Tuesday, May 31, 2005

All your bass are belong to us

Posted by: spacecog

Now, I don’t usually read Liz A’s little reports from hipsterland – life is short, and all that – but this week I couldn’t help noticing that she was writing about an event that young Spiky and I had actually attended: the recent M.I.A./LCD Soundsystem concert at the Metro. M.I.A.—real name, Maya -- is a Tamil gal whose hugely appealing music is an electronicy mishmash of hiphop and dancehall; as Liz notes, it’s a tad "heavy on the bass."

Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. The dinky little laptop of M.I.A.’s musical partner Diplo somehow managed to produce the LOUDEST, MOST-PAINFUL, MOST BOWEL-WRENCHING BASS EVER HEARD BY MORTAL MAN. Earplugs made no difference. Spiky and I attempted to place ourselves as far from the bass as possible without actually leaving the confines of the Metro. That didn’t help much either.

The experience was roughly akin to what I imagine it would be like to have someone put a large bucket on your head and then to repeatedly pound it with a sledgehammer. In the fleeting moments between the bass poundings I could faintly hear the pitter-pat of a drum machine and M.I.A.’s shouty vocals. I could only assume that Liz and the rest of the M.I.A. fans there had already lost most of their hearing. If not, well, they were in the process of doing so. (The magnificent LCD Soundsystem was much easier on the eardrums, though Liz, like an idiot, apparently left after M.I.A. wrapped up her set.)

Anyhoo, so later in the column Liz reminisces about meeting Miss M.I.A. a couple years back, an encounter which apparently ended with an embarrassed Liz flashing her panties at M.I.A. and Elastica’s Justine Frischmann in a bathroom. I can’t give you the details because, well, I wasn’t really paying attention at that point of the story. But evidently it had something to do with Peaches. "Through a mutual friend," Liz happily informs us, "I’d come to be loosely acquainted with Peaches."

Reading that, it occurred to me that maybe half of the would-be hipsters in the US today could make that claim. Heck, I think I might even be loosely acquainted with Peaches. Peaches gets around.

KEYWORDS: Liz Armstrong, Man Boobs, Penis

(Note: Looking through our site logs we see that some people have found our little blog by doing searches on some variation of these words, so we have now adopted a policy of mentioning man boobs and penises (penii?) every time Liz Armstrong’s name comes up. Penis.)

Monday, May 30, 2005

Miner: Hero of the fuddy duddies!

Posted by: spacecog

So last week I wondered aloud if anyone but me ever read "Scoops" Miner’s interminable mush. This week, an answer! One Ed Baumann of Kenosha Wisconsin writes in to the Reader letters page to gush about how much he allegedly "really enjoyed reading about [Miner’s] frustration in trying to reach a live person at the Sun-Times." Seems Mr. Baumann was himself a newspaper "rewrite man" half a century ago, and fondly recalls that back in the mists of time newspapermen answered every call that came in and chatted with every random nut who walked in off the street. Ah, those funny, funny crazy people! "We would assign them to our ‘Martian editor, who was always the person with the least to do at the moment," the still-spry journo recalls, "and he or she would listen to their story and assure them that the Daily News would see that the Martians took the wires out of their brains."

Ah, the good old days! I laughed so hard I almost peed my Depends.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Hot or not?

RIP, "hot." And "cool." Maybe even "buzzworthy." ("Edgy" may have to go, too. But I kinda hope not.)

These words are the trucker hats of contemporary prose. Bad writers think such terms are shortcuts to cultural authority: By deploying the modern lingo, they imply that they're "down" with the kids today.

But come on, nobody who uses "hot" et al is ever as plugged-in as they pretend to be. Witness notorious "cool" abuser Joan Steffend (aka "La Steffend"), host of the addictively misconceived HGTV show "Decorating Cents." You can base a drinking game on the number of times she applies the term to some disgraceful "Trash to Treasure" creation.

OK, so it's a long way from La Steffend to the Reader. But not as long as it should be. This week the Reader relies on "hot" to explain why we should read its cover feech: "In the studio with hot local designers Christopher and Daniel Streng."

What makes them "hot"? They designed a washer-dryer for Whirlpool and a sink for Kohler. Their stuff has appeared in "Surface" magazine, was exhibited at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and can be seen at "Mod" in Wicker Park. Also, they're good-looking. And stubbly.

Maybe all this adds up to "hot"-ness. (Though I can't say the same for the observation that "in early May, Christopher addressed an audience at the National Kitchen and Bath Association Convention.") But how about putting that info up at the top of the story? Instead of cramming it under a lead-weight rehash of the Strengs' childhoods, complete with the revelation that "like a lot of kids, they made Halloween costumes, forts for plastic cowboys and Indians, and rubber-band guns"?

Or, for a really radical twist, they could come up with a headline that's actually compelling. If you're drawn in by the claim that these guys are "hot," you're probably "not."

Friday, May 20, 2005

Hang it up, Miner!

Posted by: spacecog

My estimable colleague Spiky may not have had the courage to "go Miner" this go-around, but I did, and can report that the stupidity in this week’s Hot Type is so utter and overwhelming that it more than compensates for any alleged lack of suckitude elsewhere in the Reader. This one’s so bad it almost seems like a parody, a belated April Fools’ joke on all of us. But this is Miner, and he’s not that clever, so it’s gotta be real.

Miner’s earthshattering opener this week? 700 words recounting in tedious detail his bungled, fruitless attempts to penetrate the Sun-Times voicemail system and leave a message for someone in the Sports department.

Now, reporters are supposed to be able to figure out how to get in touch with people, so you might wonder why Miner is telling us a story that makes him look like such a hapless stooge.

But that’s not how he sees it. He sees his futile phoning as a sign that "not only the Sun-Times but the Tribune and newspapers everywhere have turned themselves into fortresses." It’s a conspiracy! "Phone numbers -- and e-mail addresses – are rarely easy to find on newspaper Web sites," Miner notes ominously, and telephone operators aren’t’ on call 24-7.

If you sense a big batch of "you kids get off my lawn" coming on, well, you know your Miner. "[T]here was a time not many years ago when an operator was always on duty at a serious newspaper and the newsroom was always easy to reach," he sighs. "A time when journalists didn’t scratch their heads and wonder why the people despised them." And what if "someone at a pay phone trying to reach the only Sun-Times reporter he trusted with a big tip on a big story" gives up because he runs out of change?

Yep, that’s right. Miner thinks people hate the media because they can’t navigate the Sun-Times voicemail system. (He also seems to think people still use pay phones, apparently unaware that those weird little gizmos people hold up to their ears while they yammer at the air are in fact cell phones.)

Putting aside the sheer stupid absurdity of this, let’s take a look and see if it is indeed hard for a person of moderate intelligence and initiative to get in touch with someone at the Sun-Times. Yep, that’s right kiddoes, Spacecog is going to put on his reporter hat and try a little sleuthing. (A VERY little.)

PHONING IT IN: So let’s say we want to get in touch with Rick Telander, the sports columnist Miner mentions later in his column and presumably the guy he was trying to reach. Open the Sun-Times to page 2 and locate the main news number, (312) 321-3000. (The number’s also easy to find on the Sun-Times website.) Dial the number, punch in the first four letters of Telander’s name when prompted, and -- BAM! -- you're sent directly to his voicemail. The whole process took me much less time than it took to write this up. I'm not sure how exactly Miner came a cropper here, but if you can't get through by phone there's always ...

THE INTERNETS: Go to the sports page on the Sun-Times website, click on the first Rick Telander story you see. Click on his byline – note to Miner: that means the guy’s name – at the top of his column and – BAM! -- there you go, you’re sending him an email.

Only one final question remains: do Miner’s editors ever actually read the crap he hands in before publishing it? Or am I the only one?

Well, this sucks.

In the sense that it doesn't. Suck. That much, this week.

The cover story, about a maniac trying to ride 25,000 miles on his bike, doesn't interest me, but I can see -- oh, the agony! -- how it might -- MIGHT -- interest somebody.

I've sworn not to "go Miner" this week, so it's on to Joravsky -- and he's actually covering something kind of fascinating! At least, if you're fascinated, as I am, by the city's chronic inability to keep track of its priceless public monuments. (Joravsky actually did a great story a couple years back about how, after tearing up that lovely little park next to Harold Wash library, the city dumped its custom-designed sculptural wall in a weed-choked lot out by an unused railroad spur.)

Then, to top it all off, Our Town profiles a guy who transforms downtown offices into giant pinhole cameras! Sheesh. If it weren't for Liz Armstrong kicking off Antisocial with a discussion of the "Sofia Mini -- champagne in a can -- [she] was sipping through its attached pink bendy straw," I'd have a real existential crisis on my hands.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Stars in Rosenbaum's eyes

Posted by: spacecog

Rosenbaum’s Reader contribution this week is strange indeed, even by his standards. Seems a run in with some irate Star Wars fans (unhappy about his low opinion of the flicks) has left Rosey feeling a tad defensive. (Maybe he’s been reading a little anonymous blog as well.) So, after a typically pompous and obtuse review of Crash, Rosey attempts to explain the strange math behind the stars he so graciously bestows on the movies he drags his stinky ass to see -- zero stars to the "Special edition" Star Wars trilogy, for example, and 4 stars to Nadia, My Carbuncles Burn.

Anyhoo, here’s what Rosey says is the careful mathematical reasoning behind his 2-star rating for Mindhunters. Pencils ready!

1) Dumb premise => zero stars
2) Yet he loved a book it stole ideas from => *** (3 stars)
3) It’s very violent => zero stars
4) It gave Rosey "jolts" => ***
5) It’s well-directed for an action flick => ****
6) Rosey hates action flicks => *

So we add all this up (that’s 11 stars) and divide by six and we get roughly 2 stars.

Now, this, in addition to being COMPLETELY INSANE, is also transparently bullshit – if Rosey does this for every movie he’s ever reviewed, I’d like to see his worksheets. But it’s revealing nevertheless. Does Rosey automatically deduct points from every movie with action or violence in it? Isn’t, I dunno, Battleship Potemkin an action movie?

Rosey’s excuse for indulging his oddball preferences? He says his star ratings simply reflect his own personal response, and that he’s "not qualified to speak about [a film’s] value to anyone else."

Then why the fuck should anyone read your reviews?

Rosey’s answer: "In my reviews I try to describe the paths that lead to my subjective response so that readers can decide whether some part of my path might be theirs too."

Uh, dude – may I call you dude? -- THE ONLY PERSON ON YOUR PATH IS YOU.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Two-Minute Miner

Miner actually covers a relevant topic this week -- laws governing what journalists can and can't print -- but of course he manages to hopelessly muddle the issue. Here's a quick guide to the story so that anyone following recent First Amendment news can skip to the worthwhile parts.

Paragraph 1: Misc. bloviation -- skippable
Paragraphs 2-6: There was this Pennsylvania case that addressed the issue of what reporters can and can't quote. One of the justices in that case made a distinction between two different standards: the "fair report privilege" and the "neutral report privilege." (Here's a readable discussion of these two concepts. Skip down to paragraph 7.) The "fair report privilege" is a pillar of common law.
Paragraph 7: In March, the First District of the Illinois Appellate Court undermined the fair report privilege. The occasion was a libel suit against "Start" magazine, a Carol Stream, Ill.-based trade journal.
Paragraphs 8-12: Details of the court case. Skippable? Hint: It centers around a "system by which central computers communicate with a factory's array of automated machinery."
Paragraph 13: The 3 appellate judges, especially Judge Anne Burke, seemed to be awfully aggressive in their efforts to limit the fair report privilege. Ultimately they charged "Start" with defamation, even though it hadn't done anything you or I would consider wrong.
Paragraphs 14-19: The Reader, the Trib, the Illinois Press Association and Copley Press filed a brief supporting Start magazine. The brief cited precedents supporting the fair report privilege.
Paragraphs 20-23: In other news, the Reader didn't lend its support to Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper in the Valerie Plame case. The Reader feels this case may prod the Supreme Court to restrict reporters' ability to protect their sources.

Hope this helps.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Prof. Rosenbaum's chattering class

Posted by: spacecog

Do you lurk quietly by the hors d’oeuvres at cocktail parties because you have nothing clever to say? Well, put your wallflower days behind you with help from the Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum! Impress even the most suave sophisticates with your newfound knowledge of obscure European cinema!

Here’s this week’s guaranteed conversation-starter – with FUN PHRASES lifted directly from Rosenbaum’s review of Crash!

"Say, fellas, have you seen that movie Crash? Boy howdy, I’ve seldom seen so many racial and ethnic slurs hurled about by so many characters, heroes and villains alike (though Jan Hrebejk’s Up and Down, a strikingly similar feature from the Czech Republic that was recently nominated for an Oscar, comes close)."

(Stay tuned for more on Rosenbaum; his little review essay this week is a doozy!)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

When you're tired of pasty midwestern flesh...

It's no secret that the Reader's redesign made plenty of room for gratuitous nudity. Who can forget the body-painted tits in Chicago Antisocial, not to mention the exposed penises, also in Antisocial? Still, two weeks in a row is a bit much, especially with the "blow job" headline in the books issue. Get a room, guys.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Things I learned from this week's Reader (5/6/05 edition)

- When you write book reviews for local publications, it's as if your words are going into a black hole. You often can't tell whether you have any readers at all. (p. 18)*

- In 1999, John Green lived in a crappy Wicker Park garden apartment with some college friends. (p. 5)

- "Wendy McClure went to her first literary reading as a freshman at the University of Iowa in 1989." (That's a LEAD! A LEAD!!!) (p. 12)

- Some Wicker Park residents want to preserve a playground. (p. 8)

- When in doubt, go blue. (p. 10, p. 12)

Also, can we please ban the word "snark" and all its derivations from public discourse? (see p. 19)

*Ah, the irony!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Book Immobile

Posted by: spacecog

Why did I just waste precious moments of my finite life reading Dan Weissman’s 1600-word profile of two utterly unexceptional Oak Park booksellers? The first sentence of the piece should have clued me in to the fact that it was going nowhere, and very very slowly:

"During a recent visit to Oak Park, some friends told me a nearby bookstore had a bunch of Studs Terkel books on sale."

Books on sale. Yep, that’s the startling detail that’s supposed to grip the reader by the throat and pull him in. BOOKS ON SALE!!???

Books on FIRE, now that would be interesting. Who wouldn’t want to read about a bookstore that regularly set its stock on fire? Books on top of a GIANT MOUND OF CUSTARD. That would be good too. But books on sale? WHO THE FUCK CARES!!!??

Weissman reports with breathless wonder his discovery that the books at The Book Table are actually – gasp! – remainder copies on sale for – gasp! – ONLY A FRACTION OF THEIR ORIGINAL RETAIL PRICE!!!??? He recounts in detail the completely unexceptional work histories of the store’s owners – gosh, they both worked in BOOK STORES before the started a BOOK STORE! -- and their unexceptional romance – she was a LESBIAN, but now she’s married to him!!

It goes on, but I won’t.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Foot print

Posted by: spacecog

OK, I was wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. In a previous post, I mocked "Scoops" Miner for cutting-and-pasting huge chunks of a column from someone’s emails. Clearly I wasn’t thinking. Given Miner’s terribleness as a writer, virtually anything he quotes from someone else is guaranteed to be more interesting than his own dour, muddled prose. Take the lead section of week’s column, which is actually quite amusing, mainly because there’s so little Miner in it. The subject? A column (by the wife of the Sun Times publisher) that outs a former Sun-Times editor as a shoe fetishist. The big long quotes from her column? Funny. A quote from Miner nemesis Neal Steinberg? Funny. The defensive denials from the ex-editor? Unintentionally funny. Only Miner’s own attempts at levity – at least I think that’s what they are -- fall flat. I won’t quote them, lest I sully my own writing in the process.

ELSEWHERE IN MINER: He manages to turn the Trib’s recent non-gangster photo flubs into an excuse to pontificate about a teensy weensy journalistic conflict of interest. In the next segment, he celebrates the Chicago Defender’s recent, ah, revitalization: "[T]he stories are no longer riddled with typos, and there’s a spirit of innovation in the air." Whoo!

ON BEYOND MINER: On page 20, an interview with Tom Frank. I would rather drill a hole down the length of my penis than read an interview with Tom Frank.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Truth fairies (Also: Miner owns shoes!)

Posted by: spacecog

The best thing about doing this little blog? Seeing the telltale footsteps in our traffic logs of Reader staffers stopping by to take a peek. The worst thing? Actually having to read the fucking Reader, or at least portions of it, every week.

I can happily report that this week I didn’t have to wade far into the murky depths to find a little treasure. It comes in the form of a bewildering exchange on the letters page between an irate Reader reader and Reader writer Deanna Isaacs.

By "irate," I of course mean "COMPLETELY INSANE." Seems the letter writer, one Maureen Cole, is furious at Isaacs because in a column several weeks past she referred to weirdo artsy hippie haven Maxworks as "a ragtag commune" and said its Maxwell Street space was rented. Not so, says Cole, who insists it’s a "cooperative" and that it’s owned by its members.

"This must be what it’s like to be senile," Cole complains. "History is one day rewritten under the guise of some merciful recognition." (Huh?) Cole calls Isaacs "a freaking liar" and demands "an apology or retraction from this crucifier of the truth." (Mind you, this incomprehensible diatribe was inspired by a single stray sentence is Isaac’s column. Though, to be fair, I often feel like I’m going senile after reading the Reader for any length of time.)

Anyhoo, this would look like a perfect setup for a witty little rejoinder from Isaacs. Instead, she pulls the old "sorry if I offended you" routine. Then she offers this weirdly namby-pamby defense of her work:

"As far as I know, my account is accurate."

Huh? As far as you know? Shoudn’t you, er, KNOW FOR SURE?

The Reader: All The News That As Far As We Can Tell Is More Or Less Fit To Print.

IN OTHER NEWS: Michael Miner actually engages in some old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting this week, speaking not just to one but to three newsstand owners and one Red Eye street hawker for a piece on that terrible little paper. I didn’t even know Miner owned shoes!