Friday, January 30, 2009

Say What You Mean

by Barbara D'Amato

The Telegraph recently published a list compiled by Oxford scholars [who were apparently taking well-deserved time off from more scholarly pursuits] of their top ten most irritating words and phrases. They were:

At the end of the day
Fairly unique
I personally
At this moment in time
With all due respect
It’s a nightmare
Shouldn’t of
It’s not rocket science

Now, I don’t mind 24/7. It’s quicker than writing “all the time” and it’s no more cumbersome to say “we’re open 24/7,” than “we’re always open.” But I agree with them on the others.

However, one word has been increasingly irritating me, and the Oxford group seems not have noticed it.

It’s “unit.”

I have a coffeemaker—one of those with a tank you fill with water and a hopper you fill with coffee beans. It has a read-out that warns you when it needs to be cleaned and that’s okay. But the read-out will also say “unit heating” or “unit rinsing.” There would be no loss in meaning and a gain in brevity for it to say “rinsing” or “cleaning.” Why say “unit rinsing”? I certainly understand that IT is being rinsed, not my glassware or the spinach.

Similarly, I met a fellow apartment-dweller in our lobby a few days ago who asked, “What unit are you in?” The whole building is apartments. Why not ask what apartment? My son’s office was in an all-offices building, but it was still called a unit. “Apartment” and “office” are not high-visceral words, but at least they have a specific meaning.

Then there’s “each and every.” Sometimes each may sound better and sometimes every, but both always sounds worse. I can’t imagine a time you’d need both. It’s word-bloat.

Then there’s “to my way of thinking.” Who else’s?

What are your unloved words and phrases? Tell me. I’m collecting these units.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Anonymity Doesn't Make You Smarter

by Marcus Sakey

In my last post, I wrote about two things that recently moved me, Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler and a computer game called Auditorium. The post wasn't deathless art, but then, we're on a blog. Anyway, besides the thoughtful comments we can always count upon here, there was this gem:
BlogSmacks said...
I'm sorry, are you supposed to be a talented writer? Your uncreative, hackneyed prose makes me wretch, well, actually, it inspires a florid complexion: the reification of my embarrassment for you; reading one of your books is like listening to a benighted hick-state imbecile intoning some vacuous, all-too-familiar pop song before the panel of American Idol judges. I didn't read this article. You aren't fit to comment on The Wrestler. Darren Aronofsky is a genius; you are not even close. However, I will proffer a modicum of praise your way for offering writing tips on your website. Although I'm sure this was done solely to further fertilize the narcissism you've cultivated thus far, it is still, I suppose, "nice." Keep up the mediocre work! God knows if Hollywood-- i.e., IDIOTS--understand and approve of your work, then you must be quite the sui generis thinker and novelist.

Now, there is a temptation--oh, is there--to lay into "BlogSmacks,"to point out the grammatical and spelling errors, the misused words, the fallacies of logic and rhetoric. But that's not why I bring it up. Instead, my reasons tie to a rant I made about tech support hotlines: I'm concerned about the increasing failure of people to take responsibility for their words.

I'm a writer. Words matter to me. I believe that there is no social force more powerful than a precise, impassioned, and thoughtful arrangement of words. The right words in the right order can change the world. Don't believe me? Talk to Obama--or to Goebbels.

I enjoy argument and debate. Crossing intellectual swords turns me on. And as my wife would be quick to tell you, I'm an opinionated guy. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong.

But one thing I always do, always, is sign my name at the end of my opinions.

My problem with customer service hotlines is less that they won't fix my phone and more that they won't admit their refusal to fix it. My problem with anonymous, argumentative posts on blogs is that they are the intellectual equivalent of holding a finger in someone's face while chanting, "Not touching you, not touching you!" They're a way to irritate, not communicate. And they leave me wondering, why?

Why take the time? Are they meant as jokes? If so, most miss the target.

Is it really as simple as the desperation of lonely individuals screaming for their fifteen seconds? The digital equivalent of graffiti?

Or is the anonymity the point, the sheer cowardly thrill of attacking without the possibility of response, like hucking a beer bottle out a car window?

People like "BlogSmacks" don't bother me--they baffle me. Their words don't wound; hell, they don't even prompt reflection. If they intend to do that, signing their name would be a good first step. Developing a more sophisticated opinion than "Nahnny-nahnny" would be a second.

But they do leave me curious.

What the hell is the point?

Any ideas?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Why fiction?

On January 18th, I had occasion to chair a meeting of Mystery Writers of America’s Midwest chapter while chapter Prez Julie Hyzy met with MWA bigwigs in New York. Our guest speaker, Daniel P. Smith, is a freelance journalist and author. Smith said he got the idea for his book from a ride-along he’d done with his police officer brother. One of the first calls of the tour was a homicide, a man shot by his 17 year old stepson. The scene had a transforming effect on Dan. He and his brother spent the rest of the shift searching for the shooter, leaving to Dan wonder how officers deal with their feelings when they have almost no downtime between calls. The result of that wondering was On The Job: Behind the Stars of the Chicago Police Department.

After the meeting, Dan stayed for an impromptu discussion with—among others—authors Sam Reaves, Tom Keavers and Centuries and Sleuths owners Augie and Tracy Aleksy. One of the subjects that arose was why we write fiction when real stories are so compelling and exciting.

A consensus seemed to be that we write fiction because we love justice and closure—things life rarely gives us between the parentheses of birth and death. In fiction we can explain the inexplicable, weave in all the stray threads, punish the guilty, and reward virtue and bravery and cleverness in ways that rarely occur in life. Fiction has a beginning, a middle and an end. Usually. Fiction enables us to know our heroes and our lovers far more intimately than in real life—don’t writers usually provide us with their thoughts and feelings, uncensored in moments of peril and loss?

Our discussion left me thinking about the subject the next day, and I recalled a philosophy course I took in college. The instructor told us that no one—this was forty years ago, mind you—writes philosophy any more, at least not the way Plato and Hegel and Marx did. Today’s philosophers are writing novels, plays and movies. (And, yeah, essays on in the commentary pages of news papers and publications like the New Yorker. But who reads those?) Modern mainstream philosophers are telling it like it is in fiction, unhampered by the need to be fair or to get the facts right. My instructor assigned J.B. by Archibald McLeish, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, and Nikos Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ. I hadn’t thought about that class in many years, but the instructor was right, I think. He may not have anticipated blogs, and perhaps bloggers are today’s philosophers, but blogs are so ubiquitous and diverse that most serve specialized and largely convinced audiences. The big time philosophies are still being advanced by art.

That’s my take. What’s yours? Whose ideas are you listening to? Any straight philosophers we should know about? Where do we find them?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Don't Talk To The Cops...

By Sean Chercover

Our own Michael Dymmoch sent me a link to these fascinating videos. In the first, Regent Law professor James Duane lays out the case for why you should never, under any circumstances, submit to police questioning without your lawyer present. Especially if you are innocent. Both funny and enlightening, and I promise this video is worth watching. In the second video, Officer George Bruch of the Virginia Beach PD gets "equal time" to offer his perspective. Bruch's talk is equally fascinating, and full of great stuff to use in your fiction.

If you've got 48 minutes to spare, watch these vids. If you don't have 48 minutes to spare, find them. Yes, the videos will spark brilliant ideas for your fiction. But more than that, they could someday save your freedom.

The argument: Why you should never talk to the police...

The response: Veteran police investigator George Bruch...

There may be a cop out there, somewhere, who disagrees with Bruch, but I've never met one. And that should tell you a lot.

Here's serendipity: Just after watching these videos, I got another email, this time from my friend (and super Chicago author/lawyer) Laura Caldwell, inviting me to a panel discussion at Loyola on Wednesday, about false confessions and wrongful convictions and innocent people who've spent half their lives behind bars.

As a lawyer, Laura has first-hand experience with such injustice, and she's moderating a panel of men (including a former client) who spent, collectively, over 80 years in prison before being exonerated. 80 years. For crimes that they did not commit.

Life After Innocence Project - Post-Exoneration Panel:
Wednesday, January 28 - 5:00 p.m.
Loyola Law Center, Kasbeer Hall
25 E. Pearson Street, Chicago

If you're in Chicago, I urge you to attend this panel and hear the incredible stories of what happened to these men during their prosecution, incarceration, and as they've struggled to re-enter society since their exoneration. For those who cannot attend, here's just a sample...

Ken Wyniemko of Michigan (8 years in prison)...

Jerry Miller of Chicago (26 years in prison), who will speak Wednesday night...

Dwayne Dail of North Carolina (18 years in prison)...

Chris Ochoa of Texas (12 years in prison)...

Some more exonerees from Texas...

These men would still be in prison today, if not for the efforts of people like Laura, and the good work of The Innocence Project, which has cleared over 200 inmates (and counting) through DNA testing. A shocking number of innocent people are still languishing in our prisons ... and for every innocent in prison, there's still a bad guy out on the streets.

And while I'm at it, here's another worthy cause: The Crime Lab Project. Our nation's crime labs are underfunded and overworked. The Crime Lab Project doesn't want your money; it wants you to add your voice and pressure our elected officials to properly fund crime labs and help the police do their jobs.

That's all for now. Stay safe, and stay quiet (until your lawyer arrives).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Kinda Wish I'd Been in DC

by Libby Hellmann

I grew up in Washington (yes, in the city itself), so I never saw it as a tourist destination. Nor did I give much thought to the patriotism and symbolism its monuments evoked. I played and fought with kids from Lebanon, Morroco, and Rhodesia, whose embassies were on my block. I went to the White House for tea… smoked my first cigarette behind the Capitol… my first joint at the Lincoln Memorial. I demonstrated against the war on the Mall and sold underground newspapers on the streets of Georgetown. I worked at PBS and was probably the only person in the country to watch the Watergate hearings twice a day. I met people who only wanted to talk to me because they wanted air time, and I only talked to them because I wanted a story.

Before 1960, though, DC was a sleepy Southern town. Congress left in June and didn’t dare return until mid-September. Summers were hot and humid – DC is literally built on a swamp -- and it was segregated. There were separate water fountains for “Whites” and “Negroes.” But it was a safe city, and I took the bus or the streetcar or my bike all over town. There was an Easter egg roll on the White House lawn every spring, and if you looked carefully, you might spot Ike or Mamie smiling at the kids.

That changed when JFK was inaugurated. Overnight Washington became a glittering, sophisticated mecca. The Kennedys infused the town with excitement and hope and youth. You knew from the beginning, when Robert Frost read a poem at the Inaugural, when Kennedy asked what we could do for our country, that things were going to be different.

Which might have been why my mother took me to Kennedy’s inaugural parade. Traditionally, native Washingtonians never go near politically staged events. We know better. But my mother made an exception this time. I think she knew that Kennedy's election was a watershed event. I remember taking the bus down to Pennsylvania Avenue and standing on the sidewalks in the cold with the crowd. Since I was a kid, people let me through to the front – there was no phalanx of police then -- and I had a first-rate view of the procession. I remember the President’s car slowly passing -- it was a convertible – and how it seemed to stop as it came abreast of us. I jumped up and down, waving and shouting, and to this day I was sure Mrs. Kennedy looked directly at me and smiled.

For over forty years I never went to – or wanted to go -- another inauguration. The pageantry just wasn’t very meaningful. Until yesterday. I found myself wishing I could have taken my own kids down to Pennsylvania Avenue. It would have been tough to get through security, stand for hours in bitter cold, endure the lack of facilities. But the opportunity for a glimpse of history, to bear witness to another watershed event, would have been worth it.

What did you think of yesterday?

Monday, January 19, 2009

I will totally come over to play with Sean's Dilys

For the second year in a row, a member of The Outfit has been nominated for the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association's Dilys Award. I don't exactly understand what the criteria for a Dilys is, but I can say with confidence that it's the coolest piece of hardware in all of award-dom.

That's How They Did It When I Was Just a Kid

By Kevin Guilfoile

My five-year-old Max provides a running commentary about everything that's happening. All things are given roughly the same importance, reported with the same level of excitement. A new Scooby Doo is described with the same urgency as a friend coming to visit or the appearance of freshly fallen snow or an invitation to put stickers on things. His brother Vaughn is two and can't say very much yet and so he just sort of is. Yesterday Vaughn was dancing and Max ran up to me, a thrill in his voice and reported, "Daddy do you know what? Vaughn is dancing with great joy!"

It is tempting to write about the inauguration tomorrow. When you've wished for something longer than you thought the thing you were wishing for was possible, it's difficult not to go on and on about it as it happens. Thousands of people will be live-blogging the event. The internet has given us all these little soapboxes and it seems sensible at a time like this to climb up on them.

I've been writing regularly about Barack Obama for two years now. I've been writing about George Bush, with a distinctly different tone, for more than nine. I share the excitement, the hope, the anticipation about tomorrow with millions of others. And yet I'm inclined at this point to just shut up about it.

We live in an age of immediate context, of instant commentary. A thing can hardly happen before we start explaining what it means. All of this can be illuminating, but it can also be distancing. Context is information, but it's also noise. Every generation after ours will be able to put tomorrow's inauguration in context, but the one thing they won't be able to do, the one thing we have the privilege of ourselves, is to shut up and enjoy it.

I'm glad that so many people from all over the country are headed to Washington for the event. I hope most of them will be able to keep their cell phones in their pockets, their texting fingers inside their gloves. They won't really see it, won't really hear it, won't really live it, if they are too busy passing it on.

For the time being anyway, what it means is a lot less important than what it is. If you see people dancing with great joy on the mall tomorrow, you know what to do. You can tell everybody about it later.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Congratulations Sean!

Sean's short story, "A Sleep Not Unlike Death" has been nominated for an Edgar. Yay!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


by Barbara D'Amato

Quite often when I’m teaching a class on writing, or even when just sitting around chatting with other writers, somebody asks, “How can I know I’m not inadvertently copying somebody else’s work?” It’s reasonable to wonder whether a plot or character impressed you, maybe years ago, and what you think is original is coming from memory.

The other side of that, of course, is the question, “What if I tell people my idea, or talk about it in my writing group, and somebody steals it?”

If you are working with a sincere effort to produce your own writing, probably neither one is a problem.

We all read books that have similar settings and story lines. But most of the time, enough is different so that we know from inspection that the material has not been copied. Twice I’ve given a group of writers in a class the central idea, setting, and three characters for a novel, and I’ve asked them to write the first three pages and a short outline. They are not simply to repeat what I gave them but to write it as they would the opening of an actual story. It has never happened that any two come up with the same story. If another person knows generally what you’re working on, it’s very unlikely that he will [or could] write it the way you will.

I could not summarize the plot of THE LONG GOODBYE accurately right now [in fact, I think Chandler lost track of it at times] and I certainly couldn’t reproduce the wording.

But what if you come up with the “killer” idea? Howard G. Zaharoff writing in Writer’s Digest Special Issue of May 2001 addresses this fear. He makes several suggestions: Find a publisher who will treat the idea as a “disclosure of proprietary information” Ask the publisher to agree ahead of time that if they use your idea they will pay for it. If they don’t agree, don’t go further with them. Don’t submit the bare idea, but flesh it out enough so that it is clearly copyrighted expression. He adds that you should check with a lawyer to get this right. Last, mark everything with a copyrighted and “confidential information” legend.

He adds that the best advice of all is to deal always with reputable publishers and agents.

Anyway, can you remember something you read accurately enough to make your work so close that you may be successfully sued? Well, I certainly don’t have that good a memory.

Take the case of the book THE FITZGERALDS AND THE KENNEDYS by Doris Kearns Goodwin [1987]. Bo Crader, an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard reports on author Lynne McTaggart, who found many similarities to her book KATHLEEN KENNEDY: HER LIFE AND TIMES.

Take a look at this:

McTaggart, for example, writes that "her [Kathleen's] closest friends assumed that she and Billy were 'semiengaged.' On the day of the party reports of a secret engagement were published in the Boston papers. . . . The truth was that the young couple had reached no such agreement." (p. 65) Goodwin's book: "her [Kathleen's] closest friends assumed she and Billy were semi-engaged. On the day of the party, reports of a secret engagement were published in the Boston papers. . . . The truth was that the young couple had reached no such agreement." (p. 586)

There are many similar passages. Very, very similar. Kearns claimed she took notes on a yellow pad and later worked from her notes. Apparently they were very, very good notes.
The actual settlement amount has not been disclosed. McTaggart says, “It wasn’t a token sum.”

Most of the time, plagiarism is not so obvious or so easy to prove. I would like to talk about the “theft of ideas,” but I think I’ll save that for a later post. I would like to hear situations some of you have found yourself in. I know how it is to pick up a book and say, “Oh, oh. I was just about to use that very premise.”

Monday, January 12, 2009

Two Perfect Things

by Marcus Sakey

I had a whole other post planned for today. But in the last week I've discovered two works of surpassing beauty, and I decided I'd rather write about them.

The first is a free online game called Auditorium, and when you're done reading, I urge you to take a couple of moments to check it out, even if you think you don't like computer games.

I discovered this last week in a column written by my brother Matt Sakey, a respected industry columnist, occasional guest here, and owner of the review website Four Fat Chicks. I intended only to check it out as context for Matt's article. But when I clicked "Play" I was captivated.

I'm not going to tell you much about the game itself, because part of the joy is in the discovery. What I will say is that it is a gorgeous experience, one that manages to simultaneously engage a number of different parts of the brain: problem-solving, aesthetic, emotional. The half an hour I played was the magic part of that day.

Click here to try it. You'll need your speakers turned on. Don't look for instructions--there's a reason they aren't there.

The second recommendation is for a film, Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler. I'm a big fan of Aronofsky's work; I love the way he tells a story, the way he uses the whole breadth of the medium to engage the viewer. The intersection of ontological puzzles and commercial thrills in Pi was remarkable; after watching Requiem for a Dream, I just wanted to crawl in bed and have someone hold me; The Fountain had its flaws, but it was so lushly beautiful on an emotional scale, so grand in its intent, that they were easily overlooked.

The latest is his most accessible film, the story of a professional wrestler who was at the top of the sport, performing in sold-out stadiums--but that was 20 years ago, and now he works small fights in VFW halls to a crowd of a hundred. His body is shattered, his life is a mess, he lives in his van when he's locked out of his trailer, but he keeps coming back, weekend after weekend, because, the movie.

Besides this being an absolutely stunning piece of film-making, it also features one of the finest performances I've ever seen. Mickey Rourke completely submerges himself in the character. In a role that would be so easy to overplay, he keeps it subtle, expressing himself as much through his physicality as through his words. He quite simply becomes Randy "The Ram."

It's not a happy movie--none of Aronofsky's work is--but it has its moments of triumph and beauty, and I haven't been able to stop thinking of it since I caught it last week.

So there you go, two things that blew me away recently. Now, my requests to you. First, if you check either of these out, pop back here and gimme a post to let me know what you thought.

And second, if you have time, post about something that moved you recently. I don't care if it's a book or a song or a painting or a sunset or a recipe or a sports car. I'd just love to hear about it.

Friday, January 09, 2009

déjà vu

Yesterday there was a status hearing at Cook County Criminal Court for Kevin Jones and Michael Pace, the individuals charged with murdering Blair Holt on a CTA bus last year. Both defendants are represented by excellent attorneys, among the best in the Public Defender’s Office. Jones’ lawyer has already had Jones’ confession suppressed. The Assistant States Attorney assigned to the case is also a determined and experienced advocate, so the trial—tentatively set for March 30 in Judge Nicholas R. Ford’s court—should be fascinating. And crowded. Members of the Blair family have been present at every hearing. The press and the defendants’ families will probably be represented as well.

As is my habit, I stayed after Pace and Jones were taken back to the lock-up. Theirs is not the only interesting story at 26th & Cal.

Sometimes the obscure cases are the most revealing. And when you sit in the gallery, you get the unofficial take, especially in the smaller courtrooms where the gallery is separated from the court proper—and the shushing bailiffs—by a wall of inch-thick glass. During one of the many recesses yesterday—a number of attorneys and at least one defendant were no-shows, I overheard an exchange between an offender named James, who was out on bail, and his attorney. It went something like this:

Attorney: “If you plead guilty, you’ll get two years of probation, with a curfew for the first six months to a year. And you’ll have to get a job and check in with a probation officer.”

James’ reply was unintelligible, but his body language screamed , “No way!”

Attorney: “I can’t make you take it, but if you don’t, they can put you in jail for three years. This is your third felony. You don’t get a deal for a third felony. And the States Attorney is pissed. If you don’t take it, you’re going to go to trial. Class two [felony} is three to seven [years].”

James didn’t appear to be impressed.

Attorney: “You know if there’s a case to be beaten, I’d beat it.”

James: (grudgingly) “I’ll give you that.”

Attorney: “Well?”

Again, James’ response was non-verbal, but as he got up and followed the attorney into the court, the attorney said, “Don’t give the judge attitude ‘cause he’s a serious man.”

As the doors closed on them, a guy sitting behind me remarked—to no one in particular—on what a great deal the attorney had just brokered for his client.

After his plea was officially made and accepted, James was sent back to the gallery to wait for an interview with a probation officer. He didn’t wait patiently, complaining to others waiting similarly—and to several people via his cell phone—about what a raw deal he’d just been handed.

Having no psychic abilities whatsoever, I predict that James will fail to successfully complete his probation. I may be wrong—what do I know? I’m just an observer in the grand Monopoly game of criminal court.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

So Many Balls, So Little Time . . .

by Sean Chercover

Inauguration Day approaches, and I simply have nothing to wear. A mind-numbing number of Inaugural Balls this year, so even if I did have something to wear, I'd have a hard time choosing. The "hottest ticket" is the Illinois Inauguaral Ball, but I don't think I can swing that one. I just don't have the clout.

And even if I could swing a ticket, I'm not sure if I'd go. Indulge me for a 'graph, while I insert a serious point into an otherwise completely frivolous post. . .

I happily contributed to President-Elect Obama's campaign, and that got me on his every-time-you-check-your-email-I'm-spamming-you list. During the campaign, I was cool with all the emails. I wanted to be kept current on developments, and I understood the need to continually "hit the list" for more money. But. The campaign is over. And I'm still happy to receive altogether too-many emails, keeping me current on cabinet appointments and such. But emails that beg for money to fund inaugural balls? I mean, are you kidding me? Has anybody on the Obama email team paid any attention to the economic crisis that got him elected? This, to me, represents a major tin ear. Most Americans (and certainly most small-donors who contributed what little they could) are freaking out about the economy, worrying about the future, and counting their pennies. And you want more of our money to help pay for your f**king party?? Wow.

End of rant. Back to frivolity. . .

So, the Illinois Inaugural Ball is a tough ticket. That's because it is too all-encompassing and everyone from The Prairie State wants to attend. But fear not; I have a solution. All we need to do is break Illinois down into subgroups, and have a ball for each. Perhaps you can help me. Here are a few suggestions, to get the ball rolling (pun intended):

The Corrupt Politicians With Brass Balls Ball
Host: Governor Blagojevich (natch).
Guests of Honor: Tony Rezko, Ed "Fast Eddie" Vrdolyak.
Dress: Orange Jumpsuit recommended.
Catering: Bologna sandwiches.
Venue: Club Fed.

The Cheezeborger! Cheezeborger! Ball
Hosts: The Sianis Family, Nick Kapranos, Jeff Magill.
Guest of Honor: Rick Kogan.
Dress: Come as you are, we don't stand on ceremony here.
Catering: Doublecheez!
Venue: Where else? Hubbard & Lower Mich.

The Thanks For Picking A Team And Meaning It Ball
Host: Ozzie Guillen.
Guest of Honor: President-Elect Obama, who will be honored for his honest position as a White Sox fan. We're sick to death of pols who profess deep love for both the Cubs and the Yankees (see, incoming Secretary of State) or profess love of a sport that they don't actually watch (see, incoming Secretary of State, and hundreds of others). If you don't like sports, just say so. And if you do like sports, don't hedge your bets by naming more than one 'favorite' team. You're not gonna lose votes over it. Damn. Cowards.
Dress: Ball cap, polyester jersey.
Catering: Hot dogs, mustard only.
Venue: The Cell.

The Boystown Ball
Hosts: Sister Sledge.
Guests of Honor: Congressman Barney Frank, and Ex-Senator Larry Craig if he's ready to come out.
Dress: Glam. You know this will be the best-dressed ball of them all.
Catering: Wilde Bar & Restaurant (A nice mix of Boystown hepcats and Lakeview breeders).
Venue: Halsted, north of Belmont. Everybody loves a parade.

Okay, those are my Chicago-centric inaugural ball suggestions. Let's hear yours.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Coming Attractions -- Crime in Chicago

by Libby Hellmann

Welcome to 2009! I can’t remember a year with so many criminal developments, investigations, and trials on tap for Chicago. For blogs like the Outfit, you couldn’t ask for a better line-up. It’s every bit as exciting as the coming attractions at the movies. Here’s just a sample of what’s coming…

Roddy, We Hardly Knew Ye.
But we’ll get to know him a lot better this year. Apart from his impeachment –practically a done deal -- and subsequent trial in the Illinois Senate, there’s also US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s criminal complaint, which will be followed by another indictment and trial (assuming Blago continues to maintain his Nixonian innocence). Whatever happens, it’s safe to say we will have him to kick around all year. Btw, the ethics law that prompted some of Blago’s behavior went into effect January 1. For an interesting history of how it almost didn’t come to pass, click here.

Rezko: Round Two Everybody’s Favorite Fundraiser, Tony Rezko, will be on trial again in February. This time, he’s accused of a $10 million loan fraud scheme involving state deals. In part, he’s accused of asking a state official to draft a letter that got him big loans from the state to finance his pizza business. Oh, and Las Vegas would like to know why he skipped out on nearly half a million dollars in gambling debts.
Pepperoni, anyone?

The Cop you Love to Hate
We ought to be hearing more from the States Attorney’s office about suburban cop Drew Peterson’s role in the murder of Wife Number Three and the disappearance (and presumed death) of Stacy, Wife Number Four. Unfortunately, the unlawful gun charges against him – which could have put him in jail for a while – were dropped in November. Still, this guy’s arrogance and narcissism make OJ – and even Blago -- look like pikers. Oh, and he’s engaged – again. Can you say “Run .. don’t walk?”

The Other Peterson
Kevin has kept us up to date on the other Peterson situation, the murder of dermatologist Dr. David Cornbleet. (See below). Check out the show, Personal Justice, on Discovery this week.

Fast Eddie Slows Down
Former Alderman Ed Vrdolyak, who made daily headlines twenty years ago for, among other things, leading the “Council Wars” against Harold Washington, the city’s first black Mayor, will be sentenced this week for receiving kickbacks on the sale of a building. Ironically, Fast Eddie got his name, in part, for eluding the law – he’d been investigated for a number of shady schemes for years. (Think he was Blago’s mentor?) Now, though, thanks to Stuart Levine -- a guy who seems to know everybody’s dirty laundry, btw – Eddie skidded to a stop. He pled guilty last November.

Not So Entertaining
Although it involves a well-known Chicago entertainer. An indictment has been issued against the man accused of killing the mother, brother and nephew of Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson.

Pretty impressive list, right? But I’ve barely scratched the surface. Time for you to report in. What have I missed? Which of these Chicago stories do you think will be the most compelling?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ridiculously Late Weekend Post

By Kevin Guilfoile

Wednesday night (January 7) at 9 PM, the Discovery Channel debuts a new show, Personal Justice and the first episode is an account of the murder of Dr. David Cornbleet, which we have followed closely in this space over the last year and a half. (Scroll to bottom and read up for full recap of the Cornbleet story.)

Also today's New York Times Magazine includes a feature on Chicago's own Andrew Bird, whom we've also talked about in the past. Bird's upcoming album, Noble Beast, is expected by many to be his breakthrough record and in the article he seems to have a charming amount of midwestern angst about the attention large-scale success might bring. I've seen Chicagoans expressing similar sentiments over the last year whenever Barack Obama's election or the possibility of a Chicago Summer Olympics in 2016 comes up. For very different reasons, both politicians and artists in this city are often quite happy to go to work each day under a modest amount of scrutiny. On the other hand, I have great hope for a culture in which a guy as brilliant and quirky as Bird can become a rock star.

By the way, for those less familiar with Chicago indie music but more familiar with stuff kids watch on TV, Bird is better known all over the world to pre-schoolers like mine as "Dr. Stringz" from a popular episode of Jack's Big Music Show on Noggin:

In politics and art, we could all use a guy who knows how to fix stuff about now.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Donald Westlake

Donald Westlake died, suddenly, on New Year's Eve.  This is a shock, and a hard loss to his friends and to the mystery/literary world.