Thursday, February 28, 2008

Guilty TV Pleasures

by Libby Hellmann

Okay, I confess. I’ve become a TV junkie. I’m watching – and enjoying -- programs I never thought I would. Part of it has been the Chicago winter: I don’t remember ever spending this much time at home. Part of it is my effort to perfect the art of procrastination – I’m about 100 pages into a new novel, and rather than figure out what the book is really about, I'm staring at the tube. And part of it is that the shows are so available online. Or on DVDs. It’s much easier to watch an episode at 3 in the afternoon than to remember the night and the time it was originally scheduled.

So, with that… here’s what I’ve been looking at…

Lipstick Jungle: A Sex-in-the-City clone but with high-powered women, this isn’t a bad show. The women wear incredible clothes, they look fabulous, the men are sexy, and the story lines – well – they’re not new, but they’re palatable. At least on snowy afternoons. Turns out Brooke Shields can act, after all. Plus, Nico, who played Audrey on “24”, which we all know has been MIA this season, has helped stave off my “24” withdrawal symptoms.

Boston Legal: What a hoot! I love the satire. I love the acting. Even the plot lines, as hackneyed as they are, make me giggle. And William Shattner, James Spader, and Candace Bergen look like they’re having the time of their lives. This is just over-the-top fun.

Damages: Who said the serial thriller/melodrama is dead? Glenn Close did a great job, and the twists and turns, while predictable, were fun to watch.Nice digs too… the perfect starter apartment for the young couple, the great suburban mansion on the lake, the upscale New York coop.

Desperate Housewives: I’ll probably go back to it when it comes back, if only because my daughter and I used to watch it together. She’s in college now but usually calls during commercials. Sure, it’s campy, silly, unreal, and manipulative, but, for the most part, it’s pure escape. And their houses are always so clean.

Weeds: I’ve always thought Elizabeth Perkins was one of the most underrated actresses around. And who knew Kevin Nealon would be so good? Or Tanye Patano? The writing is razor sharp, especially when Heylia and Andy are around, the humor is just black enough, and every time Mary Louise Parker sips her frappachino, I really "get" Agrestic.

I’m also looking forward to the new season of The Shield… (does anyone know when it comes back?)… and, of course, 24 when it finally makes an appearance next season. I haven’t been great at watching The Wire, but I plan to catch up. And there are always reruns of The Sopranos.

What about you? ‘Fess up… what are your guilty TV pleasures?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Been a Long Time Walking on Fortune's Cane

By Kevin Guilfoile

Here's a way you can gamble legally on something you love and not feel even a little bit guilty about it.

A few months ago I wrote about The Morning News/Powell's Tournament of Books, an event for which I humbly hold the title of Commissioner. Each spring we select 16 of the most celebrated books of the previous year and place them in a March Madness style tournament bracket and have them fight it out to see who will be crowned Champion Book of the Year. It's both a sincere book award and a tongue-in-cheek parody of a book award. Mostly it's great fun, with celebrity judges and color commentary and a lot of arguing and dissension from all corners, and by that I mean smart people talking about good books, which is pretty great. Every year we also threaten to give the winning author a live rooster, which causes panic up and down the streets of Brooklyn.

Last week we announced the shortlist, the 16 nominees who will be duking it out for this year's title. It's a terrific bunch of books with well-knowns and lesser knowns, prize-winning novelists and debut authors. And this year there's a new wrinkle to add to the fun.

Over at, they have posted their own odds of each book winning the tourney. They are also accepting ten dollar bets on each book. One hundred percent of the money will go to First Book, "a nonprofit organization with a single mission: to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books." And Coudal will randomly select ten individuals who backed the winning novel and send them a fantastic prize package. The details of that haven't been finalized but Coudal prizes are always great, trust me. (And it's safe to say that the prize will be, at least in part, book-related.)

But there's more. Coudal has lined up seven eight generous matching sponsors, so every $10 you bet translates to a $80 $90 donation to First Book. To put that in concrete terms, every $10 wager on the ToB will buy 32 36 books for underprivileged kids.

It's a great way to give yourself a rooting interest in the tournament, as well as do a good deed. Readers of this blog in particular might be interested to know that one of this year's nominees is Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know and I'm especially pleased to say that, other than expressing my enthusiastic approval, I didn't even have that much to do with it making the shortlist.

If you want to bet with your head instead of your heart, here are a couple of tips, exclusive to Outfit readers, that you can use to perhaps increase your chances of winning.

1. Favorites vs. Underdogs: Coudal has created odds based on who they think will win, but they have no inside knowledge. They did a version of this two years ago and the eventual winner was Ali Smith's The Accidental which Coudal had as an 8-1 longshot. But remember that to win a prize there are two sets of odds you have to beat. You might be more likely to select the winning book by backing a favorite (maybe) but if you pick a book that lots of other people have bet on you will be less likely to be one of the ten randomly selected for the prize. The number you really want to look at is not the odds, but the amount so far bet on each book. Pick a book you think has a good shot of winning and that also has fewer people betting on it.

2. The Zombie Factor: One of the unique aspects of this tourney is the notorious Zombie Round. After the tournament narrows the contestants down to two, we play an additional round in which two previously eliminated books (determined by secret, pre-tournament reader nominations) come back from the dead for a second chance at the title. So if you can guess which books might have been the favorites of TMN readers (no easy task, granted) you stand a good chance of making it to at least the Final Four.

Even if you choose not to wager with a donation to First Book, I hope you'll follow the tourney and have fun doing it. Tournament sponsor Powell's Books is currently offering a 30% discount on books in the tourney in case you want to read up on some of the nominees.

And if you happen to be one of the nominated authors, start building that chicken coop in the yard.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

John Grisham is a d--

darn good writer. There's another four-letter d word, one that's become the apotheosis of cultural criticism. Jon Stewart is guaranteed a laugh every time he calls someone a "dick." I like the Daily Show; some of the sketches are remarkable. Even just calling the war "mess-o-potamia" is clever. But why is it hysterically funny to label someone a dick, when there are so many more sophisticated ways to be funny?

Maybe it's because we are so desperate to be noticed. We're so desperate that in the blogosphere we will say anything outrageous to get attention. I personally don't do well with posts that are slap-happy, insulting, or contain sexual innuendo, but that's me, the dinosaur. I realized after reading Sarah Boxer's review of books on blogging in the New York Review of Books that I actually belong in the Japanese blogosphere, not the Outfit. Apparently, back in the year dot when blogs first came along, they were primarily information tools--the goal was to send people out, not bring them in.

In Japan, which has the majority of blog posts in the modern world, the tone is "polite and self-effacing." Many posts offer how to's, like "karaoke for shy people." Here in the good old Us of A, we want to be found. Boxer says, Now that fame and links are one and the same, there are bloggers out there who will do practically anything— start rumors, tell lies, pick fights, create fake personas, and post embarrassing videos—to get noticed and linked to. They are, in the parlance of the blogosphere, "link whores." And those who succeed are blog celebrities, or "blogebrities." So my headline is a blatant effort to get traffic to the Outfit site. Sigh.

There is another way to run a railroad."Beppe's Inferno," in the February 4 New Yorker, talks about ways that an Italian stand-up comedian, has turned in his television show for the blogosphere. What he has to say about Italian politics and Italian business are so loaded with true dynamite--meaning fact-checked, not wild rumors hoping to be found--that he is barred from performing on television; many newspapers won't accept advertising from him. He is creating a home on the Web, and is using it so forcefully that he has hundreds of thousands of readers willing to take action against the corruption that's destroying their lives, their jobs and the Italian government itself. Unfortunately, the New Yorker doesn't let you link to their archives; I'm not sure this Lexis-Nexis link will get you there.

Som excerpts:

Grillo has galvanized Italians by talking about corruption with irreverence and humor-indeed, by talking about it at all. The country's mainstream press is controlled, or owned outright, by political parties and corporations, whose malfeasance tends to be glossed over or ignored on television and in newspapers. (Grillo is organizing another V-Day, to be held on April 25th, to protest the subservience of the press.) Journalists who write about corruption face the constant threat of libel suits. Grillo has won a dozen such suits and is facing at least four more, including one for about fifteen million dollars in damages, brought against him by Biagio Agnes, the former director of Stet, then the national telecommunications company. (Grillo criticized Agnes, during a comedy show in 1993, for dishonest business practices.) Since 2005, however, he has addressed the public primarily through his blog, at, which, according to Technorati, the leading search engine for blogs, is the eighth most read in the world. Here Grillo not only denounces political wrongdoing but runs something of a parallel government, complete with a cabinet of volunteer policy advisers, including the architect Renzo Piano, the actor and playwright Dario Fo, and the economist Joseph Stiglitz, who wrote the preface to a book Grillo recently published online about Italian labor law. ...

"This guy showed up, wearing clogs and a backpack, and he told me about the toothbrush cycle," Grillo said. "How when you throw away your PVC toothbrush it gets incinerated, and its chlorine becomes dioxin and goes into the air. The air brings it out over the sea; it rains, and the dioxin goes into the plankton. The fish eat the plankton, and you go to a restaurant and order up a nice sea bass for fifty euros, and you've just eaten your toothbrush. It was beautiful, this image of everything you throw away coming back to you! It was a global vision of economics and society, which had escaped me until then."

Grillo's comedy was already becoming more pointedly political, and RAI attempted, with little success, to rein him in. "Censorship back then wasn't brutal and threatening, the way it is today," Grillo says. "If you were absolutely forbidden to say something, you found a way to say it so that people caught on too late." In 1981, Italian magistrates had discovered the existence of a Masonic lodge called P2-the "P" was for "propaganda"-whose members included prominent politicians, judges, industrialists, and secret-service officers. Several were later implicated in financial frauds, Mafia-related murders, or right-wing terrorist bombings. The discovery of P2 was one of the greatest scandals of postwar Italy, and RAI executives warned Grillo not to speak about it on television. So he wrote about it instead. In 1983, he brought a blackboard and a piece of chalk onto the set and composed an elaborate "P2 theorem," which demonstrated the existence of the lodge and the membership in it of Pietro Longo, a leading politician. In 1986, Bettino Craxi, Italy's Socialist Prime Minister, made a state visit to China, and on TV Grillo imagined an aide asking the Prime Minister, "If everyone's a Socialist down here, who do they steal from?" Craxi protested to RAI, and Grillo was effectively banned from television until Craxi resigned as the leader of the Socialist Party, in 1993. (Craxi was indicted on corruption charges and accused of taking billions of lire in bribes. He escaped prosecution by fleeing to Tunisia, where he died in exile in 2000.)

After Grillo lost his television job, he created a comedy show and took it on the road, performing in small towns where famous entertainers had rarely appeared before. Instead of standing on a stage, he walked among his audience, trailed by a video camera that projected his image on a screen at the front of the theatre-a technique that he still uses today. "I touch them, I make them smell me-I want to get into their minds physically," Grillo told me.

In a television appearance in 1993, Grillo had revealed that SIP, the national telephone company at the time, was using erotic and astrological chat lines to generate illegal tax-free income abroad. Soon afterward, Cordova opened an investigation, and arrested twenty-two people who had licensed phone numbers from SIP. Now Cordova wanted to know how Grillo had discovered the scheme, and whether he had any more information about it. "I said to Cordova, 'Well, I found out because the companies involved are publicly traded, and their documents are in the public domain. It's not like you have to do something outrageous to get them.' " Grillo had been alerted to the scam by fans who sent him their telephone bills, which included charges for calls to chat lines that they said they hadn't made. With the help of Vincenzo Dona, a leader of a consumer-protection association, Grillo pieced together the complex network of holding companies involved in the fraud, and uncovered the mechanism by which the telephone calls were made to appear to the dialer to be international while being routed to a location in Italy.

Grillo undertook other investigations, acting on tips from fans and on his own hunches, and relying on the advice of an expanding group of advisers. In January of 2004, a colonel in the Guardia di Finanza interrogated Grillo about the collapse of Parmalat, the dairy conglomerate, which had declared bankruptcy the previous month. The company's downfall surprised journalists, politicians, and Standard & Poors, yet Grillo had been mocking its fragile finances in his comedy routines for two years. Again, Grillo said, the evidence had been in the public domain all along. "I told the colonel that all you had to do was look at the financial statements. While I was at it, I brought him some documentation on Fiat, Telecom, and Fininvest"-three of the largest publicly traded companies in Italy-"so he could get ahead on his work."

And so on. Just think about it. Instead of using the blog to elbow our way to the top of the heap, we could be responding to Barb's and Libby's last posts. We could be using the Outfit for social change. Now there's a startling thought.

Sara Paretsky

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Sixties, God Bless 'Em

By Barbara D'Amato

I hate to be Pollyanna. There’s something lame and dippy about being an optimist. However, in her recent blog, Libby Hellmann mentions Jonathan Alter, talking about “older boomers” being less hopeful and this possibly being an effect of “the disappointment of the sixties.”

While the saying is, “If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there,” I was there and I do remember. They were great years. Okay, the sixties dreamed nirvana and we don’t have it. But much of what the sixties accomplished remains with us to this day.

[By the way, when you say sixties, you really mean late sixties and early seventies. The early sixties were just about as repressive as the fifties.]

For example before the sixties revolution:

Race in America:

During the taping of an NBC television show in 1968, singer Petula Clark, who was white, touched the hand of Harry Belafonte. Touched. The. Hand. The sponsor wanted the segment cut. It eventually aired, but to controversy.

Maybe somebody can help me place this memory: Sometime in the fifties or early sixties, entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. was performing at a hotel, I believe with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Davis jumped in the hotel’s swimming pool. After he got out, the hotel drained the pool.

Things are better now.

Being female in the fifties:

When I was in school, girls were not permitted to wear pants [called ‘slacks’ at the time]. This meant walking with bare legs however far you had to, while the boys wore nice warm stuff. I’m talking central Michigan in the pre-global-warming winters. The school I attended was a perfectly normal, public school, not some rigid religious one. Clothing was closely regulated.

Women on the Supreme Court? It would have been considered laughable. There were not even any women news anchors. One of the first national television news anchors was Patricia Harper, who anchored USA Tonight starting in 1980! I remember people saying in earlier years that women could not present hard news because they wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Things are better now.

Freedom of speech:

In 1961 comic Lenny Bruce was arrested in San Francisco for obscenity onstage. Same in 1962 in L.A. In 1962 in Chicago he was arrested for mocking the Catholic Church and obscenity. The jury deliberated one hour and found him guilty. In New York, in 1964, mostly for political remarks, he was found guilty and sentenced to four months in the workhouse. By the way, you can find many of his routines on YouTube. Watch them. In one he discusses his arrests. He’s still funny today.

Remember Senator Joe McCarthy who, beginning in 1950 claimed there was a communist spy ring in the State Department, then expanded his accusation to include the Army and pretty much everybody else? Or the Hollywood blacklist, purporting to find communists in the entertainment industry? Movies were actually screened for subversive content. People lost employment or were tarred by simple suspicion—people like Ring Lardner Jr., Leonard Bernstein, Paul Robeson, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Dorothy Parker, and Dashiell Hammett. There has been much written and dramatized about this era, so I won’t belabor it, but I ask you imagine living in a period when this kind of thing was acceptable. And it went on for several years.

Things are better now.

There was a reason the 60s happened. The 50s were the reason. Those years were constrictive, authoritarian, and dark.

There are a number of problems that are worse today—and frightening. But not the human rights advances begun in the sixties. There are many more and immeasurably higher-tech ways of keeping track of citizens today. Warrantless wiretapping is one current issue. In the sixties J. Edgar Hoover kept track of his enemies mostly on pieces of paper. We are far beyond that now because of the power of data managing. Overpopulation is scary, but not the fault of the free-sex sixties. People knew how to populate long before the sixties. Global pollution is the biggie. I am afraid it may do us in. The sixties aren’t to blame, though.

Bless the sixties. If you weren’t there—wish you had been. It was a great time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On the Road

by Marcus Sakey

My second book, AT THE CITY'S EDGE, came out about three weeks ago, which means that I'm in the midst of one of the stranger parts of a novelist's existence--the author tour.

I say "strange" not because I don't enjoy it. I very much do. I love getting a chance to meet readers and booksellers and the occasional fan. And I'm one of those odd people who gets a charge out of public speaking, so that part is great fun to me.

However, the travel itself can wear on you. In the last ten days I have signed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, spoken in front of 250 people in Hoover, Alabama, dropped into two dozen bookstores, and hosted a couple of Chicago events. I'm home right now to wash my underwear and kiss my wife, and then I'm off to South Carolina. Then it's Denver. Then the U.K.

Understand, I'm not complaining. I feel lucky to be able to do this. While I don't sell enough books to cover even a noticable fraction of my costs, I understand that this is a continuing process that is in large part about supporting booksellers that support me. And as this is my second book, some of the people who come out to see me have nice things to say about the first. All of which is lovely.

However, I am curious about something, and I'd like your thoughts. As readers, how much does it matter to you that an author tours?

I've been to see many authors speak. I'm not a collector--the first thing I do with a book is crack the spine so it will lay flat, allowing me to eat while I read--so it's not about autographs for me. I just like to hear what people have to say.

But while I enjoy that, I can't say it motivates me one way or another. For one thing, I rarely go see an author whose work I don't know. Unless they are a startlingly good or startlingly bad speaker, seeing them is unlikely to have any impact on whether I buy subsequent books. Which brings me back to the question--does touring matter to readers?

Does it matter to you?

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Great Good Time Was Had By All

by Michael Dymmoch

When Libby Hellmann was asked to moderate a Chicago Blues panel at Love Is Murder, she had a great idea--why not just celebrate the anthology and the great reviews it got with a party?

Which is just what we did.

The turnout was terrific.
Lee Child showed up.

Our publisher came--Ben LeRoy (pictured earlier with Libby Hellmann).
And our editor Allison Janssen (posing with contributor Sean Chercover).

A number of our contributors appeared. Mary Welk (not pictured) and ...
Sam Reaves & William Kent Krueger

Two very hot authors, D.C. Brod and Barbara D'Amato

Brian Pnkerton
David Case
Michael BlackMarcus Sakey.
Other guests included...
Love Is Murder dean Hanley Kanar (with Libby Hellmann)
Judy Bobalik
Jon Jordan, Raymond Benson and Dana Kaye

Ruth & Jennifer Jordan (not pictured) and others too numerous to fit in a picture.

And a great good time was had by all!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Congratulations, Marcus!

Marcus Sakey's second novel, At the City's Edge, received a terrific review in Saturday's Chicago Tribune Books section.

Way to go, Marcus!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chicago's Best Burger . . .

by Sean Chercover

Like many of you, I’ve bounced around a bit, and I’ve had a lot of great burgers in a lot of great towns . . . Port of Call and The Clover Grill in New Orleans, Allen’s in Toronto, The Vortex in Atlanta . . . etc.

But for me, Chicago is Burger City. And it’s not so easy to pick a best burger in this town of best burgers. Burger passions run high and burger loyalty runs deep, here in Burger City.

Here are some of my personal favorites (at the moment). Hope you’ll share yours…

Jury’s - Big, honest, beefy burger, great patio (a little cold on the patio right now, but you know what I mean) and friendly service.

Gibson’s - Yeah, it’s the old school Rush Street crowd, but you gotta admit, the burger is great. You want a big bleeding burger? This is a good one. If you don’t want your burger bleeding, order it more cooked than you like. Medium-rare will come to your table rare. Medium will be medium-rare.

Select Cut Steakhouse (thanks to Marcus for hepping me to this one) - The steaks are awesome, so you’ll be tempted to skip the burger, but don’t. Made with trimmings from various cuts of steak – leaner than most, but never dry. Very “steaky”.

Erwin - The most expensive burger on my list, ($13) and worth it. Cooked over a wood fire, this is a smoky burger. They mix a little garlic into the meat, just enough that you can taste it without it overpowering the beef. Served on an English muffin. Yum. Certainly the most highfallutin' burger on my list, and a must-try.

Lou Mitchell’s - Haven’t been in a while, but their Oliveburger Special used to be awesome, in a diner-burger kinda way. Probably still is. Nothing much changes at Lou Mitchell’s. Gotta get back there soon…

Duke of Perth - This is currently my favorite burger in Chicago. The best burger in this town of best burgers. Just perfect. To really gild the lily, order the one with the fried egg on top. Yowza! The pub also boasts a hell of a scotch selection. And after you’re done with your burger, Jake’s Pub (my home away from home) is right across the street. Jake’s doesn’t serve food. It’s a drinking joint, not an eating joint. Dog-friendly, too.

Okay, that’s my list. How ‘bout yours?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Prufrock and Me

by Libby Hellmann

““I grow old.. I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled..” The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

I wasn’t going to blog on politics. I really wasn’t. We’re not a political blog. But then Marcus did and it sparked a lively conversation. And I decided I could rationalize it by saying it’s in my DNA. I grew up in Washington, DC, where, when you’re talking about the neighbors at the dinner table, you’re talking politics.

But this isn’t really about politics. It’s more my personal political journey. My first “political” act was triggered by my mother when she dragged me downtown to see the funeral cortege of President Kennedy in 1963. She said it was something I would probably never see again. I remember the flag-draped coffin, the horse with its saddle and stirrups on backwards, the tears and somber expressions. But I had a more personal connection to that event also. I went to the same high school as Luci Baines Johnson and was sitting across from her in study hall when the principal came in that Friday afternoon, beckoned Luci out of the room, and rocked her (and our) world forever.

In 1968 I was supposed to take a semester off college to work for Bobby Kennedy’s campgaign. It didn’t happen. The assassinations kept piling up. Camelot was dead. Vietnam raged. I marched. I protested. I started working for an underground newspaper. Then I dropped out and hitchhiked across country. I thought I was headed to a hippie commune in Colorado where everyone lived off the land. What I found was a crash pad where people subsisted on peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. I kept going and was in the middle of the Nevada desert, six hours from Las Vegas, with a back pack, sleeping bag, and no water, when something kicked in. What was a nice Jewish girl doing in a place like that?

I got myself back East. I re-joined the system. Went to grad school. Started working in TV news. Helped produce the Watergate hearings and watched them twice a day. Then the impeachment hearings. Moved to Chicago. Worked at a PR firm. Eventually started writing.

Why the personal disclosures? Because I’m now on the older end of the Baby Boom, and Jonathan Alter of Newsweek says there’s a difference. Which can affect whether you support Obama or Clinton. If you’re a younger Boomer, born after 1955, you tend to be more hopeful, reject the politics of the past, and support Obama. If you’re an early Boomer, you don’t. (Btw, the Outfit is split down the middle and I suspect our politics are too)...

I’m on the older end. For me, the disappointments of the Sixties, the Seventies, and the past 7 years are still raw. Messages of hope, of redemption for the future, just fall flat ... even with such a likeable, eloquent candidate as Obama. I find all his promises just that-- abstract, feel-good ideas. (Remember “if it feels good, do it?”) I keep thinking the guy is a politician first. Trying to win an election. I doubt that we’ll see any fundamental change in a system where civil servants spend their entire careers working in government and presidents spend a maximum of eight years. And I admit it – I subscribe to the “other shoe” theory of politics. I fear that something bad is going to happen if we get our hopes up too high.

There’s a thoughtful piece worth reading in the New Republic’s “Washington Diarist.” In “Forever Young,”, Leon Wieseltier says your politics comes from how you view the world:

“The question of whether Barack Obama will make a fine commander-in chief finally depends on your view of the direction of history in the coming years.” The author says, “I cannot escape the foreboding that we are heading into an era of conflict, not an era of conciliation.”

I agree. I just can’t ignore that there are people—even entire nations -- that want to destroy us and that they’re devious enough to pick on an untested leader with limited foreign policy experience.

Am I a skeptic? Yes. A cynic? Probably. Clearly on one end of the Boomer spectrum. But I don't want to ruin it for you. Those of you who are full of hope for the future, enjoy. Get involved. Make it happen. Some things will change just by having a Democrat in office (assuming we beat McCain). Just don’t expect me to join in.

So... which type of Baby Boomer are you? Does it even make a difference, or am I just whistling ts elliot?

Congratulations, Sara!

In January, BLEEDING KANSAS by Sara Paretsky
 was the number one best selling hard cover on the the Independent Mystery
Booksellers Association
's list.

Way to go, Sara!

Monday, February 11, 2008

I Found A Picture Of You

By Kevin Guilfoile

There are no doubt hundreds of murderers walking free on Chicago area streets. This one is especially terrifying.

On February 2 at just after 10 AM, a man walked into a Lane Bryant clothing store in a south suburban mall and announced he was robbing it. He bound the six women who were working or shopping there, covered their heads and then shot them execution style with a .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun.

Miraculously, one of the woman survived and has provided police with a description of the killer, which they used to create a composite sketch. The witness and her family are currently in protective custody, while the police are asking anyone who might know the identity of the man in the sketch to come forward. Lane Bryant is offering a $50,000 reward.

"The offender has friends. The offender has family," said the son of one of the victims.

"Somebody somewhere knows where the killer is," said Reverend Jesse Jackson.

I looked at this sketch for a long time, and perhaps because it's related to something else I'm writing, I began asking myself a question over and over.

Assuming this sketch is fairly accurate, and assuming I knew this guy, is it likely that I would recognize him?

A few years ago, an extremely talented New York artist named Anna Featherly drew a sketch of me to accompany articles I wrote for The Morning News. Her source was a photo taken when I was a bit younger and it's a very accurate rendering of the picture. I've had a few milkshakes between then and now, but let's assume this likeness remains at least as accurate as the one drawn by a police sketch artist based on the memory of an eyewitness. If on tonight's news they announced, "Police are looking for this man:"

I wonder if any of my friends would say, "Hey that's Kevin!"

I think there is something slightly abstract about even the most accurate drawings, and recognition takes at least some context. I almost think you have to suspect someone is capable of murder before you could recognize even a very good drawing of him as "a murderer."

Now, police have an advantage in this case. The killer had an unusual, green-beaded braid hanging down by his left ear. Certainly that might be something a person would recognize.

But in general I wonder if a sketch alone could make you suspicious, or if you have to be suspicious before you could recognize a sketch.

Friday, February 08, 2008

How in &%(***&# Does This Go On?

On January 11, 1982, armed robbers murdered Lloyd Wickliffe, a security guard at a McDonalds on South Halsted in Chicago. Edgar Hope was arrested and charged with the murder. Three witnesses identified a second man, Alton Logan, as being Hope's accessory. Hope told his attorneys he didn't know Logan, that he had never seen him before, and that, in fact, Andrew Wilson was his trigger man. Logan's attorney was never told of Hope's testimony. Wilson's attorneys knew, and they knew because Wilson told them. But they kept quiet. They let Alton Logan spend 26 years in prison for a crime they knew he didn't commit. They waited until Wilson died before coming forward three weeks ago.

Now what? Life is not a dress rehearsal. We don't get back 26 minutes or days. Certainly not 26 years. I've never served time, but my friends who have describe the ways in which the prison system is set up to demean, reify, and bore its inmates into submission. I couldn't deal with it well for 26 hours, let alone a relentless life sentence. And for a crime I never committed?

Wilson's attorneys, Dale Coventry and Jamie Kunz, say they were bound by client-attorney privilege not to squeal.

Excuse me. You know you are participating in a gross miscarriage of justice, but you're too ethical to stop it?

Help me out here, lawyers. Why is it better for Logan's life to be wasted than for you to talk?

And my brother and sister bloggers, what possible steps can Coventry and Kunz take now to make Logan's life==let's not say whole--it can never be that--but less pain-filled and diminished than it is now?

Sara Paretsky

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Small Sins of Omission

by BarbaraD'Amato

SEAN CHERCOVER won the Lovey award for Best First Novel at the Love Is Murder on Dark and Stormy Nights conference this past weekend for his magnificent book BIG CITY BAD BLOOD. A Harper hardcover, pb due out on February 26, 2008. Buy it. It’s good.

Now back to our regularly scheduled piece of my mind----

A couple of weeks ago I was walking northbound on Michigan Avenue near the Water Tower. I stopped at a “don’t walk” sign. Standing ahead of me, nearer the curb, were two women and a man with a stroller in which a baby was sleeping. The two women were just chatting with the man, and from the body language and the fact that they didn’t look at the baby, I thought neither of them was his or her mother, but the man was the father. The man had his feet on the edge of the curb, but that meant the stroller was entirely in the street. The man clearly believed he was on the curb, which he was. Think about a stroller. It may be as much as three feet from the push handle in back to the front. Therefore the baby was way out into the traffic lane. All it needed was some taxi or car to take a tight right turn and the baby would have been squashed. And this is one of the busiest streets in Chicago.

Should I have mentioned the danger of this to the father? I didn’t, and I still feel wrong about it.

The light changed, and we all crossed the street safely, but the father might well make the same mistake at another corner and something bad could happen to the child.

A couple of years earlier, I had been walking eastbound on Chestnut, just east of Michigan. A little boy was following his father along the sidewalk, the child bouncing a ball as he went, the father several steps ahead of him. The ball rolled into the street. Cars were coming. The child ran after the ball. I yelled “Wait!’ and put a hand in front of the boy. The father turned around and saw the ball in the street, but scowled at me, went to snag the ball and came back, took the child’s hand and walked away with another backward scowl.

I bring the stroller thing up because it’s a little more borderline than the ball in the street. The child with the ball was in clear danger and I don’t really care that the father made a scowly face. But generally, what should a person do? I believe so strongly that people should be allowed to live their own lives that sometimes I may not intervene when I ought to. I’m also quite shy [read chicken] about approaching strangers to poke my nose in.

This is not like seeing some hulking thug beating some little old lady where intervention is really necessary.

Last summer my husband had back surgery. A month or so after it, we were walking back from his doctor’s office. Because he couldn’t walk far at that point, he stopped to sit on the edge of a concrete flower planter, not a place where a person who was okay would choose to relax. A woman coming by saw him and asked him whether he was all right. I explained the surgery thing and thanked her. We were in the middle of the Northwestern University medical complex of buildings, and I suspect she was a doctor or a nurse. She had that air of authority about her.

She did the right thing. In her position, I probably would not have inquired. And I think I would have been wrong.

When do you speak up? When is speaking up being intrusive? Should I have said something to the father with the baby in the stroller? Should we all?

Outfit Event Rescheduled

For anyone who was planning to come to the Elmhurst Public Library this evening... don't. We've rescheduled for Tuesday, February 12 at 7 PM.

Don't you love Chicago winters?

Hope to see you there next week.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Yes, We Can

by Marcus Sakey

I hesitated before making this post. What I'm doing here is not just political, not just partisan, but outright biased. But then, this isn't a newspaper. It's a forum for the seven of us to share our thoughts, and to discuss them with other people.

So here's my thought (and this one is mine alone, not an Outfit position): Tomorrow I'm going to vote for Barack Obama, and I think you should too.

There's been a lot of complaining lately about voters judging candidates not by their stance on the issues, but on their perceived character. The logic seems to go that character is something that can be manipulated, and therefore isn't as important as a stated position.

The problem with that argument is that everything can be manipulated. Not only that, but positions are by their very nature limited to a moment in time, to a particular set of facts. And as history has shown again and again, stated positions during an election don't necessarily correlate to how people will act once elected.

Character does.

And I believe that Obama's character is exactly what we need right now. Now perhaps more than ever in our history. Our role in the world is changing. Our internal systems are breaking down. We are divided and distrustful.

We need a leader of unquestionable intelligence who refuses to dumb down a position to a soundbite. We need a leader who is more interested in fixing America's many problems than in sitting behind the big desk. We need a leader who dares tells us that we shouldn't be afraid to hope.

Many of you have already seen this video, I'm sure. If you haven't, I urge you to take a look. And look deeper than the celebrity appearances and the music and editing. Listen to the words the man is saying. Listen and ask yourself, when was the last time a politican spoke with that kind of honesty and hope? When was the last time one went into office completely unbeholden to special interests and backroom deals, unsmudged by negative press or shady ethics?

Ask, why wouldn't you vote for him?

Thanks for your patience with my blatant campaigning. And whether or not you vote for Obama, I hope you do vote tomorrow.