Amateur Sovietologists can pick the experts' brains at a couple of events today. The City Club of Chicago's lunchtime lecture, The Breakup of the Soviet Union and the Prospects for the Future of the Commonwealth, will feature physicist Dmitry Mikheyev, who spent most of the 70s in a Soviet labor camp after being convicted of dissent and attempted defection. He was thrown out of the country in 1979 and has since made a name for himself here as a Soviet-affairs analyst and commentator; his new book, The Rise and Fall of Gorbachev, is due out soon. He'll be on the dais with the Kellogg Graduate School of Management's Douglas Lamont, a specialist in international business. The affair starts at 11:30 at the Top of the Plaza, 151 N. Michigan. It's $30, $25 for club members, and $20 for senior citizens. Tickets are usually available at the door, or make reservations at 565-6500.
After that, you'll have a little time before the Illinois Humanities Council dinner featuring R.C. Longworth, until recently the Trib's chief European correspondent. He'll talk about his time on the continent and in particular about covering the coup against Gorbachev. Cocktails are at 6, dinner's at 7, and Longworth hits the stage at about 8. It's at the Casino, 195 E. Delaware. Tickets are $60, and reservations are required; call 939-5212.
White Sox fans might want to check in at the first annual Soxfest at the Hyatt Regency, 151 E. Wacker. The weekend-long affair will introduce new manager Gene Lamont at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, which immediately follows the singing of the national anthem tonight at 5:25. Things run till 9 tonight, from 11 to 7 tomorrow, and from 10 to 3 Sunday, with pitching cages, dunk tanks, seminars with managers and broadcasters, an autograph session with players (no charge!), a video room, a women-only session, and lots more. Admission is $8 a day, $15 for the weekend. Call 616-1991 for more.
The biggest bluegrass act since Flatt and Scruggs is wunderkind Alison Krauss, who calls herself "a fiddle player who happens to sing" though both her fiddlin' and her voice have been widely hailed. The 20-year-old songwriter has been recording for a third of her life, and last year she grabbed the Grammy for best bluegrass recording. She'll play two shows tonight with her band, Union Station, at 7 and 10, at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 909 W. Armitage. Local heroes Special Consensus open. Tickets are $11-$15. Call 525-7793 for details.
Joan and Anne Frankel, the effervescent hostesses at the onetime Halsted Street kitsch emporium Goodies, are back. Their new store, Dorby Magoo and Company, is at 2744 N. Lincoln; they're promising a similar collection of novelties, toys, and gifts, plus private party rooms and a photo booth. Their grand opening is today 1 to 5; it's free. Call 935-2663 .
It sounds like a bad dream--a Velcro Dancing Contest with Larry "Bud" Melman as emcee. But it'll come true tonight at Ka-Boom!, 747 N. Green. The sport, as we understand it, involves a wall covered with Velcro, a trampoline, and a Velcro suit; the idea is to propel yourself onto the wall "at rakish angles." (This may not be an event for the zaftig.) First prize is a weekend in New York, though on what grounds the performances will be judged is not clear. (Cling?) Onetime Letterman regular and human spud Melman will indeed be there. The fun starts at 11 PM; cover is $10. Call 243-8600 for details.
One of a series of events held in conjunction with the Chicago Smelts' Swim Your Heart Out AIDS benefit this year takes place tonight at Club Lower Links, 954 W. Newport. The Smelts, "Chicago's (mostly) gay and lesbian swim team," will hold their annual swimathon in February to raise money for Open Hand Chicago and the Chicago Women's AIDS Project. Tonight Theater Oobleck, country and western duo the Texas Rubies, and members of Maestro Subgum and the Whole (led by Subgum's scrofulous impresario Lefty Fizzle) will donate their talents to the cause. The show costs $6; it begins at 8. The Smelts will be taking pledges and selling T-shirts. Call 248-5238 for info.
Al Jourgensen used to be a local record-store clerk; now with pal Paul Barker he's the scary and hugely successful industrial rock band Ministry. The band's new single is "Jesus Built My Hotrod," which uses imagery from sources as diverse as Flannery O'Connor and your average monster-truck show over a phalanx of buzz-saw guitars and vocals by Gibby Haynes, the lead singer of the Butthole Surfers. Ministry will be feted with a record-release party tonight at Club 950, 950 W. Wrightwood. There'll be lots of music, along with giveaways from both Sire Records and the Union Grove Dragway in Wisconsin. It's free; the fun starts at 9. Call 929-8955 for more.
Lots of literary happenings today: Mark Salzman--who told of his vaguely Indiana Jones-like adventures as a student in the People's Republic of China in Iron and Silk--will read from his new book, The Laughing Sutra, at noon at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington in Evanston. There's no charge; call 708-866-0309 for details.
Northwestern prof Lacey Baldwin Smith will lecture on his book Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty--which scholar A.L. Rowse called "quite simply the best book on Henry VIII that I have ever read . . . as convincing as it is compelling, absolutely authentic, marvelously readable"--in the Video Theater of the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State, at 5:30. It's free. Call 747-4740.
We don't know about you, but we've had an awful lot of problems with ceramics fracturing at high temperatures lately. So we're relieved to hear that the Illinois Institute of Technology has arranged a talk today on Dynamic Fracture: Percolation, Avalanches, and Scaling by materials science expert Harvey Scher, a senior researcher for British Petroleum. Actually, this subject does have an important real-world application--the development of ceramics that don't fracture at high temperatures could help to make gas engines more efficient. Scher talks in room 115 of IIT's Wishnick Hall, 3255 S. Dearborn, at 3:30. It's free. Call 567-3430 for more.
The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park is closing off a four-part series on Papa tonight with a look into giving your Hemingway collection some depth. Collecting Hemingway is a talk by Michael Seefeldt that'll include how to distinguish first editions, looks at some famous book jackets, and stories about various writers and publishers. Seefeldt's the owner of Oak Park's rare-book store Classics. He'll be talking tonight at the Hemingway Museum, 200 N. Oak Park Ave., at 7:30; admission is $3. Call 708-848-2222 or 708-848-1500.
Three videos on the Black Panther Party and its systematic destruction by the FBI are on the agenda at the Center for New Television tonight. Power to the People, directed by Peter Kuttner, features present-day interviews with people reflecting on the party's legacy. Kuttner's Right On: A Friend Remembers Fred Hampton features Jorja English Palmer talking about her work with party chairman Hampton, who was offed by the Chicago police in 1969. The FBI's War on Black America, by Deb Ellis and Dennis Mueller, is a reputedly hard-hitting look at the bureau's COINTELPRO attacks on the Panthers. They all show at the center, 1440 N. Dayton, starting at 7. It's $5, $3 for members. Call 951-6868 for details.
Lower Links' Out-of-Towners Series kicks off tonight with performance art from New Yorkers Linda Mancini, a dancer and performer with a degree in psycholinguistics, and Todd Alcott, a prolific playwright (Dead House at the End of the Street, One Neck) and monologuist who's done work for PBS and performed across the country. Lower Links is at 954 W. Newport; the show's at 8:30. It's $7, $5 for students. Call 248-5238 for more.