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Reviewing the Reviews

This is catch-up week here at Reviewing the Reviews. Let's polish off this stack that's been hanging around for a few weeks so we can start fresh again next time out.

Gang Bang
"Visitors to Chicago in the 1990s, were likely to know the names of three architectural landmarks: Sears Tower, Soldier Field and the Robert Taylor Homes," University of Chicago history professor Jane Dailey wrote last month in a Tribune review of Sudhir Venkatesh's Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets..

Um, no. Wrigley Field would make that list, but if you're going to include a housing project - and you really shouldn't - Cabrini-Green is better-known to the outside world. I mean, that's where the Evans' lived on Good Times.

Dailey is more on target stating that Chicago's public housing projects were "Neglected to the point of abandonment by Chicago's municipal government" and that Robert Taylor residents were "Caught between the Black Kings [gang] and a municipal government unwilling to provide the most basic services."

Which goes a long way toward explaining the utterly rationality and hidden complexity of poor people's relationships to gang bangers and their government. And that seems to be the core of what Venkatesh's book is about.

Still, Bailey finds plenty of bones to pick with Venkatesh, whom she calls a hustler not much different than the hustlers he writes about. "Anyone who admits to taking up golf to maximize access to his dissertation adviser hardly needs instruction in hustling," she writes at one point; at another, "Given the choice of genres, many may prefer fiction [The Wire is her choice] to a scholarly autobiography that is so obviously a hustle."

Radio Nowhere
"[W]hen Alec Foege, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Spin and Playboy, set out to write the definitive history of a company that possesses more radio stations than any other, he decided to give it the benefit of the doubt," Jacques Steinberg wrote in his Times review of Foege's Right of the Dial: The Rise of Clear Channel and the Fall of Commercial Radio.

"'I was not out to do a hatchet job,' he writes in the preface to Right of the Dial, 'but rather to get to the bottom of a company that I suspected had gotten a raw deal as its bad publicity had snowballed.'

"The reader need wait only three paragraphs before Foege renders his final verdict: 'Having spent a lot of time talking to some of the company's most prominent critics, as well as some of its most devout supporters, I have concluded that Clear Channel is indeed to blame for much of what it has been accused of.'"


By the way, Steinberg notes that Clear Channel's "buying binge" was enabled by the relaxation of federal media ownership rules in the late 1990s.

Boring stuff like media regulation that rarely gets thorough coverage in the mainstream stuff matters; it affects the songs we can or cannot hear on the radio, the quality and quantity of noxious political chat, the presence or not of public affairs programming. Reporters (and more importantly, their editors) who are bored by this stuff completely fail to connect it to something visible in everybody's lives, like the crappy Top 40 and Rush Limbaugh.

Clinton in Sexile
I wrote last week of my disappointment in Clinton in Exile, by local writer Carol Felsenthal. See, I'm huge Felsenthal fan, and I was really looking forward to this book. Here's what David Shribman wrote in a Tribune review this week:

"This is at best a tentative look at Bill Clinton. It is also an angry book, and it may prompt a reader to wonder whether any disparaging quote, observation, aside, or unproven and unprovable anecdote could possibly have been omitted from its 300-plus pages of text. Many of these points are made in the rhetorical camouflage of 'some said' ('he had a strained marriage that some said was a charade'), many are made by inserting gratuitous phrases into her sentences ('the most humiliating details of a pathetic tryst with an intern not much older than his beloved [daughter] Chelsea'), and many are made by sweeping statements ('Not even his friends had a kind or even neutral word to say about Clinton's pardon of the billionaire fugitive-from-American-justice accused of trading with the enemy,' a reference to Marc Rich). Those three examples appear within seven paragraphs of each other."

I'm still a huge Carol Felsenthal fan; just not of this book.

* Pavlov rarely used a bell.

* President Bush gave the 9/11 Commission $3 million to do its job. A similar commission studying the Challenger disaster had $40 million. And oh yeah, George Tenet lied.

* "Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago are now the world's top three superclass producers."

* "I would be honored to work for her if she asked me," Samantha Power says of the woman she called a monster.

* "When a businessman named Ray Kroc bought a 'drive-in burger bar' in San Bernardino, California, run by Richard and Maurice McDonald, he built on White Castle's practice of culinary standardization."


Posted on May 13, 2008

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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