital moments in the past year. He has spent most of this spring being probed in various places as a cancer patient. Most of the family visited soon after they got the news. I put off my visit till he was rested enough to travel the grocery, hear my Chicagoan's view on Barack Obama, and generally allow my distractions.

These visits have been full of the chatter we use to process big events. Mom got to hear about my birthday plans to see Bruce Springsteen in concert. She got to recall her 1970s trip to see Elvis in Las Vegas, and how the King had wandered offstage mid-performance. Preparing to take on Halloween alone, Dad got to review his trick-or-treat game plan before, with Mom growing tired, it was time for hugs and good-byes.

My parents now visit me at work, from a framed photo at my desk. I now recognize myself in the their portrait, much like used to see myself in their wedding picture. They're familiar in sickness and in health.

I'll see my parents again in person over Thanksgiving, no nearer perfection but making due with the small talk that nurses us to health.

Friday, November 09, 2007

That's life. This is Walgreens.

It seems like a man-bites-dog situation. The neighborhood tells a developer to go big or go home.

WalgreensThe East Village Association has been lobbying for a building at Ashland and Division that would be more of a neighborhood anchor than the chain restaurant it would replace on the southwest corner.

This week the developer presented his concession to the community: a chain drugstore.

Residents were upset. But should it surprise anyone when a large retailer and busy developer make decisions based on short-term profit? And can we blame them for not taking risks when we make it so easy to go for the quick money?

That's how Polish Broadway got paved for a Pizza Hut. And that's how the new gateway to my community is going to be a big red W under glass.

Ald. Manny Flores seemed to have a golden opportunity in reviewing the project. Here was a chance to replace a single-story billboard — a building that couldn't even be vacated till its trademark red mansard roof was papered over. As it turned out, he might as well have told the developer, "No, that's just not good enough. My constituents really want a two-story billboard."

Here was a chance to stiffen the developer's spine, to show how there were smart, profitable ways to fill a community need other than (1) drive-in retail or (2) drive-in retail plus condos, and that the perfect complement to a bank building is not precast concrete.

Instead, the Polish Triangle, one of the few public spaces on Division that hasn't been converted to a sidewalk cafe, most likely will become an arrow pointing to the snack-food aisle.

Still, I can't blame politicians when they build playlots instead of parks, or extract taller store windows as a development concession. After all, this month Flores held hearings in the ward to ask what a new library was worth to us. And we responded: Cash in at the casino. Don't raise taxes. Our kids can find books somewhere else.

Of course, the commercials are right. We don't live anywhere near Perfect. So there's Walgreens.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Commissions of omission

Journalists only write 10 percent of what they know, said my college reporting instructor. Now it must be only 5 percent.

A reporter called me and we must have talked 20 minutes. In his story, I was represented by a one-sentence quote. What surprised me was the sentence he quoted, which displayed neither a central point nor any particular wit.

No wonder politicians place such a premium at staying "on message." Certainly I was getting through to the reporter, but I couldn't predict just what would get through to print.

Alan K.O. Tan spent considerable time in his Journalism 204 lecture at Wisconsin suggesting what reporters can get wrong in an interview, but less on how much to leave out. Since then I am constantly humbled by learning how much of what I say is lost because I'm still warming to a topic when the listener has already moved on.

Tan also introduced his students to the regional synonyms for political patron when he told us reporters should not use the word "Chinaman." But that's another story.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Outsourced context

It's a marvel how the New York Times can produce historical perspective through automation. Click on a word and Answers.com searches a reference library. Sometimes I just stumble on this feature through errant keystroke and learn that the tuna is a fast swimmer.

This ready-reference search came in handy when the Times reprinted a 15-year-old essay by novelist and now Nobel laureate Doris Lessing. She had made a point about political correctness that Harold ("Closing of the American Mind") Bloom now might appreciate, even as he grouses that in Lessing's case the Nobel committee could be its standard bearer. ( Bloom says since age 73 it's been all downhill for Lessing.)

Lessing saw Marxist roots in fuzzy political and academic speech, and took pains to separate it from literary speech: "Literature, in particular, has always inspired the House committees, the Zhdanovs, the fits of moralizing, but, at worst, persecution."

That's a sentence fraught with context, and while Answers.com did a fair job at a capsule bio of Andrei Zhdanov, Wikipedia gets right to the point on his role as impresario of Socialist Realism. As for the veiled reference to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, nytimes.com cannot read between the lines.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

White Sox cheer now a September song


Late September brings the merger of nature and man — the evening breeze under the street lamp — in its most focused form, the major-league ballpark. It's a bittersweet merger for Chicago White Sox fans.

Fall came too quickly this year, the ballpark lighting up before the first pitch. We covered our team jerseys with nondescript windbreakers and ordered hot coffee instead of cold beer. No wonder the singing Miller man from first base had replaced the gravel-voiced beer dude that had made third base his territory.

Jon Garland pitched a three-hitter, a reminder of another cold evening when Mark Buehrle pitched a no-hitter. New seatmates were there to follow the pitcher's cat-and-mouse games, some only for an inning as they left for vacant seats nearer home plate. Sometimes I was left with my own thoughts.

This weekend my fellow season ticket holders came for the last game under the lights before our wait till next year. Cubs fans now will have their day under the lights. We know how fleeting it can be.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A penguin's tale

It seemed like love at first sight, but was it really? Antarctica can be pitch-black for months at a time.

His crisp prom-tuxedo look could not have been what attracted her. The lady-bird pretty much dressed the same way. All penguins do.

It could have been prom king's cute Andy Rooney eyebrows. Or maybe it was his lapel. He matched the feather behind his ear with a bright-orange crustacean.

There is something romantic about Emperor penguins. When they're featured on television shows, my wife starts cooing. "They mate for life," she says. She looks me in the eye when she says this. Maybe this is why I thought of penguins to tell a story with a moral.

Or perhaps everyone seems to be drawing lessons from penguins. The movies find them inspiring -- who knew they could tap-dance! And the Chicago Tribune's lobby display uses penguins' response to climate change as symbol of transformative workplace change.

A newspaper cohort called me breathless awhile back. "There are penguins in the Baltimore Sun's lobby!" she said. It sounded like a bit far to range in a flight from global warming. But the Tribune sibling was just relating a
common business fable on seeing adversity as opportunity. And what captain of industry wouldn't want to face change by striking out in a bold new direction? If he could only chart a course.

Our prom-king penguin was a goal setter. He wanted to escape the stifling quiet, where he could hear the permafrost crunch under his well-insulated feet. And it was time to make a break from his parents. At this time of year penguins would be flocking to the colony, and these love-birds couldn't imagine living at home till they were 6!

So they struck out for a new, independent life. But by the time King got to that young-adult hangout, the historic Rookery, it was dawning on him (and dawning can take quite a while in Antarctica) that starting a family was more than just hatching an egg.

For one, the open sea was another 50 miles away, and with a hatchling on the way the love-birds couldn't just order takeout squid every night. One of them had to go on the hunt, and if lady-bird was to raise her chick she needed to make the deep dive now. That left the prom king to babysit her egg for two months, while fending off wild winds.

So King huddled with his buddies, not to talk about hunting but as an avian windbreak. They'd take turns standing in the center of the huddle for warmth. This is where baby fat comes in handy: They were balancing eggs on their feet to heat them, and no one was going to be going out any time soon for a cold one.

One of them in fact was woozy and did not look like he would last the winter -- could it have been the bird flu? -- and this cold made it no time to be unsteady on one's feet. When his buddy swooned, King scooped up the egg and kept it warm as one of his own offspring.

By the time lady-bird returned with a bellyful of food, she would have two young mouths to feed, and King would have the sure knowledge that life was not about striking out on your own as he had thought, but relying on and being reliable for others. It's a lesson those who flock to the city often fail to recognize, but these are the cold facts.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Workin' and steamin' at the Chicago Jazz Festival

Jazz musicians have been working up a sweat at the Chicago Jazz Festival this weekend. This is physical labor, with rhythm sections banging away at their instruments in 80-degree heat.

Clark Sommers, playing upright bass in he Dan Cray Trio, arrived with a sunburn, attacked his instrument like a demon, then went tourist and darted about Grant Park catching the remaining acts. Just watching was fatiguing.

Charlie Haden stopped to hear the cicadas leading a pickup band from the far end of the Jackson Boulevard stage. Paul Wertico was physically the frontman, sun shining on his drum set just beyond the stage monitors. The laid-back set was a marked contrast with New Orleans' high-energy Astral Project.

It was hard not to enjoy the small stage, where you could sit close enough to hear the instruments over the public-address speakers. But no one seemed to be enjoying himself more than Ted Hogarth, a baritone sax sideman getting to step out with friends and a stack of Gerry Mulligan big band charts, a Labor Day labor of love.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

80 percent of success

Business has spent months reflecting on how to move quickly. A few books like "Our Iceberg Is Melting" have started thousands of executives thinking about doing something unique.

So I took a perverse interest in taking a break from such business reading for "Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up." Maybe I'm not so clever after all. Why not look for advice on transformative change from an improv coach?

Stanford drama prof Patricia Ryan Madson in fact shares some ideas with the "Getting Things Done" brand of productivity advisers. For instance, begin with what seems obvious and once it is under way any task seems smaller.

By "don't prepare," Madson actually is saying to pay attention to the issue at hand rather than plotting your response. Which, if reports on global warming are correct, is what the penguins would do.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

All the children are above average

The first look at standardized test results are out, and 64.8 percent of Illinois Scholastic Aptitude Tests at Andersen School this year had passing grades, vs. 64.1 percent citywide.

That was 269th out of the 527 schools for which the city posted composite scores. Not high enough to rate boasts in the real estate ads, but much better than the 31.2 percent just four years ago.

Like many schools, science grades slipped while math improved strongly (70.8 percent passed).

Composite scores nearby include 67.0 percent at Peabody, 71.5 percent at Sabin, 72.7 percent at Burr and 78.7 percent at Pritzker.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wisdom of the market

There's a message for all corporate managers in the Chicago Tribune report "Keeping the Oil Flowing". BP paid a high price for deferred maintenance, according to author David Greising, in the 2005 explosion of a Texas refinery, the 2006 spill at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and extended repairs to its Thunder Horse platform on the Gulf of Mexico.

But striking a balance between fiscal and quality priorities is not unique to Big Oil, and the balance is difficult even for a company chastened by experience. "The day someone says budget doesn't matter," said BP's top North American official, "well, then I'm working at the wrong company."

No one ever claimed money was no object in the news business. A sign of that industry's troubles came in the Chicago Tribune own lower circulation and flat readership in its most recent circulation audit. Top executive Scott Smith still could accurately characterize as "among the best in the industry."

This writer does not tell tales out of school, so here is not the place to find news of the Tribune Co's impending sale or who is being severed from the company. That only partly explains the lack of posts in this space of late.

Late hours at work also leave little time for establishing the East Village Association website, much less contributing to this one. This year's spring distractions include gardening (no soreness this weekend) and the White Sox (still smarting from Tampa Bay home stand).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Legacy pledge

Protoblogger Dave Winer:

"I'd like to be able to pay a web company like Amazon or Google a one-time flat fee to host my content for perpetuity. I'd deposit my writing with them, on the web, and not worry about whether or not my heirs will keep paying the hosting bills to keep it alive. Today I'm hosting the weblog of my departed uncle (who I miss terribly!), I don't mind doing it, but what will happen when I pass? I'd gladly pay $10,000 to be sure my site and his survive my death. Long-lived institutions like Harvard University or Mount Auburn Cemetery (in Boston), even insurance companies, could get into this business. Think of it as a personal endowment; it would work like the money richer people leave behind as memorials to their own lives, or lives of loved ones."

Shouldn't legacy.com be in this business?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Trane of thought


John Coltrane got me through a rough year. Christmas money stocked a larder of CDs, which I would step into anytime I needed something cool. This video has wonderful Coltrane and Eric Dolphy solos, viewed through a kinescope haze behind a 1960s an Erector Set stage, equual parts Mondrian and modal metaphor.

While a high-school classmate spent a year working through teen depression with slow-tempo Shostakovich in the band room, I was wearing out Billie Holiday tapes. Now I'm one of the few subway riders not trying to drawn out a slow ride through iPod earbuds.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Project for Excellence in Journalism not thinking deeply about Web depth

"News hole" is not an insult but a description of the valley of text surrounded by newspaper ads. It's a finite resource: Even The New York Times is not much bigger than the space required to hold the ads. All the news that fits, we print.

A decade ago when I entered an online newsroom one lure was the "bottomless news hole." The only limits were server capacity, modem speed and, significantly, manpower. The Web seemed to be where readers would gravitate for depth.

Bandwidth has only gotten cheaper, yet the newspaper's bottomless news hole has gone the way of the diner's bottomless cup of coffee. Now the newspaper Web site is all about breaking-news speed. With or without video, it's television on steroids.

"[P]utting things into context, or making sense of the information available, is an area Web journalists still need to work on," argues the Project for Excellence in Journalism in a useful if not startling observation on newspaper Web sites. No, Web sites tried trumping print on depth. It slammed into the twin roadblocks of staff and reader interest.

The emerging Internet convention of the 1990s was to hyperlink everything in sight. Now the Times attempts to automate links to ask.com, which I suspect most users just stumble on from sloppy keyboard use. At least this user keeps getting presented definitions of words passed over. Links in context still requires an editor to size up context, thus their rarity.

Of course, readers now can just Google what they want to know, and the proejct findings rates Google News highly for its mountain of links related to any particular story. Yet those algorithmic sidebars are contextual only in defining a subject, not a way to make sense of it.

Site profiles seemed similarly ill informed. A shovelware site with a few ads gets downgraded for lacking a revenue stream, even though it presents a more viable revenue model than original content supported by stacks of remainder advertising.

Any evaluator that puts the Times on the third tier in depth has his head, as Ted Koppel described presidential polls on "Meet the Press," in an uncomfortable place.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

EVA's annual leadership crisis

Laura Putre writes in Chicago Journal about the imminent demise of the East Village Association. By now this story is as seasonal as asparagus recipes in the food section. But this spring's death of EVA may not be greatly exaggerated. The current president has failed the volunteer leader's first job, scoping out a successor.

EVA navigated the contentious landmarking debate by avoiding the issue, and as preservation activists drifted away no one took their place in the leadership. I offered less controversial help to attract a new branch library, but was rebuffed. Meetings had scant agendas, and even the restaurant outings popular with new members are discontinued. What's left?

The only place to read Putre's assessment is on the Web: The print edition mistakenly replated sister publication Austin Voice on the jump page.

Job description fits editors too

CareerBuilder job posting: "Candidates must demonstrate creativity and flexibility while possessing strong coaching, motivational, planning, communication and follow-through skills, with the ability to lift 30-50 pounds."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Writers have connections

Ralph Ellison wrote about Duke Ellington. Truman Capote wrote about George Gershwin. Authors provide the ties in a "Six Degrees of Separation" game on the PBS American Masters Web site.

Not all connections are so direct. The blacklist binds Dashiell Hammett and Stanislavsky method actors. Connecting the non-authors is more of a stretch. Here's the path from Willie Nelson to Robert Capa:



  1. Willie Nelson covered Joni Mitchell's song Both Sides Now.

  2. Joni Mitchell performed on Quincy Jones' 1986 book/recording, Children First.

  3. Quincy Jones composed the music for The Wiz (1978), starring Lena Horne.

  4. Lena Horne entertained troops during World War II.

  5. Robert Capa was a war photographer during World War II.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Busy signal

Brenda said I seemed calm when my father called with bad news from the doctor. She would be a basket case, she said.

Still, the phone probably did not deserve getting sworn at and slammed repeatedly when I couldn't get a dial tone out to him the next day.

This would be the perfect time to organize my brothers and sisters so we all drop in every few weeks for some quiet time with Dad. But I did not, and everyone else decided independently to descend on him for President's Day.

My sister-in-law quizzed me about my jazz interests after borrowing the Ken Burns PBS documentary, and I realized how much I've inherited Dad's jazz interests--Dixieland, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery, even Coltrane. I don't hear my father's voice in my brothers as much as his hesitation, a hint of his wariness at crowds and hubbub. Somehow he has survived despite us.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

'Name me anything you can buy today for 50 cents.'

James O'Shea to Los Angeles Times staff

Sometimes 50 cents won't even buy a newspaper. None was on the front porch at 7 this morning. I called for re-delivery and by 8 I had the Chicago Tribune from Jan. 6. Oh, you want today's paper? It's on the Web.

Ex-Tribune managing editor O'Shea is in Los Angeles now, attempting to raise the sights of the news staff beyond their navels. A reading of the transcript suggests that he believes that his medium needs to be more, uh, mediated.

"The Internet is massive," O'Shea said. "The newspaper is the edited medium. ... Just as a blog is not a God-given right to inflict ignorance on an unsuspecting public, there's no journalistic birthright for print reporters to write an 80 inch story when 30 inches will do."

The proof was at my doorstep. The Jan. 6 Tribune attempted to analyze the prospects of an Iraq troop "surge," still a vital topic. A paper that's three weeks old is no longer immediately obvious in the same way as, say, a broken RSS feed. Who wants yesterday's Web site?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Why we fight: 'Sonia Flew' at Steppenwolf

Sandra MarquezMotivations are complicated in war, not only for those who volunteer to fight but for their families. Melinda Lopez doesn't telegraph them in the Boston playwright's "Sonia Flew."

The Steppenwolf Theatre cast, directed by Steppenwolf's Jessica Thebus with Sandra Marquez of Chicago's Teatro Vista in the title role, does not overplay this efficient drama mining a rich vein of material.

In the first act son Zak (Andrew Perez) disrupts a Hanukkah visit from his grandfather with the news that he would enlist in the Marines. At the start his choice comes across as a search for purpose after the Sept. 11 bombings and a bond with his grandfather, a Polish refugee and World War II veteran (Steppenwolf vet Alan Wilder, light on the schtick). This sets up a fight with her mother Sonia (Marquez), who won't fly since 9/11 yet is protective of her son and hurt by the late revelation.

But this wouldn't be drama if there wasn't additional revelations in store, and they come in the form of Sonia's history in Cuba, and the family decision that 40 years later she still could not reconcile. Steppenwolf loves the second-act flashback that explains everything (hello, Richard Greenberg). Operation Pedro Pan informs how mother and son come by their different ways to fight for a safe family.

My seatmate took the play as a lesson on what is left unsaid in war. But Sonia's embrace of her adoptive surroundings has an underlying anger that politics alone cannot explain, and her tentative grasp on that security goes beyond the question of whether she can forgive her son or forget her parents.

"Sonia Flew" tries to be a convincing family drama as well as a 9/11 play, and that gives its social perspective added bite as the audience learns why the 15-year-old Sonia flew.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ald. Flores makes small plans

Ald. Manuel FloresAld. Manuel Flores told Tuesday's East Village Association meeting that he was allocating a sizable amount of his $1.3 million discretionary funds for the year toward reconstructing the playlot at Commercial Park, 1845 W. Rice.

This is an unusual and laudable use of ward earmarks — and running unopposed in next month's municipal elections gives him considerable freedom. But at this meeting the alderman held out little hope for more costly park development in his rapidly growing ward.

While he says preliminary discussions are under way with owners of property adjoining Commercial Park, he favors the Chicago Avenue frontage as a potential library site. Across the street, he wants the 13th District police squad (which police have reportedly considered disbanding) to stay in place.

Asked about the Damen Avenue site of Bear Stewart as a potential city purchase, Flores flatly said, "we just don't have the capital for that." Flores said he was interested in retaining Damen Avenue's residential character, but that development was more likely in the 32nd Ward.

A decade of development has brought many new households, yet bid up prices for remaining parcels. Land isn't getting cheaper. Yet Flores did not indicate that any new park development was in discussion, although he suggested nonprofits like suburban wetlands restorer CorLands could be enticed to the table. The Trust for Public Land bought land the park district will repay in the $1 million expansion of Haas Park.

"We have to be smart about what can be done and what can't be done," Flores said, signaling that he'd be looking to neighborhood groups like EVA for cover: "Form a group to work with me and let's get it done."

Flores does see one park opportunity: Reserved parking for the nonprofit I-GO carpools, as part of a plan to consolidate current restricted parking areas under a single zone. He allowed under questioning that many people would be better off hailing cabs.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Gabriella Tucci in low-def; WBEZ not so jazzed



Looking up crossword puzzle answers is just cheating, but asking a multitasking blogger is OK. So it was that a Google query for "Caro nome" from Verdi's Rigoletto led me to a 1961 Japanese kinescope. Sure beats my typical YouTube night at the opera.

YouTube musical fare can range from the ridiculus to the sublime. I prefer jazz on the radio, but that's no longer an option on Chicago's NPR affiliate, which is abandoning overnight jazz for overnight news. Chicago Reader blogger and music critic Peter Margazak calls it a big mistake even as he complains about the current format's lackluster nature.

He has a point, in that old-school DJ Dick Buckley is its most creative jazz programmer of late. Jazz fans are better served by trying locate the weaker signal of WDCB, the Harold Washington Library or Jazz Record Mart.

Any format change takes the current audience out if its comfort zone, whether in a radio schedule, an evening newscast or a redesigned alternative weekly. WBEZ deserves time to work on a better use of its airtime. Starting with a lineup of BBC and Radio Polonia rebroadcasts, there's plenty of room for improvement.