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Cigars and Drinks: Perfect Match (Concierge Preferred)

Explore the perfect pairings for various types of cigars when it comes to wine, cognac, and more.

By Daniel B. Honigman

Picking the right cigar is like choosing a lover: Your tastes may change occasionally, but there’s always a time and place to enjoy the experience.

Well, maybe that’s a stretch.

Depending on the time of day—and your drink of the moment—certain stogies may tickle your fancy in a way others just can’t. But if you pair that Bud Light with a full-bodied maduro cigar, you may turn a few shades of purple if you have an empty stomach. And that green-colored, mild candela wrapper won’t stand a chance against many single malt scotches.

There’s good news: Everyone’s palate works differently, so it really doesn’t matter what you like. Good booze can turn an ordinary cigar into an extraordinary one, bringing out flavors nobody ever knew existed. But if you find the best pairing for that Macanudo Gold is a tumbler of your finest Mountain Dew on the rocks, go right ahead.

To help point you in the right direction, however, here are some pairings that you may enjoy:

With hints of espresso, chocolate—and a bit of spice later on—the Camacho Triple Maduro is a stogie that will sprout some hairs on your chest. It’s a very complex full-bodied smoke, so we wouldn’t recommend smoking it on an empty stomach. You may want to pair this one with a pint of Guinness Stout, but if that’s too much, go with an Anchor Porter.

The El Centurion Emperadores by Don Pepin Garcia is a medium-bodied cigar with a ton of flavor. It’s a bit hard to get a hold of—Don Pepin’s Tabacalera Cubana factory only made 50,000 of these babies—but if you can lay your hands on one, we guarantee you’ll enjoy it. Aged for three years, the Centurion is slightly leathery (sounds strange, but it’s a good thing), earthy and a touch spicy. It’s a nice treat with a glass of Mount Gay Extra Old Rum.

Once in a while, you really need to indulge. So why not go all out? The Martell Cordon Bleu (XO) is one of the finest cognacs commercially available, and the Ashton V.S.G. is one of the finest full-bodied cigars available. With hints of dark mocha, the Ashton is exceptionally smooth, but has the backbone to stand up to the aged cognac.

For the inner Chicagoan in all of us, there’s no greater honor than to have a drink with Da’ Coach. Or, in this case, have his drink. The Mike Ditka Cabernet Sauvignon (2004) is a surprisingly good, fairly inexpensive red. Pair it with the Los Blancos Criollo Selection for a true Windy City experience. (The Los Blancos office is based on Chicago’s North Side.) Morning smokers may enjoy the buttery Connecticut wrapper on the Rocky Patel Vintage 1999, paired with a mug of hot coffee from local chain Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea.

This story originally appeared as one of Concierge Preferred’s local guides.

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Tidbit of the Day: Daniel Honigman featured on podcast!

A few weeks back, I spoke with Chris from Cigar Alliance for his podcast. Well, the show is finally out, and you can check it out here or on iTunes.

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Retire Wealthy: Saving for your future is easier than you think (UR Chicago Magazine)

By Daniel B. Honigman

When it comes to retiring, your grandparents had it easy. They had pension plans and Social Security, and it was all done for them. Now, pensions—and perhaps Social Security—may be a thing of the past. On top of that, rising Medicare costs and inflation make saving for retirement when you’re young more important than ever.

The good news is that there are several ways to save. And as it turns out, it’s pretty damn easy.

But where do you start? Any financial planner (or nagging parent) will stress your need to set up a budget. Erin Tait, 22,a cook from Lincoln Park, says she puts one-half of every other paycheck in her savings account, and the rest goes in her checking account. “I’m young,” she says. “I just got out of school. I’ve never really thought about creating a budget before.”

And it turns out Tait’s on the right track—saving starts with your paycheck. “You have to have money going into a savings account or a retirement plan, something that happens immediately upon getting paid,” says Brent Rosen, a financial planner with Bannockburn, Ill.-based GCG Financial, Inc. “It’s important you get a grasp of where your money is going on a monthly basis.”

If credit card or student loan debt is on your mind, it’s still possible to save for your retirement. (Just pay off those high-interest credit cards first.) Stuart Ritter, assistant vice president of Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price Investment Services, recommends you start saving as soon as you get out of school. “If you start right as you’re coming out of college, you only need to save 10 percent of your salary until you retire at age 65,” he explains. “ That’s not much— some people are spending more than that on their monthly cell phone bill. If you wait until you’re 35, you need to save 18 percent of your salary. [By waiting], you’re doubling
the amount you need to save.”

A 401(k) is a good start. If your employer offers 401(k) accounts, you can have pre-tax money taken out of your paycheck and put in an account toward retirement. Better yet, many companies will match the money you put in—up to a point, which is usually about a six percent contribution. “Always put enough in to get the match—it’s free money,” Rosen says. “ There’s no mutual fund in the world that will give you a 100 percent return.”

Another good option is to tuck away some extra money in an IRA . (It stands for Individual Retirement Account, and it’s essentially a bank account you don’t crack open until you retire.) There are two types: traditional and Roth. A Roth IRA is probably what you’re going for, since you likely make less than $101,000 or $169,000 if you’re married—the current income limit for Roth contributors—and it’s recommended for most people, since the money you contribute is taken out after taxes, so you don’t get taxed again when you retire.

With IRAs and 401(k)s, you’ll find you can choose from a mix of short- and long-term stocks, bonds and mutual funds. (If you own stock, you own a share of a company; a bond is essentially a loan the company agrees to pay you back.) If you’re young, your best bet is to put your money in stocks. “[When you graduate college], you’ll be investing for 30 to 40 years, so the price of whatever you want to buy will [hopefully] have gone up a lot by the time you retire,” Ritter says.

If thinking long-term is out of the question, Ritter suggests you try saving for three months. “Go to your employer, get the 401(k) forms, and contribute 10 percent of your paycheck to a 401(k). Live your life for three months,” he says. “ The rest of your budget will have adjusted and you won’t miss your money. If you can’t do that initially, save enough to get the match and increase the amount you save by two percent every time you get a raise. Don’t overestimate how difficult it is to save.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of UR Chicago Magazine. You can pick it up from a UR Chicago box in downtown Chicago or you can read it here.

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Lighting Up: A good cigar can add a touch of class to your smoking regimen

By Daniel B. Honigman

On Jan. 1, Chicago’s new smoking ban officially snuffed out people’s ability to light up in bars and restaurants. And since this winter is already in full chill, standing outside your favorite spot to have a quick cigarette is, well, no fun.

But instead of freezing your ass off to enjoy a Camel Light, why not enjoy a nice cigar at home? “People don’t buy cigars because they’re must-buys,” says William O’Hara, owner of Jack Schwartz Importer (141 W. Jackson, 312/782-7898). “People buy cigars because smoking them makes the event much more memorable. You can be celebrating a party, a birth, a graduation—whatever. It’s an occasion.”

If you’re going to take the plunge and enjoy a handrolled cigar, there are a few things you should know first. When picking out a cigar, O’Hara suggests you give it a squeeze. “If the cigar is stored properly, you’ll find it has just a little bit of give,” he says. “You don’t want it to be too dry, because it won’t smoke properly, but you don’t want it to be too moist either. You’re looking for a smooth draw, because if you fight with the cigar, it won’t be as enjoyable.”

Because there are hundreds of cigar manufacturers in business, choosing the cigar that’s right for you is a very personal experience, says Raki Mehra, owner of Hubbard State Cigar Shop (6 W. Hubbard, 312/670-0687). But there are a couple of things you’ll want to consider: Cigars vary in length (they can range from four inches long to seven or more); thickness, which is measured in ring gauge (a cigar with a 64 ring gauge is one inch in diameter, and most cigars fall between 32 and 52); and, of course, flavor.

A cigar’s flavor has a lot to do with its wrapper (the tobacco leaf wrapped around the filler tobacco), and darker cigars will generally taste heavier and spicier than lighter cigars. “ The darker and [more] shiny a cigar looks, the more complex the flavors will usually be,” Mehra says.

Time is also a huge factor in picking out a cigar. A bigger cigar—a seven-inch Churchill, for example—can take up to two hours to finish, which is way too much time in the winter for most. A four-and-a-half-inch petit perfecto, on the other hand, takes as
little as 30 minutes. (Smaller cigars are also lighter on the wallet.)

Also, if you’re new to cigars, you probably don’t want to turn three shades of green. As much as you’re tempted, lay off that super-dark, Tony Soprano-esque double maduro cigar, no matter how cool you think it’ll make you look.

If you decide to become a full-time cigar smoker, you can’t just leave them laying around: Store them in a humidor, which runs anywhere from $20 to tens of thousands of dollars depending on how many cigars you want to store. You’ll also need a humidifier and a gauge.

The investment, says Mike Maddaloni, 40, a Loop-based web consultant, is worth it. “ When you’re smoking a cigar, you’re not running around or doing anything fast-paced, and it adds to a good experience,” he says. “I’ll smoke a cigar, and I’ll spend more money on that than people would on a pack of cigarettes, but in the long run, it’s cheaper.”

Quick cigar suggestions

The CAO America ($6-$8) is a beautiful-looking smoke. It’s not too full-bodied and has a bit of a chocolatey, earthy taste.

Since it’s cold outside, the Punch Champion ($3.50-$4.50) is a good short smoke.

For folks looking for a good budget cigar, the Occidental Reserve by Alec Bradley (roughly $2 on is a sure thing.

If you have $20 burning a hole in your pocket, you may want to check out the Graycliff Professionale. It’s worth every penny and is good for weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations—or if you’re trying to kiss up to your boss.

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 8 issue of UR Chicago Magazine. You can pick it up from a UR Chicago box in downtown Chicago or you can read it here.

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Piatto! Piatto! Italian spot gives Edgebrook a touch of Venice — with Chicago-style portions

By Daniel B. Honigman

With good food, good service and a comfortable yet refined atmosphere, Piatto seems like the type of place you’d find on Randolph Street. But it’s not, and Edgebrook may now have a new neighborhood crown jewel.

In a 75-seat, 1,000-square-foot spot refined enough for foodies and hipster couples, but not too pretentious for children, Piatto head Chef Maurizio Fonda serves organic pastas, fresh pizzas and generous seafood portions.

Since arriving stateside in 1977, Fonda has worked stints in California, New York, Texas and Florida, but has lived in Chicago since 1990. He’s seen all types of American diners, but is happy Piatto, which opened in August, is in Edgebrook. “It’s a neighborhood that has been positive, and I think we’ve been good for them,” he says. “Our customers like the standards, but they’re open to newer things we put on the menu.”

A five-year Stefani Group veteran, Fonda, a transplanted Venetian, has mostly eschewed Chicago-style heavy sauces, but he manages to serve wholesome food in a refreshing way. And it’s clear he has Chicago diners all figured out: He oversees a staff that seems to dote on diners like Italian grandmothers. (Not that I’m complaining.)

Fittingly, I can think of only four words to describe Piatto: Good. Comfort. Food. Lots.

If you’re for starting out a meal with some real comfort food, you’ll want a nice bottle of red wine to balance it out—something bright, but not too full-bodied, like the 2005 Conti Contini Sangiovese ($30). With this on your palate, you’ll be able to wrap your taste buds around some of Piatto’s hearty appetizers.

Both the funghi ripieni ($7), a massive mushroom served with sausage and breadcrumbs in a tasty wine sauce; and the Salsiccia con fagioli ($8), a grilled sausage served on a bed of white cannellini beans, diced onions and tomatoes, are must-tries. For couples, a heaping order of mussels ($8), served in a not-too-spicy tomato sauce, will more than suffice.

Piatto dishes out a bevy of individual- and medium-sized pizzas ($11-$15), as well, ranging from your basic margherita to the Quattro Piatto, which is topped with fresh prosciutto, artichoke, olives and mushrooms.

In the spirit of the season, I tackled one of Fonda’s specials, a super-tasty pumpkin tortellacci dish with shitake mushrooms and fresh herbs in a mascarpone cream sauce. The pasta was surprisingly light, with its savory flavors balancing out the sweetness of the cheese and pumpkin. But if you’re a fish fan, Fonda’s salmone bruschetta ($23), a plate of salmon in a bruschetta sauce, is a simple dish done well.

To round out your meal, Piatto carries a selection of desserts ranging from the adventurous fragole alpine ($8)—an Austrian-Venetian delight that features a serving of vanilla gelato, fresh whipped cream, strawberries and sugar drizzled in a sweet vinaigrette, topped off with ground black pepper—to your standard tiramisu ($7).

The restaurant’s old-world comforts extend to the washrooms, as well: The men’s room is festooned with a poster of the Rat Pack, and the ladies’ room is chock full of lotions and perfumes.

Piatto is a dinner joint, open each day from 5 to 10 p.m. If you’re planning on heading over, stick to a light lunch before, because you’ll be hard-pressed to leave the restaurant hungry. But this is a good thing, of course. Just be prepared to bring home a doggie bag.

Piatto is located at 5304 W. Devon (773/467-2000)

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 8 issue of UR Chicago Magazine. You can pick it up from a UR Chicago box in downtown Chicago or you can read it here.

Piatto in Chicago (You can check out this review on UrbanSpoon.)

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Marketing News exclusive interview: Peter Rojas, Engadget editor-in-chief (

(Here’s an interview I did for Marketing News in conjunction with a cover story I wrote on the early adopter community. Enjoy!)

Early adopters, especially in the consumer electronics world, were the focus of the 11/1 cover story of Marketing News. Who would know more about them than Peter Rojas, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Engadget, one the world’s leading tech blogs.

In an exclusive interview with MN staff writer Daniel B. Honigman, Rojas talks to us about early adopters, Engadget and bad PR folks.

Peter Rojas is chillin’ (Photo courtesy Peter Rojas)

Before you were a tech reporter, obviously you were a tech enthusiast. What got you hooked on a product? Was it the marketing or the product itself?

I got into technology through my father, so it’s hard to say. He was a physician who was very passionate about home theater and early computer programming, and he turned me onto it from there. Technology is something that was always around and part of my life.

How do you think tech companies reached out to consumers [like your father] in the past, and how do you think that part of it has changed?

I think there are two ways electronics companies try to hit early adopters: One was in trade and enthusiast publications like Stereophile, and then the other was obviously point-of-sale. It was about having people who were good at explaining the merits of various products, whether at the AV store or, increasingly, at the big-box stores.

The Internet has really transformed that. Now you have an opportunity for the enthusiasts to communicate among themselves, and that’s what Engadget is. It’s a bunch of people who are really enthusiastic and passionate about technology sharing that passion. I’m a journalist, but I also consider myself a member of the Engadget audience. In a lot of ways, we’re writing for ourselves. We feel there’s no reason for us to bullshit ourselves when we write, and I think that’s the difference. The community has a way to share its knowledge, expertise and experiences.

In a way, it transforms marketing into a very different beast. If you have a poor product, you used to be able to market your way to some success if you had good advertising and PR.

These days, you can’t do that. If you don’t have a good product, there’s not much you can do to make it a success. It’s the community that makes something a success or a failure these days. For companies that have great products and stand behind them, marketing is just about turning people on to the product in really organic ways.

For marketers, is it getting easier to reach early adopters because there are more avenues—blogs, sites, enthusiast groups—or is it harder to reach them because there are just more products out there?

It’s both at the same time. The Web offers more of everything, so it’s easier and harder to reach people. It just depends on the product you have, but I think if you have something that’s really innovative, unique, or just resonates with people, it’s one of those things where the cream rises to the top.

If you look at Engadget, we constantly have our ear to the ground, because our job is basically to turn people on to new and exciting things. We’re also racing to be the first to write about a cool or exciting product, and we’re one of many sites, whether it’s blogs or community forums or whatever. For us, if you have something great, we want to share that with the world, so to speak. Have something interesting and we’ll write about it.

Generally speaking, is the innovation we see now different from what we’ve seen in the past? Is it more exciting or is it just documented better?

There are a lot of really exciting things going on now. It’s a very relative judgment, though, so it’s the sort of thing you can’t judge. We’re in the moment.

I was speaking with several consumer electronic companies that seek out early adopter feedback in different ways, with focus groups, forums, that sort of thing. Have you ever participated in any of these?

Not really. I don’t like to have that relationship with the companies we’re covering. I’m sure I have at some point, but not lately.

So now that you do have Engadget, how do technology companies market to you? I’m sure you get lots of pitches every day.

I do. I get an endless amount (laughs).

How many?

Oh, man. I don’t even know; maybe about 75 a day. And by and large, I’d say most of them are completely tone-deaf.

How so?

Sending out a generic press release is a terrible way to get my—or anyone’s—attention. Everyone knows that, but for some reason people still do it. I think there’s very little downside to doing it. The worst that can happen is you’ll be ignored. Every once in a while, someone will send out an awful press release and they’ll be mocked, but that’s rare.

There are companies that put out press releases every 2-3 days and I put up a post mocking them, and, of course, they end up going out of business. Issuing lots of press releases seem to be a good sign that there’s something going wrong at a company, rather than something right.

You can tell when someone contacts you if they’ve read the site. Any journalist or blogger will tell you if you understand what their [news outlet] covers. I think it means marketers and PR people need to work harder. I work hard, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t work harder.

Instead of blasting out to lists of 5,000 sites, why not hire people who focus on and develop a relationship with only a few outlets? It’s not that we’re going to get chummy and I’ll overlook your faults or make thigns easier, but if I know you’re not going to waste my time when you have something to share, you will get my attention. There are marketers or PR people that, when they call me, I’ll take their call.

That parallels the conversations I’ve had with technology companies that seem to cultivate relationships with its early adopters and, as a result, they come up with some very innovative products. Out of curiosity, is the Engadget audience all early adopters or are they regular people looking to make educated decisions? Who are your readers?

When you have 9 million readers, you run the gamut. We have people who are early adopters, we have people who are leading-edge adopters, we have people who are at the companies making stuff, we have enthusiasts and hackers who are pushing the limits of their hardware, and we have more casual people who discover the page through Google when they’re looking for the iPhone.

By and large, with Engadget, we try to stay focused on offering in-depth articles, because our most important audience is the enthusiasts who, for example, follow new cell phones like other people follow sports. That’s who we want to stay true. People ask us if we’ve had to water the site down to appeal to a wider audience, but we’ve been able to actually grow the audience by staying true to what we’re all about.

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Fishy Business: Chicago’s sushi boom is marked by Kamehachi’s 40th anniversary (UR Chicago Magazine)

By Daniel B. Honigman

Chicago has long been known as a meat-and-potatoes town—the kind of city where business deals are done over a steak and a handshake.

But in the city of broad shoulders, dishes like ebi, unagi and sashimi have become as familiar as filet mignon, tartare and sauce Béarnaise to gourmands, entrepreneurs, hipsters and average joes alike. Times change, and so does the food.
The sushi craze is more frenzied than ever in the Windy City, and Kamehachi can be credited with jump-starting the trend, as the restaurant celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Opening in 1967 at its original location in then-bohemian Old Town, Kamehachi was the first sushi bar in Chicago, located conveniently near the newly built Midwest Buddhist Temple. The modest 50-seat restaurant signaled the beginning of an era, with founder Marion Konishi dishing out sushi to local Japanese businessmen. However, it would take a little longer for skeptical Chicagoans to catch on—despite the neighborhood’s then-rising hipness. “Old Town at that time was a very vibrant community, with a lot of bohemian and hippie elements,” says Giulia Sindler, Konishi’s granddaughter and one of Kamehachi’s current owners. “But we still didn’t get many American customers.”

The restaurant soon gained popularity, as sushi caught on nationwide—and it didn’t hurt that Kamehachi was located across the street from Second City. (Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi were frequent patrons during the filming of The Blues Brothers.) Nor did it hurt that Kamehachi, a sushi bar, and other Japanese restaurants already in the city, allowed patrons to actually see their sushi being made firsthand, with sushi chefs given a chance to show off their skills. “My grandmother made tempura (deep-fried shrimp and vegetables) in front of the customers,” Sindler says. “It was very unusual to have the tempura and sushi stations in front of the customers so they could watch what was going on.”

In addition, the Japanese dining experience was new for most Americans, but its rise happened to coincide with the rise of a new “foodie” class, says Bruce Kraig, president of the Culinary Historians of Chicago. “Sitting at low tables seemed interesting and exotic, and Americans have always been interested in that sort of thing,” he says. “ This was part of the new food culture.”

But, says Kraig, parts of Japanese food were easier to accept than others, and sushi, at the beginning, was left out. “Forty years ago, people weren’t necessarily into raw tuna or eating poisonous blowfish,” he says. “Tempura and teriyaki—fried foods
Americans eat—they were certainly familiar to Americans. They just didn’t eat sushi then.”

But we certainly do now. Nearly a half-century later (and with five locations in Chicago and Northbrook), Kamehachi is going strong, and because of its success, the restaurant—and Konishi—can be credited for spawning Chicago’s sushi scene, as they were responsible for bringing in many sushi chefs and cooks from Japan, says Sharon Perazzoli, Konishi’s daughter. “Many of them stayed in Chicago and went on to open their own restaurants,” she says. “Because we’ve been around for so long, I think you’ll find that, in a great majority of Chicago’s sushi restaurants, there’s probably someone we know or someone who has worked for us at some point.”

While Kamehachi is a traditional sushi bar, many newer restaurants have pushed the cuisine’s boundaries, drawing in an even more eclectic group of customers. Monica Samuels, general manager of SushiSamba Rio (504 N. Wells, 312/595-2300), says that on any given Saturday night, the restaurant can serve up to 700 customers. What keeps them coming, she says, is the food, a fusion of traditional Japanese dishes with Brazilian and Peruvian flavors. “People don’t only want California rolls,” Samuels says. “Our chefs have the opportunity to try different ingredients and different sauces. You’ll see hearts of palm or chimichurri on sushi rolls, but if you come here and order basic nigiri sushi, it’s still amazing. If we used only spicy mayonnaise and avocado, we’d be limited. You can have some fun with sushi.”

Regardless of how it’s made or the ingredients it’s paired with, sushi really has become a Chicago staple, and it’s not likely to fall off the culinary radar any time soon. “It’s pretty phenomenal,” Perazzoli says. “ When Kamehachi opened 40 years ago, nobody wanted to eat raw fish, but today even young children are eating sushi and raw fish. Sushi has completely evolved since the time my mother (who died in 1990) started Kamehachi. I think we only had cucumber rolls, a few different pieces of sushi, and that was it. Today, all kinds of ingredients are going into sushi, and the more complex and creative it becomes, the more people like it.”

So, what about steak? John Colletti, managing partner of Gibsons Steakhouse (1028 N. Rush, 312/266-8999) and Hugo’s Frog Bar (1024 N. Rush, 312/640-0999), isn’t ready to pack it up quite yet. “Sushi really has taken off,” he says. “But while I see more and more restaurants in Chicago featuring sushi, I think Chicago’s still a meat-and-potatoes town.”

This story originally appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of UR Chicago Magazine. You can pick it up from a UR Chicago box in downtown Chicago or you can read it here.

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Fugitive fundraiser Hsu ‘freaked out’ on train, witness says (San Francisco Chronicle)

John Coté, Matt Bigelow, Daniel B. Honigman, Special to The Chronicle
Saturday, September 8, 2007

Fugitive political fundraiser Norman Hsu was behaving erratically as he fled the Bay Area on Amtrak’s California Zephyr, at one point stripping off his shirt and shoes, before paramedics were called to take him off the train in western Colorado, passengers said Friday.

Hsu, 56, on the run for the second time from a 1992 grand theft conviction in San Mateo County, was arrested Thursday after the paramedics took him to a hospital from the train station in Grand Junction, Colo. A spokesman at St. Mary’s Hospital said Friday night that Hsu was in fair condition but would not say what was wrong with him.

Hsu boarded the train in Emeryville about 7 a.m. Wednesday, Amtrak said, two hours before he was to have appeared in a Redwood City courtroom in connection with his grand theft conviction. He had touched down earlier that morning on a charter jet flight to Oakland, his lawyer told prosecutors. Amtrak said he boarded the Zephyr with a ticket for Denver.

Passengers interviewed Friday when the Zephyr reached its final destination of Chicago said it appeared that something was wrong with Hsu.

Alberto Dee, 21, who boarded the train in Truckee, said Hsu “freaked out” when Amtrak personnel approached, and was roaming a train car “without shoes and no shirt. … I thought he had a suitcase full of crack or meth.”

Another passenger disembarking in Chicago, who declined to give his name, said Hsu appeared disoriented and was having trouble opening a door on the train. Several other passengers said they were told Hsu was behaving oddly but did not witness it themselves.

Hsu’s attorney, Jim Brosnahan, said Friday, “a great many friends of Norman Hsu have expressed concern about his mental health and physical well-being” since he disappeared. Paramedics were called to the Grand Junction station about 10 minutes after the Zephyr pulled in Thursday at 11:05 a.m. with “a request for a backboard to assist someone who had fallen on the train,” said Mike Page, a spokesman for the Grand Junction Fire Department.

Paramedics helped Hsu off the train and took him to St. Mary’s Hospital. “He was assessed on the train but was able to get off the train on his own with assistance,” Page said, adding that the backboard ultimately was not needed.

Dan Roberts, 57, a furniture maker from Grand Junction, said Hsu had been sitting up on a stretcher on the station platform and appeared to be moving.

“We just figured he had a heart attack or something,” said his wife, Cheryl Roberts, 52, a nurse.

Federal agents arrested Hsu at St. Mary’s Hospital about 7 p.m. Thursday. Hospital officials would not say how authorities had been alerted that Hsu was there.

Brosnahan said he was “pleased and relieved” that Hsu was now being cared for at the hospital. “We will be getting him the best medical care available.”

“The strain he has been under during the last week has been enormous and, perhaps, unbearable,” Brosnahan said in a prepared statement.

On Wednesday, after Hsu failed to show up for his court hearing, Brosnahan said he was concerned about his client. But when asked whether Hsu posed a danger to himself, Brosnahan replied, “I have no basis for that speculation.”

Hsu was under armed guard at the hospital on federal charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office sought federal authorities’ help after Hsu failed to appear at Wednesday’s hearing to surrender his passport.

Hsu had been a fugitive for 15 years since skipping his sentencing on the grand theft conviction, transforming himself during that time into one of the Democratic Party’s more prolific donors.

The federal charges will be dropped once Hsu is returned to California to face sentencing in state court in the grand theft case, FBI spokesman Joseph Schadler said. A timetable for his return to California has not been established.

Hsu was facing up to three years in state prison and restitution payments after pleading no contest to a single count of grand theft in 1992 in what prosecutors described as a $1 million fraud scheme involving the supposed resale of latex gloves.

In fact, prosecutors said, Hsu was running a Ponzi scheme, in which early investors get returns on their money through funds that subsequent investors put in, and the later investors lose their shirts.

After he fled sentencing in San Mateo County, Hsu appears to have spent time in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Taiwan, before emerging in recent years as a New Yorker who donated generously to Democratic political campaigns, regularly attended fundraisers and was photographed with party leaders.

Hsu has given an estimated $600,000 to Democratic political campaigns since 2003, money that many candidates are now pledging to donate to charity.

Hsu surrendered to San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies last week after press accounts linked him to the grand theft case. He spent a few hours in county jail before posting $2 million bail and agreeing to relinquish his passport.

After Hsu failed to show up in court Wednesday, a judge issued a no-bail warrant for his arrest.

Chronicle correspondents Matt Bigelow and Daniel B. Honigman reported from Chicago, and staff writer John Coté reported from San Francisco. E-mail John Coté at

This article appeared on page A – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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Green is more than a clothing color at Nau (Pioneer Local)

August 22, 2007

Going green may never have looked so good as it does now. Nau, one of the newest clothing boutiques in Lincoln Park, is probably one of the most environmentally-friendly stores in a city where eco-savvy is in.

Using materials as diverse as organic cotton, PLA – polylactic acid, a biodegradable material derived from corn – and recycled soda bottles, Nau’s clothing is good both for people and the planet. And although the Portland, Oregon-based company prides itself on its outdoor apparel, much of its collection makes a bold statement in almost any setting.

The Chicago location at 2118 N. Halsted St,. which opened in April, is one of only four Nau stores nationwide. The other three are in Portland, Boulder, Colo., and Bellevue, Wash.

“Our clothing is used in four seasons, and Chicago is definitely a four-season market,” said Ian Yolles, vice-president of marketing at Nau. “Chicago also has a growing reputation as a city that cares about sustainability issues, so we thought it was a great city to expand to.”

Using fabrics as simple as organic cotton and merino wool to more scientific polyesters like PLA (polylactic acid, a corn-based derivative similar to polyester) to materials made from recycled soda bottles, Nau clothing looks and feels great.

“Nau clothing is a mixture of sustainability and style,” said Kevin Henry, coordinator of Columbia College’s Product Design program. “If you’re going to do something sustainable, you have to make it desirous. The folks at Nau are smart.”

But going green isn’t always cheap. A single pair of pants from Nau can cost almost $150, but Yolles says that while higher quality products necessitate higher prices, it all evens out in the end.

“One of the key attributes in any product when it comes to sustainable clothing is its durability, and I know this is counterintuitive, but while another product may be cheaper on its first purchase, our products are extremely durable and last a long time,” he said.

But while Henry believes that while higher costs are worth the bottom line, shoppers may need further convincing.

“There’s an implied obsolescence in fashion,” he said. “Companies say, ‘We need this garment to fall apart in two years to sell them another garment.’ You have to tell them to spend $150 and not look at it as a fashion statement, but as an investment in craft, quality and the environment, because if something is going to be thrown out in six months, it’s a waste of energy.”

In addition to higher-quality materials, if you notice the company’s use of more muted blues, greens and reds, well, that’s planned too, said Yolles.

“Before we designed a single style, we developed an extensive banned substance list, probably around 70 or so, which goes well beyond that of other apparel companies,” Yolles said. “There are seasonal color palates, but the next season they’re out of style. Even the way we’ve thought about our color palate is sustainable.”
Green from day one

In fall 2004, company brass from Patagonia and Nike sat down to plan Nau, and they ended up making one of the nation’s “greenest” companies.

“It was a rare opportunity to design, really from scratch, an entire company,” said Yolles. “Sustainability was at the forefront of our thought process from day one. Companies should have a much larger responsibility to the community than the singular pursuit of profit.”

Customers who walk into Nau are also in for a new retail experience. The shops, called “Webfronts,” blend in-store and online shopping experiences. One size of each clothing style is available to try on, and if a customer wishes to make an in-store purchase, they can. But Nau encourages customers to make transactions through Web-enabled booths and have the clothing shipped to their homes for a 10 percent discount.

Why the discount? It’s cheaper to house the clothing elsewhere, said Yolles. Stores can be smaller, making electric and heating bills cheaper. Also, because less clothing is actually in the stores, costs associated with store deliveries clothing are whittled down nearly to zero.

“If we were a traditional apparel retailer, our stores would have to be 3,400-to-4,500 square feet,” Yolles said. “Our Chicago store is 2,200 square feet, so theoretically, it’s about 40 percent more efficient than your traditional retail store, and that’s why we’re choosing to share our savings with customers.”

In addition, 5 percent of every purchase is donated to a charity of the customer’s choice in Nau’s Partner for Change program. There are 10 organizations to choose from, half of which work on social issues, half on the environment. And Windy City residents will be able to keep their money local, as six are in Chicago.

“I think Nau is fabulous,” said Jenna White, director of development at Christopher House, one of the local organizations. “We’re very thrilled to be working with Nau. It’s rare to see a corporation giving back like they do, and we’re hoping it’s a partnership that builds.”

(The story originally appeared in four Pioneer Press newspapers: Skyline, Booster and two editions of the News-Star)

Hip-hop My articles

Review: Talib Kweli – ‘Eardrum’

By Daniel B. Honigman

The Jewish golem parable is probably one of the last things you’d expect to read on, but here goes: In late-16th century Prague, an edict commanded that all Jews in the city were to be killed. A rabbi, desperate to protect and save his people, created a golem made of clay that became so powerful it couldn’t be controlled. The golem eventually had to be destroyed.

Hip-hop is this golem. It’s 2007, and hip-hop finds itself struggling to remain relevant as a result of its overexpansion. Over the last three decades, it has become so powerful that it’s turned on itself. It’s no longer an art form. It’s no longer empowering. It isn’t even exciting.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? We may be witnessing death of a musical genre in less than half a century after its inception. Hip-hop culture may be irreparably damaged and lost forever. It, as Nasir Jones would say, is beyond saving – it’s dead.

Perhaps not. Maybe hip-hop has one more chance to survive. Maybe hip-hop has an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type Terminator as its savior that’s all that stands between the genre and complete annihilation. Or homogenization.

This bothered at least one of hip-hop’s pioneers more than a decade ago. “People have to understand what you mean when you talk about hip-hop, hip-hop means the whole culture of the movement,” <strong>Africa Bambaataa mused in a 1996 interview with celebrated hip-hop historian and commentator Davey D. Getting hip-hop back to its roots would be no easy task, he continued, but it would be a simple one to start, at least. “We need to do what brother Malcolm X, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Minister Farrakhan and many others had suggested – read books.”

If the burden of representing hip-hop culture were placed on one with the highest hip-hop I.Q., few would be more qualified for the role than Talib Kweli. If it were based on hip-hop skill, the answer, more than likely, would still be Mr. Kweli. The son of two college professors, the Brooklyn, New York native Kweli is known for his smart, earnest rhymes – after all, it is his namesake. (“Talib,” an Arabic name, means “seeker” or “student,” and “Kweli” is a Ghanaian name meaning “of truth” or “of knowledge.”)

From his Rawkus Records days with DJ Hi-Tek and Mos Def, through collaborations with, Kanye West, The Roots, Madlib, Just Blaze and others, Kweli has earned the moniker of the highly skilled, conscious rapper. He tasted some mainstream success with the West-produced “Get By,” a single off his 2002 album “Quality” (Rawkus Records) and with several appearances on the now-defunct “Dave Chappelle’s Show.” His last album on Rawkus, “The Beautiful Struggle,” however, signaled the beginning of a short slump.

Kweli then signed with Koch Records, of which rapper 50 Cent (who lists Kweli as his favorite hip-hop artist and one of his primary influences) referred to as “an artist’s graveyard” earlier this year on New York’s HOT 97 radio station. While on Koch, Kweli released “Right About Now,” a mixtape album that dangerously tiptoed the thin line separating himself from irrelevancy. The album’s one redeeming quality may be that it left many fans eagerly awaiting the next new Kweli release, still hungry from the paltry offerings on “Right About Now.”

“Eardrum,” his highly anticipated new album, if anything, has successfully pushed him back into modern hip-hop’s upper crust. (If he had ever fallen from it, really.) Originally slated for release last November off his own label Blacksmith Records (Atlantic), Eardrum was pushed back several times as he continued to record new songs and tweak the tracklist. As a result, its release date was TBD for a while, much to his fans’ chagrin, then listed as July 24 and pushed back once more after the album was leaked on the Web. Along the way, he and acclaimed producer Madlib released the well-received “Liberation” mixtape.

With “Eardrum,” Kweli’s intentions are clear from the start – he’s not looking to create club hits anymore. He’s about soulful beats and adroit, meaningful rhymes. Right off the bat, he lets us know that his latest offering was worth the wait. Instead of opening the album off with a home run, he starts with a smooth single, the Madlib-produced “Everything Man,” a tune reminiscent of “Reflection Eternal”-era Kweli.

The album continues with several strong tracks (“N.Y. Weather Report,” “Say Something”), and like hip-hop in general, Kweli seems to find himself at a crossroads. On the Just Blaze-produced “Hostile Gospel Pt. 1,” arguably the album’s best track, he laments hip-hop’s commercialization, and it’s on this track that Kweli really shines. (“I start a conversation based on general observation/Hip-hop is not a nation, take it to population/n****s got a lot to say when locked inside the belly of Satan/awaitin’ trial, debatin’ how the hell I got placed in this system/Am I a victim or just a product of indoctrination?/They exploit it and use me like a movie with product placement/You hear the congregation – this is the hostile gospel/The truth is hard to swallow, it’ll leave you scarred tomorrow.”)

“In The Mood,” produced by Chicago native Kanye West, features renowned jazz vibraphonist and acid jazz innovator Roy Ayers, successfully blends the genres, (In one of the album’s last-minute changes, West himself also adds a solid verse.)

But it isn’t until “More Or Less” that Kweli battles his hip-hop demons and offers a solution. (“More originality/less biting off ‘Pac and Big/more community activism/less pigs/more Blacksmith and Def Jux/ less Geffen and the rest ‘cause the rest suck, they got the shit all messed up”) “Electrify,” a Pete Rock-produced track on the leaked Eardrum album, unfortunately didn’t make its way to the final product. However, this is one of the album’s only missteps.

There have been several critically acclaimed rappers whose music has fallen on deaf ears. Kool G Rap, Big L, AZ, Jeru the Damaja – these are all artists for whom good reviews and a couple of bucks would get a ride on the El. Fortunately for Kweli, this album won’t fall on deaf ears, and hopefully for Kweli, critical acclaim will translate into record sales.

Kweli will be able to get on that El. The rest of us can only pray that the rest of hip-hop follows him on board.