Thursday, January 26, 2006

Tribune's pot sticker posse stalks best in town

Jade East's pot stickers won praise for their fillings.
(Tribune photo by Michael Tercha)

By Phil Vettel
Tribune restaurant critic
Published January 26, 2006

Finding an acceptable pot sticker in this town is easy. Finding a great one takes a little roadwork.

That's the principal lesson of At Play's most recent food odyssey, in which I and three other Chicago Tribune staffers--a Pot Sticker Posse, if you will--spent two days driving around Chicago looking for fried-dumpling excellence.

Why pot stickers? We like them, for one thing. You can get them just about anywhere. And for a humble nibble, a good pot sticker has a lot going for it--a blend of pork and cabbage with aromatic spices, sealed in a half-moon of soft, steamed dough and pan-fried just long enough to crisp up the bottom. Plus, the Lunar New Year kicks off this weekend (for events, see Planner on page 3).

The posse consisted of Tribune food and wine reporter Bill Daley (if you missed his Good Eating story on Chinese dumplings--and shame on you--you can read it at chicagotribune.com/ food); reporter and ethnic adventurer Monica Eng, who will eat absolutely anything; and reporter and Hong Kong native Kevin Pang, whose father is in the restaurant-supply business.

And me. I own a mini-van.

Armed with a list of nominees, we set out for two afternoons of dumpling diving. We did all our eating in the post-lunch-rush afternoon, to keep the playing field as even as possible. We kept track of the prices (there are some good bargains out there) and even measured each dumpling to see if there were significant size differences (there weren't).

Our modus operandi was consistent. We would call in an order and time our arrival so that we were ready when the pot stickers were. We would eat in the car, argue the various merits and demerits, then call the next restaurant on the list.

We evaluated taste, texture and seasonings and combined them all into a single dumpling score ranging from 1 to 4, 1 meaning "Why Bother?" and 4 indicating "Don't Miss It!"

We traveled north and south, and not terribly far west. And here's what we found:

WON KOW
2237 S. Wentworth Ave., 312-842-7500.
Boy, did we love the pot stickers at this Chinatown veteran. The plump dumplings (6 for $3.95, a real bargain) had that classic crescent shape, good flavor and "an al dente elasticity to its bite," according to Pang. The wrapper was dense but, to me, "not overchewy." "Plenty of green onion in the filling," praised Eng. This was the posse's unanimous choice for the best pot sticker in our survey.
Rating: 4

Dee's
1114 W. Armitage Ave., 773-477-1500
The most balanced dumplings, flavor-wise, were at this Lincoln Park spot. The pot stickers (6 for $5.75) were "ripe with sweet porky goodness," in Daley's estimation, while Pang praised the "nice peppery taste" but griped that "the wrapper wasn't crisp enough." I liked the water chestnuts in the filling.
Rating: 3.5

Jade East
2511 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-883-9797
Jade East offers pork or chicken pot stickers (6 for $4.50). Daley called the pork version "gutsier and tastier," but Eng countered "I like the chicken ones a lot." The dough was thickish ("too thick for my tastes," offered Pang), but pleasing to the teeth. "Not a lot of greens in the filling," said Eng, "but it's a good, coarse meat filling." The golden-brown color was accompanied by minimal crispiness. Why our order came with one single complimentary crab Rangoon is anybody's guess, but a bonus is a bonus.
Rating: 3

Phoenix Restaurant
2131 S. Archer Ave., 312-328-0848
Thin, near-translucent wrappers on these pot stickers (a pricey 3 for $3.25) reminded us of Japanese gyozas--which made the delicate crunch of the fried parts (browned on two sides) much more dramatic in contrast. Inside, the mix of pork, shrimp and vegetables was chunky and coarsely textured, "and the sweetness of the shrimp and cabbage really comes through," added Pang. We liked the paper doilies on the bottom of the polystyrene container; they added a bit of refinement and soaked up some of excess oil that marred these dumplings somewhat.
Rating: 3

Mei Shung
5511 N. Broadway, 773-728-5778
"Nice pleats," said Daley of Mei Shung's plump dumplings (6 for $3.25), classic crescents stuffed with a compact hunk of pork that had some seasoning (hints of ginger, scallion) but could have used a smidge more. The thick dough was a bit chewy but the dumplings were still semi-crisp despite confinement in an unvented polystyrene container. "They looked expertly fried," said Pang. Add a bit more seasoning and crispness and you might have a winner.
Rating: 3

Furama
4936 N. Broadway, 773-271-1161
The pork in these dumplings (4 for $2.85) had a pleasant creamy texture, attributable to a greater-than-average amount of fat. The dumplings were very brown, almost scorched; there was almost no crispness, suggesting they had been held in a moist environment after frying, or possibly reheated. Our double order had been crammed into a single take-out container, not a pleasant sight.
Rating: 2.5

Mars Restaurant
3124 N. Broadway, 773-404-1600
On texture alone, these pot stickers (6 for $4.50) would be a hit, but the posse found the filling "distractingly salty" (Daley's words) and a "pepper taste that was a bit annoying" (Pang's), though Eng found the flavor "robust." But we all liked the crunchy, crisped edges. "I would have liked a bit more pork flavor," griped Pang, who also burned his tongue on the piping-hot dumplings.
Rating: 2

China Doll
1246 N. Wells St., 312-943-9300
The posse didn't have much good to say about these pot stickers (7 for $4.45). The texture was deemed "just OK" by Daley and "flavorless" by me and others--though Eng opined that a "vinegary dipping sauce" would perk them up. And if China Doll's pot stickers ever come in contact with a fry pan and oil, you couldn't prove it by our colorless samples--"a lame attempt," said Eng. Pang delivered the coup de grace: "Bland, soul-less dumplings that look like they came straight from the freezer."
Rating: 1.5

Ed's Pot Sticker House
3139 S. Halsted St., 312-326-6898
The posse wasn't quite sure what to make of the house special pot stickers (6 for $5.95), odd and extruded shapes that looked more like meat-filled breadsticks than pot stickers. (I dubbed them "pot fingers" for their finger-food friendliness.) Shape, schmape; what bothered us was the filling, which was bland and had a dense, processed texture. "For a place whose namesake is `pot sticker,' I'm not knocked out," complained Eng. "Nice crisp tubes," allowed Pang, "and sizzling hot when we got them." "The funky shape is no excuse for filling that needs seasoning badly," summed up Daley.
Rating: 1

- - -

Pot sticker packaging gets us all steamed up

One of the interesting dilemmas of carryout pot sticker orders is: How do you best package them?

Most of the restaurants we visited packed the pot stickers into hinged polystyrene containers--the default doggie-bag setting. Pot stickers did all right in these boxes, but hot dumplings plus insulated container equals condensation, which can quickly turn the crispiest pot sticker into a soggy disappointment. We countered that effect by trying to arrive at each restaurant a minute or two before our order was ready, but found condensation even so.

Ed's Pot Sticker house, which packaged its unusual, breadstick-shaped pot stickers into a container designed for hot dogs, was the only restaurant clever enough to poke a couple of holes into the container lid, allowing steam to escape.

And what of the traditional, multifold, Chinese take-out containers? They're great for preventing leaks and locking in heat, but that's bad for pot stickers. Won Kow uses these containers, but, perhaps because of the dumplings' thick dough--and because we ate them within a minute of paying for them--the pot stickers didn't suffer unduly. The dumplings at Furama fared worse, particularly because two orders of pot stickers had been crammed into a single container. The ones on the bottom weren't just soggy; they were also smushed.

So which is the best way to package pot stickers to go? Those ugly polystyrene boxes are best, especially with a few hole punches to allow steam to escape. Of course, that allows heat to escape as well, so hurry home.

pvettel@tribune.com

----------

Tell us where to find your favorite pot sticker. And what makes a perfect one? E-mail it to atplay@tribune.com and put "Pot Sticker" in the subject field or send to Chicago Tribune, At Play, Pot Stickers, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago IL 60611.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

No booze or jokes for Googlers in China

Google's new China search engine not only censors many Web sites that question the Chinese government, but it goes further than similar services from Microsoft and Yahoo by targeting teen pregnancy, homosexuality, dating, beer and jokes.

In addition, CNET News.com has found that contrary to Google co-founder Sergey Brin's promise to inform users when their search results are censored, the company frequently filters out sites without revealing it.

Some of the blackballing appeared to be a mistake. The University of Pennsylvania's entire engineering school server--which hosted one Falun Gong site--was blocked from Google's Google.cn China site. So was an Essex County Web site, which sports the word "sex"--as in "Essex"--in its domain name. Google.cn also doesn't display search.msn.com to someone who's hunting for the rival Microsoft service.

And the results can be haphazard. A search in English on "Tiananmen Square" turned up some sites but not others. Tsquare.tv, a site devoted to the protest and subsequent massacre, was filtered out, but Wikipedia's write-up appeared. And an image search revealed the iconic photo of a student blocking a column of tanks before the 1989 massacre. Search results also appear to vary depending on whether they're done in English or in Chinese characters.

In a series of conversations starting Wednesday, Google representatives responded to CNET News.com's queries by saying that some Web site blockages are human errors that should be expected when any new service is introduced, and others represent a concerted attempt to comply with Chinese censorship laws. By Thursday, a handful of blackballed sites, such as the engineering school and Budweiser.com, had been cleared to appear on Google.cn, though Guinness.com had not.

When launching its China-based search site this week, Google defended its decision to comply with the dictates of China's ruling Communist Party by saying the new service expands access to information for Chinese users. But its choice has been controversial, not least because Google's corporate motto is "Don't be evil."

Google's China launch comes as scrutiny of search engine providers' commitment to civil liberties is increasing and criticism of their choice to comply with repressive regimes is growing. Congress is planning hearings in the next few weeks, and on Wednesday, Rep. Chris Smith blasted Google for "collaborating with (democracy activists') persecutors."

Because access from China to the U.S. Google.com site is limited for financial and political reasons, the vast majority of Chinese are forced to turn to domestic search engines instead. Google's Brin has estimated that Google.com is available to only half of the country's users. Other reports say that when search terms such as "Tiananmen Square" are typed in on Google.com, the site immediately becomes unreachable for a few hours.

Bill Albert, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said it was "discouraging" to find that his group has been banned from Google.cn, especially since it hasn't been blackballed by Yahoo's China site or by Microsoft's Chinese version of MSN. "While our focus is on U.S. rates of teen pregnancy and birth we do have a lot of people coming from foreign countries, and we certainly would like to keep that line of communication open," Albert said.

A search for "teen pregnancy" through Google's U.S. Web site lists the group's home page as the first result. But in an identical search through Google.cn, the campaign's Web site is not listed. Google does not inform users that it was deleted.

Google said in a statement Wednesday that its filters are "intended to block the minimum required to comply with (Chinese) laws and regulations."

In a second statement to CNET News.com, the company added: "As with most brand-new services, our launch is immediately followed by a process of identifying and correcting bugs or other technical issues. Google.cn is no exception, and we will continue to refine our processes to ensure that we are filtering the minimum necessary, and that notices are properly displayed in all instances results have been filtered." (Google refuses to make its list of off-limits Web sites public.)

The buggy Chinese filtering stands out as a rare black eye for a company that prides itself on superior search technology, has a $126 billion market capitalization and boasts on its payroll one of the world's highest concentrations of computer science doctoral degrees.

A September 2000 Chinese government directive says that Internet content providers must restrict information that may "harm the

dignity and interests of the state" or that foster "evil cults" or "damage the social stability." Alcohol and teen pregnancy sites are not listed as off-limits categories.

Many Web sites censored from Google's Chinese results touch on topics known to be unpopular with the Communist Party: the Tiananmen protest and massacre, political criticism in general, Tibet, Taiwan and Falun Gong (a growing movement that combines traditional Chinese breathing exercises with meditation and that's been renounced by the Chinese government as a cult). But others are more puzzling, such as jokes and alcohol.

Google.cn does not list Bacardi.com, a maker of rum and other spirits. Yet Bacardi.com is visible through searches on Yahoo's China site and Microsoft's beta Chinese search.

Similarly, Lesbian.com is permitted by Yahoo and Microsoft, but not Google. Neworder.box.sk, a computer security site, and the matchmaking site Date.com are blackballed only by Google.

"Our focus tends to be more North America and Europe, but we are a bit concerned because we have been expanding into other regions, and China does represent a large potential market for us," said Michael Ellis, privacy and security manager for Date.com.

Scaling the Chinese firewall

To test the effectiveness of search censorship in China, CNET News.com wrote a computer program to check 4,600 Internet host names compiled by the Open Net Initiative for use in earlier tests of Chinese filtering. Web sites that were indexed by Google.com and MSN.com but not their Chinese counterparts were identified. Only a subset was tested against Yahoo because its Chinese Web site was frequently nonresponsive, and the program tested only host names, not individual Web pages.

The results showed that Google blocked the most sites, filtering out about 13 percent of the host names tested compared with MSN's 10 percent. But while both MSN and Google deleted pornography and political sites from search listings, Google also singled out more humor sites and more sites related to homosexuality--and it was the only search engine to block information related to alcohol, dating and marijuana.

"It will leave the Chinese populace with less and less ability to, in a sense, think for themselves about some of the issues facing them today."
--Mickey Spiegel, senior researcher, Human Rights Watch

Danene Sorace, director of the Network for Family Life Education at Rutgers University, said she's not pleased that the university's Sex, etc. site is being filtered out by Google.cn. "The challenge, of course, is that sexual health information often gets mixed up in pornography," Sorace said. "What we are about is about sexual health, and that often gets lost when you apply these kinds of filtering programs."

Google.cn's censorship was not just overinclusive. Like the other search engines, it frequently was underinclusive as well. The pro-marijuana site HighTimes.com is blocked, but its alternate domain name of 420.com was not (420 is a slang term associated with marijuana use). Bacardi.com was missing, but the company's French, German, Canadian and Italian country-code sites were still available. While Penthouse.com and Playboy.com were invisible, searching on the magazines' titles offered an Amazon.com subscription link.

Mickey Spiegel, senior researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch (blocked by Google and Yahoo but not Microsoft), said Google.cn was "a step backwards in terms of freedom of expression issues."

"It will leave the Chinese populace with less and less ability to, in a sense, think for themselves about some of the issues facing them today," Spiegel said. "They are going to have a restricted diet of info, and that is going to color how they view the world. It's a big story, and it's a stain on their image."

Adrienne Verrilli, communications director for the Sexuality Information and Education Council (blocked from Google.cn), said valuable, life-saving Web sites often get blocked in censorship sweeps.

"I guess the Chinese people aren't allowed to get good sexual health information," Verrilli said. "That's unfortunate and disappointing. We have such good information for the Chinese, who are going to be steeped in their own HIV/AIDs crisis very shortly."

Google's Brin told Fortune magazine this week that "if there's any kind of material blocked by local regulations, we put a message to that effect at the bottom of the search engine." Tests show, however, that the message tends to appear only for political sites such as Tibet and Falun Gong, and not the other categories of information censored from Google.cn.

Google's earlier missteps

This is not the first time that the world's most famous search company has encountered problems when trying to sort out the difference between what's sex and what's not.

A 2004 investigation by CNET News.com revealed that Google's SafeSearch filter technology incorrectly blocked many innocuous Web sites based solely on strings of letters such as "sex," "girls" or "porn" embedded in their domain names. PartsExpress.com, ALittleGirlsBoutique.com, RomansInSussex.co.uk, ArkansasExtermination.com and BassExpert.com were incorrectly identified as pornographic.

Many of the same problems have plagued Internet filters for the last decade. One 1996 report, for instance, showed that CyberPatrol blocked National Rifle Association and gay and lesbian Web sites, and CyberSitter cordoned off Usenet newsgroups such as alt.feminism and soc.support.fat-acceptance. In a famously embarrassing incident in 1996, America Online's errant dirty-word filter prevented residents of the British town Scunthorpe from signing up as new customers.

China's government has an extensive Internet filtering process in place that controls which overseas Web sites its citizens can access. (A 2005 study by the Open Net Initiative called it "quite thorough.") With that filtering as a guide, foreign companies are expected to build their own lists of Web sites to delete from Chinese search listings.

Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, with offices in Hong Kong and New York, said her group conducted its own test on Wednesday on both Google's U.S. and China search sites in English and Chinese. Searching for "HRIC" in English on Google.com, the group's Web site was the top result, and using the Chinese interface it was the second result. Doing the same search in Chinese on Google.cn the site did not appear in the first 100 results.

Hom said Google justifies its action by saying it must make trade-offs to be able to provide fast, accessible search. "What Google has, unfortunately, done is taken its enormous clout and technology and put it at the service of the Chinese government, who already have the most state-of-the-art surveillance and censorship in the world," she said.

It's not just Google's Web search site that looks different to Chinese users. A search for "Tibet" on Google News through the Google.com site shows links to articles about a benefit for Tibet House, a speech by exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, and at the fifth spot, a story about the Chinese government censoring information.

That's a sharp contrast with news search results on Google.cn. In English, a search there for news articles about Tibet brings up four results: one about archaeology in Tibet, one with translations of seemingly random sentences, a girl's blog about her first love, and a news story about camel farming that mentions Tibet once. Using Chinese characters to search for "Tibet" news on Google.cn brought up thousands of sites but none among the top 10 results that mentioned Google, Chinese censorship or anything controversial.

A search on news at Google.cn for "Tibet" and "freedom" in English returned no results, while 144 appeared with the same search on Google.com.

When launching its China-based search site this week, Google defended its decision to comply with the dictates of China's ruling Communist Party by saying the new service expands access to information for Chinese users. But its choice has been controversial, not least because Google's corporate motto is "Don't be evil."

Web site Type Google Microsoft Yahoo
bacardi.com Alcohol Deleted OK OK
badpuppy.com Gay Deleted Deleted (1) OK
bignews.org News Deleted Deleted Deleted
beerlabels.com Alcohol Deleted OK OK
bombaysapphire.com Alcohol Deleted OK OK
budweiser.com Alcohol Deleted (5) OK OK
catholiclesbians.org Religious Deleted OK OK
chinesenewsweek.com News Deleted OK Deleted
collegehumor.com Humor Deleted OK OK
date.com Dating Deleted OK OK
ebaumsworld.com Humor Deleted OK OK
falunasia.info Advocacy Deleted OK Deleted
faluncanada.net Advocacy Deleted OK Deleted
funnyjokes.com Humor Deleted OK OK
gaycenter.org Gay Deleted OK OK
gaycrawler.com Gay Deleted OK OK
gaytimes.co.uk Gay OK Deleted OK
gio.gov.tw Government OK Deleted Deleted
guinness.com Alcohol Deleted OK OK
hightimes.com Drug use Deleted (6) OK OK
hrw.org Advocacy Deleted OK Deleted
jackdaniels.com Alcohol Deleted OK OK
jokesgallery.com Humor OK Deleted (1) OK
lesbian.com Gay Deleted OK OK
libertytimes.com.tw News Deleted OK OK
lingerie.com Sex Deleted OK OK
mm52.com Entertainment Deleted OK OK
netfirms.com Web hosting Deleted OK OK
network54.com Community Deleted OK Deleted
neworder.box.sk Security Deleted OK OK
news.bbc.co.uk News Deleted Deleted Deleted
omnitalk.com Community Deleted OK Deleted
penthouse.com Sex Deleted Deleted (1) Deleted
playboy.com Sex Deleted Deleted (1) OK
pressfreedom.com Advocacy Deleted OK Deleted
queernet.org Gay Deleted OK OK
resist.com Racist Deleted OK OK
rsf.org Advocacy OK Deleted (2) Deleted
savetibet.org Advocacy Deleted OK Deleted
search.msn.com Search Deleted OK OK
seas.upenn.edu Academic Deleted (5) OK Deleted
sonicnet.com Music (VH1) Deleted OK OK
sxetc.org Sex ed. Deleted OK Deleted (3)
teenpregnancy.org Sex ed. Deleted OK OK
theagitator.com Blog OK Deleted OK
thisisessex.co.uk Local Deleted OK OK
time.com News OK Deleted OK
voa.gov Government Deleted (1) Deleted Deleted

Note (1): A subdomain may not be blocked. For instance, gaytoday.badpuppy.com may show up even though the badpuppy.com home page does not.
Note (2): This Web site appears when searching for "Reporters Without Borders" but not for its French name, "Reporters Sans Frontiers."
Note (3): SexEtc.org has been removed from Yahoo's China index, but an alias -- SxEtc.org -- is present.
Note (4): www.usmarriagelaws.com does not appear to have been indexed by MSN Search.
Note (5): Budweiser.com and the University of Pennsylvania's engineering school had been removed from Google.cn search results but were restored on Thursday after queries from CNET News.com.
Note (6): A secondary domain name used by High Times magazine, 420.com, is listed.

Chicago's smoking ban

Sad news

Chris Penn, R.I.P.

Sean Penn’s publicist, Mara Buxbaum, said the Penn family “would appreciate the media’s respect of their privacy during this difficult time
”...... uh, we all know how well Sean and photographers get along, right?

Remember when Sean Penn pounded on Steve Dallas (in the 1980s comic strip "Bloom County") with his forehead? Penn beat the crap out of Steve Dallas for photographing him vomiting in an alley. After he recovered from back surgery, Dallas ran down the options of whom to sue:

  • Penn was out, because juries love celebrities, plus he may go nuts and beat him up again…
  • Opus was out, because even though he got Dallas into the mess, you never, ever sue poor people.
  • He also debated suing Madonna but thought the better of it because, “she too may return to beat up the plaintiff.”
  • In the end, he decided on the Nikolta Camera Company, which was “swimming in dough.”

http://www.berkeleybreathed.com/pages/index.asp

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

New CDs up in the webstore

For all you who've been wondering what's up with the record label I run, Aaugh! Records, we have some new releases in stock:

"Mindless" by Arsov

Alex Arsov is a songwriter and musician from Slovenia, and this is his debut on Aaugh! For this project he teamed up with vocalists Sara J. and Boris Benko, everything else on this disc was played by Arsov (except for a couple of saxophone or viola parts on one or two songs). A few of the songs sounded like Depeche Mode to a co-worker of mine.

"Island Habitz" by Split Attitude

Split Attitude is a rock'n'reggae band fro the island of Saipan in the Pacific Ocean (Saipan's a US territory located close to Guam and the Philippines). The guys play once a week in a bar in the tourist district of Garapan, mostly covers of AC/DC, U2, Bob Marley, and some harder alternative rock bands I can't remember the name of right now. They jammed out some really good originals on this disc, mostly in English with some of the lyrics in Chamorro (including the local favorite "Pak Pak Paki" about WW2). Includes a live version of "Mr. Police Mon".

COMING SOON

Artist: Neurobic
Title: Exercises
Release: February 2006
A dance-based collaboration between Arsov, Sara J., Housemouse, Goldlust and SHIZU'.

Artist: SHIZU'
Title: none yet
Release: March 2006
A talented young female vocalist from Japan.

Check out our website (www.aaughrecords.net) for more details, and links to the artists websites.

Endorsements: All our Cds are made by Kunaki, and the T-shirts are printed by Spreadshirt in the US & Europe.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Google censors itself for China

Leading internet search company Google has agreed to censor some of its services in China in order to satisfy Beijing's restrictions
on free speech.

Google hopes the new web address for China will boost its access to one of the world's largest internet markets.

The company says the decision to censor content was hard, but says it has more influence if it is present in China.

Critics warn the censored version could restrict access to thousands of terms and web sites for Chinese users.

Topics which may be blocked include independence for Taiwan and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Google's move in China comes less than a week after it resisted efforts by the US Department of Justice to make it disclose data on what people were searching for.

'Inconsistent'

Google has offered a Chinese-language version of its search engine through its US-based system for several years.

However, users in China have often been frustrated as government controls have blocked the service or slowed response times.

Google hopes its new address will make the search engine easier to use.Its e-mail, chat room and blogging services will not be available because of concerns the government could demand users' personal information.

Officials said they planned to notify users when access had been restricted on certain search terms.

The company argues it can play a more useful role in China by participating than by boycotting it, despite the compromises involved.

"While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission," a statement said.

Julian Pain, internet spokesman for campaign group Reporters Without Borders, said Google's decision to "collaborate" with the Chinese government was "a real shame".

The number of internet search users in China is predicted to increase from about 100 million currently to 187 million in two years' time.

A survey last August revealed Google was losing market share to Beijing-based rival Baidu.com.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Reconstruction from an old blog from 2001

RED ELVISES
Fitzgerald's, Berwyn, IL April 10th, 2001 By Comrade Rick














L to R, Zhenya(G), Igor(B), Oleg(D); photo by Kenneth Garp

Hello all,

As this is my first RE concert review, I should probably start at the beginning... My first introduction to the guys was a copy of "Bellydance" sitting on someone's desk at work. Needing some tunes during a long evening, I popped in the disc, thinking it wouldn't be any good. Boy was I surprised! The production values and musicianship as well as their sense of humor made me an instant fan.

Fast forward to April 2001; I cross the parking lot at Fitzgerald's and parked in front of the entrance is a huge red van with a Russian guy named Igor rummaging through suits in the back. "We start in a little while", he tells me. "I'm just choosing my clothes for the evening." Inside on the stage two more guys work at setting up a drum kit, microphones, amplifiers and proceed to do a soundcheck. "There is too much feeding back", Oleg tells the sound man from behind the drums. "Something is too high." An audience of maybe 50 or so people cluster around tables with beer and popcorn, waiting expectantly for the show to begin. "How's the popcorn?" asks Zhenya from the stage. "I may get some later."

During the first part of the set, most of the audience stayed seated. Maybe that's because this is a working class suburban Chicago audience and it's the middle of the week. Maybe it's because last time the Reds played this stage they had an opening act, the very good local band Satya Graha. Maybe no-one knew what to make of the new 3-piece lineup. So midway through the set Zhenya Rock (his official name, it's on his license!) told the crowd, "If you like to sit down, that's OK. But for those who like to dance, the dance floor is right up here!". A good number of us proceeded to the front to dance and drink like maniacs (I'm still tired and hungover). At one point, when Igor asked everone to show their beer, one man near the bar yelled "I have tequila!" to which Oleg responded, "Tequila, it does the body good!".

Here's the setlist, which I managed to scribble on a bar napkin during the set.

1) Welcome To The Freak Show
2) San Antone
3) She's Running Away
4) Who's Your Daddy?
5) It's Over Now
6) I'll Be Back
7) Scorchi Chornye
8) Three Alley Cats
9) Telephone Call From Istanbul
10) Rocketman
11) I Wanna See You Bellydance

**INTERMISSION**
During the intermission, Zhenya wandered over to my table with beer and popcorn and was instantly enraptured by a Bulgarian girl sitting at the table who had only been in the US for one week. Oleg and Igor had to send Mr. Fabulous to pry him from their English-Russian-Bulgarian conversation for the second set.

12) Groovin' To The Moscow Beat
13) Gypsy Heart
14) Red Lips, Red Eyes, Red Stockings
15) Kegga Beer And Potato Chips
16) Bedroom Boogie
17) Not That Kind Of Guy
18) Please Don't Tell Me What I Did Last Night
19) Susanna
20) Strip Joint Is Closed
21) Sad Cowboy Song

**ENCORES**
22) Lovepipe
23) Juliet
24) Voodoo Doll (my request, thanks Z!)

Afterwards I had a talk with Igor, Jackdaw (whose custom decaled car the band signed afterwards), my new friend Alma mostly about web pages and bad movies... including "Leningrad Cowboys", the band's real story according to Igor; "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", which he still hasn't seen but I'm sending him a copy of; "Blues Brothers", which Igor learned his English from!

Driving me to the train later, Alma pulled into Wendy's drive through and the Redmobile was right in front of us! She yelled into the intercom, "TELL THOSE GUYS IN THE VAN THEY ROCK!!!" (which the drive-thru girl did, by the way).

Igor signing Jackdaw's car outside of Fitzgerald's. That's Alma holding the flashlight. I'm just out of the frame! photo by Jackdaw


The Elbo Room, Chicago, IL
April 11th, 2001
I tried to call in sick today to catch tonight's gig, but my boss would't hear of it...

I got off work at 11:00 p.m. and rushed straight up to the Elbo Room- just in time for the intermission! A lot of folks from the night before were there, as was Megan, whose bellydancing routine earlier in the set I had missed. Last year when I met her she was wearing these cool red leather pants. This year she had a blue pair on.

The band started their second set and played some tunes they hadn't the previous night, like "Girl From Malibu", "Boogie On The Beach" and some others (I guess I was having too much fun to remember what they were).

After the show someone decided it would be a great idea if we all went to the Green Mill (Al Capone's old hangout as well as John Cusack's in "High Fidelity"). No one in the band was too sure what that was until someone else mentioned that it was Tom Waits' kind of bar and that settled it. I didn't have a ride so Oleg told me to get in the "captain's seat" (i.e. I rode "shotgun"). I could tell the guys were tired and hungry and probably wanted to just eat something and collapse so I suggested the possibility of Chinatown. Oleg kept saying, "Yeah, let's just ditch everyone and go to Chinatown!" (about 5 or 6 different times, while playing with a bass fish pillow and jamming out to Midnight Oil on the radio). Crossing the street outside the bar, someone pulled up to the intersection blasting hip-hop and I heard Igor say, "Awww, yeeeaaahh".. Kind of made me wonder if their next album's gonna be Russian gangsta rap.

Chicago bouncers are a mean lot and the Green Mill's doorman turned away a few in our group for being either underage or not having ID's (including the girl hanging out with Zhenya). So we all stumbled back onto the sidewalk. Oleg, not to be deterred from having a good time grabbed Igor's shoulder and pointed at a sign in the near distance. "Look!" he said, loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear, "It's the Thailand Food Corporation!" Meanwhile Zhenya set up a camera on a street lamp and proceeded to try to take a group photo.


Green Mill and Thailand Food Corporation, January 2006 (photos by Rick)

Last I saw of the Red Elvises, Igor was saying something about stopping at a gas station to buy some food (probably potato chips)...

---
JACKDAW'S ELBO ROOM NOTES:
Wednesday, April 11, 2001. Parking on a Chicago side street at 3 AM is nearly impossible; Ron had to wake up before 8:00 to move the car, which he'd parked in front of a school. Some more sleep, then breakfast at a Greek diner, a look at the local Salvation Army store (I bought a red skirt, and a pair of leopard-print high-heeled mules to go on the Nice Shoes shelf), and some reconnaisance around Chicago, to find Willie's place (he'd invited us to dinner) and The Elbow Room, which wasn't open yet, so we couldn't hang the banner up ahead of time. 75 degrees, hot and muggy. Ron discovered that the film he'd had in his "good" camera the night before was Kodachrome slide film, so no one-hour photos for us.

Turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Willie's, somewhat delayed by Ron having to go back to Rikki's (our neice) to pick her up and bring her along so Willie could drive her to the show (the Redmobile is a 2-seater, a logistical difficulty I had overlooked.) Rikki is an art student, and Willie's significant other is an artist, gallery owner, and thoroughly charming woman; she charged us all with the task of trying to get Zhenya to do a show of his paintings at her gallery.

On to the Elbow Room: pouring rain and no place to park, then a mad dash to the club. Waiting in the street-level bar until the doors for the downstairs dance room opened at 9:15. RE not there yet; warm-up band the Stray Toasters, who'd come to Fitzgerald's the night before to see RE (this was the only night they had an opening band.) RE arrived, and Willie and Ron helped them carry equipment in and downstairs (no ramps or elevator.) I played Pencil Fairy, and we hung up the banner, but we were off to the side in a sort of low cave area, so I doubt if anyone saw it. Rick, whom we'd met at Fitzgerald's the night before, spotted us and came over. Ron and I dressed as red-dashiki-clad Twinkies; by this time, we had decided to save our RE shirts for daytime promotional wear.

Better rested, and after seeing Rick writing down a set list at Fitzgerald's, I managed to get a pretty good account of who was doing what, and when, except for singing. The initials are names first, instruments second.

ZG, IB, OD: Running Away; San Antone; Space Cowboy; Red Lips Red Eyes Red Stockings; 200 Flying Girls; Who's Your Daddy?

ZG, OB, ID: Scorchie Chornie; 3 Alley Cats (Z put on Phelan's stocking cap and rapped part of song); Boogie on the Beach; Love Pipe

ZG, IB, OD: Rocketman (Z grabbed crutch that a girl had leaned against stage, and used it as a 'bow' on guitar strings); I Wanna See You Bellydance

BREAK, then ZG, IB, OD: Move to the Beat (new song? not on albums; title unsure); Harriet (with Oleg playing bass and drums, Igor singing); Juliet (new song, maybe Romeo & Juliet, great!); I Will Come Back; Flaming Cheese

IG, OB, ZD: I'm Not That Kinda Guy (Z removes shirt...slight farmer tan!); Please Don't Tell Me What I Did Last Night; Susanna; (somewhere in here I lost track of who played what) Strip Joint is Closed (audience member picked up tambourine, did a good job); Sad Cowboy Song (triple drum 'solo', all of 'em banging away at once); Girl From Malibu

ONE MORE: Closet Disco Dancer

Rikki had been dancing down in front for most of the night, joined by Marty, who showed up during the break, I think. Zhenya must have liked how Rikki danced, because he autographed a guitar pick for her, even though she'd been too shy to get up on stage during "Bellydance." Mr. Phabulous and his table of goodies had remained upstairs; this was probably a good thing, because, by the end of the night, the downstairs floor was wet and the very walls were sweating from condensed exhaled breath. Willie had to go home, but, after teardown, the rest of us tried to go to an after-hours club to unwind with a nightcap.

Unfortunately, after Rick rode with the band to show them the way, and Rikki rode with Marty to direct her, and we followed as best we might, the club refused entry to anyone without an ID. Mr. Z and his lady friend didn't have theirs (neither did Ron, but we didn't get that far) and the commissar at the door got snippy when Z asked if they couldn't just mark them as 'not drinking'. "What, am I talking Japanese here? no one comes in without an ID!" Jeeze. That pretty much broke up the party; the guys went off to their hotel, and Marty and Rick came back with us to Rikki's to chat for awhile. Ron had to park in front of the school, again. (It was hilarious when the doorman at the Green Mill told Zhenya, "What, am I talking Japanese here? no one comes in without an ID!" because Oleg immediately told the doorman, "It's OK, he dosen't know Japanese anyways!" -Rick)

Jackdaw & Ron groovin' to the Moscow beat!
photo: Kenneth Garp

Just when you thought it was safe to go online shopping....

From eBay's "Weird Stuff" category, comes the "Coughing and Screaming Ashtray"!

ashtray

Sunday, January 22, 2006

oleai's tacos


oleai's tacos
Originally uploaded by kevinv033™.

Pictures like this are gonna make me homesick for Saipan.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Monday, January 16, 2006

Name change should stop the snickers

Fuk King Kwok was waiting for his driver's license to be printed when his name was called and a chuckling Illinois secretary of state employee offered some advice.

"She [said] this is a dangerous name," the Chinese immigrant recalled. "She [said] the name translated is not so good, maybe I should change [it]. The word I hear is not so good."

Not so good, indeed.

That clerk, like so many other Americans who have said his name since he came to Chicago in 1999, didn't pronounce his first name the proper way -- "fook."

Instead, she and the others would pronounce his name with an "uh" sound instead of the "oo" -- in other words, like the granddaddy of all swear words.

"And my middle name is terrible, too," he admitted. "That combination becomes very terrible."

Last month in Cook County Circuit Court -- three years after that clerk offered the advice -- Fuk King Kwok changed his name.

He's now Andy Kwok.

"Before I came to United States, no problems," he said, before nervously laughing. "But in translation to English, it sounds like . . . the word . . . you know ... sometimes language is not so convenient and sometimes I'm embarrassed, you know?"

Best part about U.S.? Privacy

The process of legally changing your name is simple enough. Kwok paid the $328 and filled out the one-page form himself.

A judge's signature made it official and ensured the only time Kwok will hear that word is if he's near someone foul-mouthed.

DePaul University language professor Yingcai Xu said problems like Kwok's aren't common -- and even he gave a slight laugh after writing Kwok's name.

"It could very likely cause a problem," he said, adding it's a Cantonese name that "could mean 20 or 30" things in that language -- none of them vulgar.

"This is a very special case," he said, "because there are not many names, even pronounced wrong, that would lead to any bad sense."

Kwok said that in China, his name translates to "a very good meaning" and nothing at all like that embarrassing pronunciation.

He said he's always liked the name Andy -- "Andrew" even better -- and while living in Hong Kong, sometimes went by it.

The 38-year-old mechanical engineer said he came to the United States for work reasons and "to try to experience different culture."

Despite the pronunciation trouble with his name, he said he likes America, especially Chicago, but most of all, he likes his privacy.

Aware of the potential for "jokes on me," he initially declined an interview request, but remained adamant about declining a photo.

"I'm not public at all," he said.

Ms. Porn reverts to maiden name

Monica Pinas and Mary Jo Porn have something in common.

They are among the hundreds who, in the last few years, have filed documents in Cook County Circuit Court to legally change their names.

Monica Pinas became Monica Star -- and the reason the 21-year-old Chicago woman sought the change came when she appeared before a judge and he, like others, incorrectly pronounced her last name as "penis."

"It's embarrassing," she said.

Porn, meanwhile, decided after a divorce that she'd drop her married name and return to her maiden name of Tavormina.

The 50-year-old Orland Park woman's attorney, Stephen Thacker, said he urges clients going through a divorce to hang on to the right to resume a maiden name, so as to save this kind of separate court action.

Every day, a handful of name changes are filed in Cook County. Most are tied to parental issues, while others can be more personal.

April Showers, 49, became Denise Moore last year, while Boladale Dehinde Adeyemi, 18, became Boladale Anthony Olumide Omotayo Omotoyingo. Both declined comment.

Godlordkingchrist

Michael Heard became Godlordkingchrist Heard, but the 58-year-old Chicagoan couldn't be reached to discuss his change.

Last month, Samuel Hicks changed his name to Samuel Adams -- but hardly out of respect for the Revolutionary War hero or because he likes the beer.

The Riverdale man's attorney, Charles Pulliam, said his client has always gone by Samuel Adams and his kids are even Adamses, but his birth certificate, unbeknownst to him, had his father's last name -- Hicks.

His brother, who has always gone by Hicks, found his birth certificate said "Adams" and he changed that around the same time.

"It used to be so common, in days gone by, to call yourself whatever you wanted," Pulliam said. "When people came up from the South, sometimes they didn't have any paperwork."

Chicago Sun Times

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Lies, Lies, Lies

I guess a generation is growing up in this world thinking that it's OK to lie. We used to have people around, role models like Abraham "Honest Abe" Lincoln or George "I Cannot Tell A Lie" Washington. Now lies are everywhere, from Bill "I Did Not Have Sexual Relations With That Woman" Clinton and George "Saddam Has Weapons Of Mass Destruction" Bush to Hwang Woo-Suk and James Frey.

Puts me in mind of a great song by the Violent Femmes:

Violent Femmes' "Lies" as on Add It Up (listen)

Well I'm reading this poem and it
it's so profound and
and I like its rhythm and I
I like its sound
by a very famous poet
no critic can criticise
and then I
I pause a moment and I start to realize it's telling
lies lies lies lies
lies lies lies lies
lies lies lies lies lies lies lies

On the motel TV I dig the evangelist
he'll tell you all about that
well he'll tell you all about this
he's preaching up a storm about the Sea of Galilee
he's mixing up the truth with something funny I start to see
he's telling
lies lies lies lies
lies lies lies lies
lies lies lies lies lies lies lies

Well I never had this problem with nobody in government
I guess I always figured they never meaned what they meant
and God help us not to be so stone surprised
when we wake up in the stars with the skies in our eyes
if we keep telling
lies lies lies lies
lies lies lies lies
lies lies lies lies lies lies lies

Monday, January 9, 2006

Microsoft shuts down Chinese blog

By JOE McDONALD - Associated Press Writer
Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 10:06 EST


BEIJING — Microsoft Corp. has shut down the Internet journal of a Chinese blogger that discussed politically sensitive issues, including a recent strike at a Beijing newspaper.

The action came amid criticism by free-speech activists of foreign technology companies that help the communist government enforce censorship or silence dissent in order to be allowed into China's market.

Microsoft's Web log-hosting service shut down the blog at the Chinese government's request, said Brooke Richardson, group product manager with Microsoft's MSN online division at company headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

Although Beijing has supported Internet use for education and business, it fiercely polices content. Filters block objectionable foreign Web sites and regulations ban subversive and pornographic content and require service providers to enforce censorship rules.

"When we operate in markets around the world, we have to ensure that our service complies with global laws as well as local laws and norms," Richardson said.

Richardson said the blog was shut down Dec. 30 or Dec. 31 for violating Microsoft's code of conduct, which states that users must be in compliance with local laws in the country in which the user is based.

The blog, written under the pen name An Ti by Zhao Jing, who works for the Beijing bureau of The New York Times as a research assistant, touched on sensitive topics such as China's relations with Taiwan. Last week, he used the blog to crusade on behalf of a Beijing newspaper.

Reporters at the Beijing News, a daily known for its aggressive reporting, staged an informal one-day strike after their chief editor was removed from his post. The editor's removal and the strike attracted comments on Chinese online bulletin boards, which censors then erased.

Online bulletin boards and Web logs have given millions of Chinese an opportunity to express opinions in a public setting in a system where all media are government-controlled.

But service providers are required to monitor Web logs and bulletin boards, erase banned content and report offenders.

Foreign companies have adopted Chinese standards, saying they must obey local laws.

Microsoft's Web log service bars use of terms such as "democracy" and "human rights." On the China-based portal of search engine Google, a search for material the Dalai Lama, Taiwan and other sensitive topics returns a message saying "site cannot be found."

Last year, Web portal Yahoo! was the target of criticism when it was disclosed that the company provided information that was used to convict a Chinese reporter on charges of revealing state secrets.

Reporter Shi Tao was sentenced to 10 years in prison based on an e-mail that he had sent abroad with details of a memo read out at his newspaper about media controls.

In September, a Chinese journalist was sentenced to seven years in prison on subversion charges after writing articles that appeared on Web sites abroad that are blocked in China.

China also is in the midst of a crackdown on online smut. The police ministry said last month that it had shut down 598 Web sites with sexually explicit content and arrested 25 people.

David Wolf, a Beijing-based technology consultant, said that while Microsoft might be hurt abroad by controversy over its actions in China, Chinese Internet services routinely exercise similar censorship.

"They simply do it as a matter of course," said Wolf, managing director of Wolf Group Asia. "When you're looking around China, there is nothing that Microsoft and Yahoo have to do that is any different from what Chinese companies already are doing."