Chavez Takes the Gloves Off Against RCTV

by Rick Rockwell

Next month, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela plans to unplug that country’s oldest TV network.

Many in the U.S. could care less. Some who do care will say this reinforces Chavez’ image as a Latin American despot. Others who may know a bit more, may remember that television network, RCTV, openly aided Chavez’ opposition in 2002 during a failed coup. And a few others may know of RCTV’s intimate ties to powerful political and corporate interests in the U.S. and how RCTV is part of a conglomerate that has operations not just in Caracas but also Miami.

So the story of Chavez’ move to close RCTV is much more complex than some would paint it and it does have direct ties to power and politics in the U.S.

But until this past week, most official statements from the Venezuelan government about the plans to remove RCTV’s license to broadcast have danced delicately or defensively around the main issues.

For instance, when Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, Venezuela's ambassador to the U.S. came to American University in March, he quickly changed subjects when the topic of RCTV arose (Please see: "Venezuala: Politics, Propaganda & Polarization"). On the debut episode of Latin Pulse, this author was corrected and chided by Dr. Clara Martini-Briggs, a public health official from Venezuela, who is currently a visiting professor at the University of California-Berkeley. The offense was not couching the RCTV issue in the proper terms. Dr. Martini-Briggs was careful to use the official government line at the time that the issue had nothing to do with the 2002 coup but rather the government had simply decided to let the license lapse because the network wasn’t fulfilling its public service mission. That, of course, was a convenient smokescreen for not wanting to discuss the heart of the controversy.

Here’s what’s at issue: If a television network aids those who would overthrow a president, should it be shut down? Does shutting down that network constitute a breach of free speech rights? And if so, are there other solutions to punishing the network for its involvement in a failed coup?

Of course, few are putting it that directly. But this past week, Chavez dropped all pretenses and his government went on the offensive.

This was likely precipitated by two events. First, thousands turned out in Caracas to protest against having RCTV’s broadcast signal turned off. RCTV is a cultural icon in Venezuela. Only the elderly remember a time when it wasn’t around. To some, this is not a political issue but a cultural issue. They want their telenovelas and other programs and they don’t think the government should be removing those.

The second event: Marcel Granier the chief executive officer of Grupo Phelps (also known as Empresas 1 BC) which owns RCTV went to Europe to lobby the European Union for support against Chavez. The reaction to his efforts was mixed, with at least one Spanish leftist announcing the EU should support Chavez.

Not coincidentally, Isaías Rodríguez, Venezuela’s Attorney General went to court last week seeking to punish RCTV for its involvement in the failed putsch. So much for the idea there were no ties between the license issue and the failed coup.

And there was more fallout too last week. The Inter-American Court for Human Rights began moving to enjoin the network closure saying it violates basic tenets of free speech. Also, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a special report calling for Chavez to desist, and layed out a eight-point plan for resolution of the issue.

Chavez’ response: "People who believe they can put pressure on me by appealing to international organizations, foreign governments, and the evil court of this and that, with demonstrations, forget it! You are not going to put pressure on me; with nothing and for nothing. Just accept it."

Stay tuned for more fireworks now that the gloves are off.

(The photo of President Chavez is from the Venezuelan government and in the public domain.)

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Giuliani, Obama & The Politics of Fear

by Laura Snedeker

“If one of them gets elected, it sounds to me like we’re going on the defense,” presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani said of his Democratic opponents. “We’re going to cut back on electronic surveillance. We’re going to cut back on interrogation. We’re going to cut back, cut back, cut back, and we’ll be back in our pre-September 11 mentality of being on defense."

Rising to the challenge, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) released a statement condemning Giuliani’s indictment of the Democratic Party.

“Rudy Giuliani today has taken the politics of fear to a new low and I believe Americans are ready to reject those kinds of politics," the senator and Democratic presidential hopeful noted.

Pretty words, Barack, but I must disagree. It’s nice to think that Americans won’t get fooled again by Republican warnings of imminent annihilation upon a Democratic victory, but it’s more likely that Americans are fed up with a corrupt and incompetent administration rather than prepared to do away with the “politics of fear” as a fixture of debate.

Remember that back in 2003, 69 percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in 9/11. As of just last year, 59 percent believed that if Iran were developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) it would use them against the United States, with 80 percent convinced Iran would hand them over to terrorists.

That neither a secular Iraqi regime nor a Shi’ite theocracy has much in common with Sunni extremists doesn’t seem to matter. And never mind that nuclear weapons are mainly used as a deterrent anyway.

Obama, for all his (relative) youth, is not really so naïve as to think that media manipulation and the American embrace of ignorance are not factors in politics. The idea that Americans will reject “the politics of fear” is extremely flattering. Obama casts himself as both a strong, realistic politician and as a man who respects the intelligence of American citizens.

Obama should know something about manipulating public opinion. A political nobody when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, he became the party's rising star and the media’s golden boy. He’s served less than one term in the Senate, and yet he’s going to bring America together again, as if division were the problem itself and not the result of unpopular policies. Countries are not divided for petty reasons.

In an interview with The Chicago Tribune in 2004, Obama said that if economic sanctions did not persuade Iran to give up its (hypothetical) WMD program, his “instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran." His willingness to attack Iran has been all but forgotten by most liberals.

“We know we can win this war based on shared purpose, not the same divisive politics that question your patriotism if you dare to question failed policies that have made us less secure,” Obama said later.

This sort of uplifting, faux-idealistic speech is a placeholder for an articulated policy. What is our shared purpose? Victory in the so-called War on Terror? The defeat of al-Qaeda? The capture of Osama bin Laden? The complete and total elimination of terrorism anywhere and everywhere in the entire world?

Giuliani’s implication that the Democrats would make America less safe is despicable, as is his tacit endorsement of domestic spying and interrogation. We have a choice between a mystery man and an autocrat. Is it any wonder that we vote against politicians and not for them?

(The cartoon is from radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free.)

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Bring It On, FCC!

by Rick Rockwell

This week, pushed by Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declared war on cable TV. Well, in a manner of speaking.

Backtrack to 2004: 39 Senators instruct the FCC to study violence on cable television and to issue a report. This week, the FCC finally produced the report and no surprise, the Senate’s Commerce Committee got what it wanted: a blueprint for regulation and ultimately censorship of cable.

Do we really need to give the FCC more work? Are they that bored in their shiny building over on 12th Street in the Southwest quadrant of D.C.?

Certainly, the FCC is doing such a bang-up job when it comes to regulating over-the-air television and radio, why not give them more to do? They’ve cleaned up all the problems with violence on network television, right? Or did I miss something?

There’s something to be said for broadcasters using restraint while borrowing the public airwaves. But cable is different. First, cable and satellite paid to create their own networks, unlike the broadcast airwaves (or as they were once called: the ether), which courts have ruled belong to the public.

Does Congress have the right to lay out new regulations for the vertically-integrated cable industry which could use closer scrutiny? Yes, but this isn’t the way to give consumers more control over the media conglomerates. What this will do is let the federal government mess up cable in the same way it has the regular airwaves, all in the name of family friendly fare. At least the courts have sanely ruled in the past (and likely will in the future too) that consumers who pay for cable in effect give their permission for all the violence and sex that come with cable or satellite television. Paying your bill is your consent that you agree the product is worth it.

So what is all this about if this study results in regulations which are doomed to be set aside by the courts anyway and may not meet a First Amendment challenge to boot? Sure, this will tie the cable conglomerates up in court for years and plenty of lawyers will get work. And perhaps the cable firms will want to pass those legal costs back to consumers, by the way. Torturing the cable firms is not the way to get them to provide better service.

Of course, this is really about politics. Can that be far behind, if it originates in D.C.?

Back in 2004, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was the chair of the Commerce Committee and his favorite cable topic is getting the industry to give consumers a choice to pick channels a la carte, instead of using the current tiered system. McCain’s idea actually makes sense. The average consumer regularly views only 16-20 channels but pays for much more. Most solutions to controlling violent content call for instituting an a la carte system. So a potential bill (being drawn up by Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia) is actually a Trojan Horse for McCain’s idea. And by the way this gives him cover with the family values folks in the Republican party, who he has been assiduously courting in the presidential race.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), another presidential candidate, is also a proponent of a la carte and more oversight of cable. He has argued that folks on the religious right can’t abide much of what is cablecast now but they have no choice but to pay for channels they don’t like in the tiered system. How else will they watch The 700 Club, which comes into most homes via cable?

So cable regulation – and ultimately censorship – is really about appealing to conservative voters for politicians in both parties. Nothing like a little pandering for votes while turning bureaucrats from the FCC loose to tamper with your favorite programs. Can you think of a worse solution to fix the ills of television?

(The graphic is from radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free.)

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iVoryTowerz Radio: Non, Je Regrette Rien

This week's podcast gets quirkier as it goes along, which is almost normal for this rock radio show. We make our usual pitch for radio to reform and actually program some music for adults. But why wait for over-the-air radio to change when podcasts are already providing what people want? This week's podcast features music ranging back to 1960, but also includes material getting critical raves now, such as Nine Inch Nails and Amy Winehouse.

(To download this podcast, click here.)


“I'm 18” by Alice Cooper
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “All For You” by Black Label Society
"The Warning" by Nine Inch Nails
“I Feel You" by Depeche Mode
"Fascination Street" by The Cure
Jeff’s New Wave: “Lucky Number” by Lene Lovich
"Non, Je Regrette Rien" (altered) by Edith Piaf
"Just a Little Loving" by Dusty Springfield
“You Know I'm No Good” by Amy Winehouse
“Three Cool Cats” by Ry Cooder (request)
"Supply and Demand“ by Amos Lee
"You Just May Be the One” by The Monkees

"America" by Simon & Garfunkel
“The L&N Doesn't Stop Here Anymore” by Michelle Shocked
"Louisiana 1927" by Randy Newman
Cover Me: "Circle Game" by Buffy Sainte Marie

(Mp3 Runs - 1:09:48; 64 MB.) Program contains explicit lyrics.

(Photo by Monkey [20After4] of Springfield, MO via Flickr, and used with a Creative Commons license.)

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The Psychobilly Primer, Part I

by Hilary Crowe

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the word “psychobilly.” I was bored, and it was a sticky Florida summer Sunday night when a friend called, the only other punk in the neighborhood.

“Hey, wanna see a psychobilly show? It’s only five bucks. At the Pegasus.”

Since she was calling from her car parked in my driveway, I didn’t have time to refuse, and when I asked her what “psychobilly” meant she just shrugged. It soon became obvious, however, even as we watched other Pegasus patrons smoke and cackle in the parking lot, that we were in for a treat that we would not soon forget. (The Pegasus Lounge is a seedy bar in an iffy neighborhood in Tampa – removed enough to feel like I wasn’t still a high schooler, but close enough for me to leave ten minutes before curfew and make it home on time.) Since then, the genre has been home to many of my favorite bands and provided a much needed escape from the pressure cooker of school.

Here’s what every self-respecting music nerd, punk, or trivia maven should know:

Psychobilly reflects the melding of 1970s punk style with 1950s rockabilly chord progressions, in Dead Boys-meets-Buddy Holly fashion. The genre draws lyrical inspiration from vintage horror flicks, violence, and pop culture taboos. Typically dealing with superlatives and excesses (sex, drugs, and rock and roll), lyrical topics are narrow, apolitical and mainly concern pinups, hook-ups and breakups. In short, psychobilly bands peddle questionable fables with lewd and lascivious flair. However, unabashed sexuality has always been a part of rock and roll; psychobilly simply distills such energy and influence from organic rockabilly beats and punk’s snarling attitude to mix a much needed, effectively sobering shot of primal hedonism that suspends one’s sense of propriety more fully with each twang, bang, and pluck per minute.

Chuck Berry, Link Wray, and Jerry Lee Lewis are early influences, but it was Screamin’ Jay Hawkins who inspired the forbidden, ghoulish, and certainly voodoo-feel in psychobilly construction with his only hit, 1956’s I Put a Spell on You. Alice Cooper serendipitously aided the birth of The Cramps when he and a friend (the man who would become the Cramps' vocalist Lux Interior) picked up then-hitchhiker, soon-to-be guitarist Poison Ivy. Lux Interior and Poison Ivy soon founded a band in Sacramento in 1972, but relocated first to Akron, Ohio and finally to CBGB’s in New York. The band whet the scene’s appetite for the vampy, sleazy sounds of urban decay, especially with albums Songs The Lord Taught Us (1980) – which later inspired Songs We Taught The Cramps (2000), a collection of the band’s influences – and Flamejob (1994).

Punks with a penchant for the dark side then gathered their telecasters and went to work. The Misfits remain a large influence; many bands today include at least one cover from their seminal album Static Age (1978) in their sets. The Demented Are Go injected more sleaze and speed into Cramps' songs with In Sickness and In Health (1986), as did the Nekromantix’s Demons are a Girl’s Best Friend (1996) and Mad Sin’s Amphigory (2000). Tiger Army’s eponymous 1999 debut is also noteworthy.

(For the rest of this essay, please scroll down, or check out Part II.)

(Photo of The Cramps performing live by jorge.hipster of Madrid, Spain via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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The Psychobilly Primer, Part II

(This is the second part of an essay about psychobilly by Hilary Crowe. Please see Part I, to begin.)

The genre, however, has not produced many popular artists, as psychobilly garners more of a cult following, as bands pride themselves on exaggerated stage performances rather than flawless record production, as my friend and I so haplessly stumbled upon. The thrill of psychobilly lies in such shows, with the genre’s telltale haphazardly played, artfully abused upright bass. While it may seem that the vocalist, channeling Elvis on speed, holds the reins, the performance quite literally hinges on the bass. Manic bassists twirl, flip, and, balancing ever so gracefully, hop on and off the instrument all while pounding away at the strings in time with the rollicking drums and guitar. These sets, as suggested by the genre’s subject matter, encourage an uninhibited ethos and foster a Dionysian refuge for fans, even those underage.

At shows, psychobilly’s roots are instantly revealed by bands’ sartorial statements, which command attention and respect in their own right. The predominantly male musicians wear tight, black leather or cigarette pants, and white tees with cuffed sleeves or bold button downs (anything from stars and bars to Betty Page prints). Jet-black Mohawk-meets-Pompadours are the cherry on top, begging the question “What is your day job?” or, more pertinently, states “I only venture out at night.” Women of the psychobilly persuasion are equally enthralled with presentation, and can be found tottering around the stage’s perimeter in towering stilettos, cigarette in hand or pursed between heavily crimsoned lips. Betty Page- and Marilyn Monroe-inspired haircuts, dark rimmed eyes, and boldly colored polka dot or animal printed pencil skirts and corsets are the norm (I’m convinced that psychobilly women are the enduring avant-garde fashionistas of any age), as are the pinup- and Vegas-themed tattoos on both genders. All of this creates a costume/Halloween party ambiance that allows concert-goers to completely drop out of reality and tune into the fantastic for the night. (Ever seen Pulp Fiction? The part where John Travolta and Uma Thurman go for a burger and are served by a waiter impersonating Buddy Holly (as played by Steve Buscemi)? It’s akin to that, only in a bar. Quentin Tarantino can thank psychobilly for keeping that scene relevant and painfully cool.

The best place to take in such a spectacle would be any seedy bar in any metropolitan area, especially Los Angeles, the genre’s unofficial capital. Though touring infrequently, the Nekromantix, Tiger Army, Koffin Kats, and The Young Werewolves are mainstays on the current psychobilly circuit, but one’s best bet in joining this crowd is to do a little digging and find a local psychobilly show. With such an aggressive audio assault and immaculate image, the genre tends to intimidate newcomers, but psychobilly more than any other genre is about life, liberty, and the guiltless pursuit of happiness, and as such is sure to make any sometime or fulltime hedonist feel right at home.

(To read this entry from the beginning, please see Part I.)

(Photo of psychobilly enthusiasts from Fancy Speed Queen of Cincinnati, OH, via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see The Cramps and their video for "The Ultra Twist," please check below.)

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Photo Essay: Antonio Parker @ HR-57

(This week photographer and music critic Stephen Tringali ventures to D.C.'s top jazz club HR-57 for a sampling of Antonio Parker and his band. Steve's photos show the Antonio Parker Quartet at their best but also give you a slice of the club's ambiance.)

The Antonio Parker Quartet takes the stage at HR-57 and sets the mood.

With his sax, Parker paints in the colors of a jazz composition that blends in well with the club's artistic vibe.

Hank Appleman (piano) and Matt Grayson (bass) lay down a sturdy musical bed for Parker's soloing.

Drummer Nathan Jolly adds some style with his touch on the cymbals while the rest of the quartet jams.

Parker takes center stage for a solo.

The Antonio Parker Quartet will return to HR-57 this week on April 27.

(All photos by Stephen Tringali. These photos may be reused with a proper link back to this site and a Creative Commons attribution license.)

(For a full review of HR-57, please see Caitlin Servilio's "HR-57: Resolved to be D.C.'s Jazz Outpost.")

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How the Media Reframe Mass Murder

by Laura Snedeker

When’s the movie coming out? That was my first thought when “MASSACRE at Virginia Tech” flashed across the screen Wednesday night on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360. It sounds like the title of the type of cheesy, over-hyped TV movie that’s so popular in memorializing disasters. When all we need is quiet remembrance, we’re given flashy graphics and platitudes about the fragility of human life.

The media already have their main character: Brooding, depressed, silent Cho Seung Hui, the man who never spoke in class but frightened other students with his very presence and attitude. The man everyone knew had a problem…but who no one could do anything about.

Cho was obviously a sick and disturbed young man, but there’s great potential for the media’s attention to these bizarre aspects of his character to bury the national conversation on gun control beneath the psychology of mass murder.

We don’t look at serial killers the same way we look at mass murderers. Serial killers are fascinating because their actions seem so far removed from what any of us could imagine doing, and because they often elude capture for months or years. They are dangerous, bizarre, and sexy. Rarely do they inspire the same kind of fear and outrage that senseless mass murder does. People like Richard Ramirez and Charles Manson are celebrities, fit for prime-time TV, Geraldo Rivera's latest cable venture and Larry King Live. We may be angry at police officers for not catching them sooner or amazed and impressed at the killer’s ability to confuse law enforcement.

Mass murderers, like Cho, inspire only anger, confusion, and grief, prompted by media that are fixed on the mental state of the killer. When they ask “How could this happen?” they aren’t looking for answers about the availability of guns. Like 9/11 and Columbine, the killings at Virginia Tech happened within a short time frame and left witnesses. The victims are mourned; the police officers and surviving students turned into heroes. The tools used to kill are soon forgotten.

Perhaps the fascination with mass murderers, like the Columbine killers and Cho, stems from the fact that these people were, like their victims, young boy-next-door types. Unlike serial killers whose actions and fetishes are so depraved and who seem to get sexual pleasure from their intricate murders, young mass murderers are too much like the rest of us for comfort. Americans fear mass murderers in a way that they don’t fear serial killers. No one wants to live next to Jeffery Dahmer, but it’s more frightening to imagine living next to the quiet man who just snaps one day.

Even as America mourns, we’re already thinking of new ways to monitor students’ behavior. Maybe this was one case where university officials should have stepped in, but it does no one any service to see potential mass murderers lurking in every moody, quiet youth. Cho was an extreme case, but as a country we have a nasty habit of extending preventative measures far beyond their original intent. Surveilling terrorists becomes a national spying database, medicating the hyperactive and the chronically depressed becomes drugging the merely energetic or sad, and monitoring the truly psychopathic becomes harassment of the simply stressed and annoyed.

As television coverage of the tragedy continued this week, one CNN anchor announced an upcoming segment discussing the Virginia Tech massacre in the context of Columbine and the Oklahoma City Bombing, and suggested that all three were terrorist incidents. There are certainly parallels. But terrorism is “politically motivated violence” according to the U.S. Criminal Code, distinguished from simple mass murder like Monday’s events in that terrorists intentionally target civilians to pressure a third party.

Terrorism, like mass murder, strikes fear into people’s hearts. But unless Cho’s ramblings against the rich, privileged, and humanity (wrongly dubbed by the media as a "manifesto") in general is political, we should not confuse the actions of disturbed killers with the political motives for terrorism, especially if we are expected to take either seriously.

(Photo by shizhao of Beijing, China, who attended a candlelight vigil for the victims on the Virginia Tech campus this week. The photo was obtained via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

For other posts this week on this topic, please see:

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NBC Takes the Bait from Virginia Tech’s Madman

by Rick Rockwell

Many people compare the media to vultures, picking through the aftermath of tragedy like the bones of a carcass. This week, NBC News gave that view credence when that news organization broadcast excerpts from a multimedia package sent by Cho Seung Hui, the mass murderer responsible for the killings at Virginia Tech.

And, of course, as is typical in the age of sensation, the rest of the media pack fell into place by repeating and replaying the quotes from the killer. The theory here must be nothing sells like excess.

Cho sent NBC an exclusive by taking time in the midst of his bloody spree to mail them the package. NBC told its viewers the contents supposedly gave some insight into the carnage Cho had left behind.

NBC was faced with a dilemma. Hand the material over to law enforcement and the news organization essentially gives away an exclusive to its competitors. Law enforcement is under no restraint from releasing the material to others. Keep the material to evaluate and release later and the organization would run into a public relations buzzsaw about how they may have impeded the investigation. (Although what really is there to do now but debate whether the university responded appropriately and to keep asking why madness erupts into violence?)

But NBC must have enough lawyers and experienced journalists to know there were other options. The organization could have chosen not to broadcast or repeat a word that the killer had sent to them. NBC could have chosen not to broadcast his pictures or his macabre ramblings. Instead, when they broadcast the multimedia excerpts, they became complicit in Cho’s death dance.

In the material sent to NBC, Cho expounds on how he was influenced by the Columbine killers. The cult of mass murder that has grown up in this culture is a sick cancer and the way the media play the sensation game just feeds that illness. Cho would not be admiring the deranged Columbine killers if their tapes and quotes hadn't been glorified by the media.

Some day another mass murderer will inevitably be quoting and honoring Cho in the same way. And the cycle will repeat itself anew. NBC gets the credit for propelling Cho's hate into the media maelstrom.

Yes, NBC merely showed us the evil truth. Some would say that's the job of the media while covering such stories. And The Washington Post and National Public Radio (NPR), among many others, followed NBC, trying to have it both ways, by repeating the story and then questioning the judgment of how NBC decided to release the material.

Make up your own mind about NBC’s decision by chasing this link, if you must, but you won’t see Cho’s picture or his video ramblings posted here. There is no good reason that sane adults need to listen to the last words of a mass killer, especially when all they do is advance his cause and infamy. Some argue such broadcasts give closure to the families of the victims and those who survived, but the reports from Blacksburg are mixed. Some media outlets, such as FOX News, are leading the way against further glorification.

What is certain is that a madman hypnotized NBC News with an exclusive and the result was America’s most popular news network became a showplace for his sick ramblings. Or maybe the network wasn’t hypnotized at all. Maybe some in the media really are happy to reap what a murderer may sow.

(The graphic is from radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free.)

(For another take on the Virginia Tech massacre, please see: "Bang, Bang We're Dead.")

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iVoryTowerz Radio: Seventeen

This week's podcast features a special tribute to B.B. King, a discussion about the differences between ska and reggae, and an exploration of the sexual psyches of both heavy metal and new wave artists. In other words, expect the unexpected, as is usually the case on this musical trip.

(This podcast is no longer available for download.)


“Down by the Water” by P.J. Harvey
Jeff’s New Wave: “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors
"Stray Cat Strut" by The Brian Setzer Orchestra (request)
“Dashboard" by Modest Mouse
"The Crane Wife 3" by The Decemberists
Cover Me: "Dandelion" by Miranda Lee Richards
"When Will I Be Loved" by Linda Ronstadt
"Baby" by Rachel Sweet
“Dancing with Joey Ramone” by Amy Rigby
“Volcano Girls” by Veruca Salt
"One Step Beyond“ by Madness
"I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley & The Wailers

"Everyday I Get the Blues" by B.B. King
“Help the Poor” by B.B. King & Eric Clapton
"It's My Own Fault" by B.B. King & Jimi Hendrix
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Seventeen” by Winger

(Mp3 Runs - 1:17:32; 71 MB.)

(Photo by DMBFreakNo41 of Waterbury, CT via Flickr, and used with a Creative Commons license.)

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Photo Essay: Another Black Cat Night

(Photographer and music critic Stephen Tringali returned to D.C.'s Black Cat this past week for another triple-header: Canada's Junior Boys; Seattle's Aqueduct; and Australia's Youth Group. His photos show the passion of the bands whose sounds range from electronica to power pop.)

The Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan who handles the band's vocals and guitars is known for his vulnerable tenor which tops their electronica and new wave.

Keyboardist Matthew Didemus may have most of the secrets to the Junior Boys' sound and their steamy electronic stew stored in his laptop.

The founder of Aqueduct, David Terry sings passionately over his band's synth-pop stylings.

Guitarist Matt Nader of Aqueduct also hits a note while on backing vocals.

Toby Martin of Youth Group has a nose for balancing both vocals and his guitar, but not always at the same time.

Guitarist Cameron Emerson-Elliott of Youth Group tears off a searing solo.

(All photos by Stephen Tringali. These photos may be reused with a proper link back to this site and a Creative Commons attribution license.)

(For another concert photo essay from The Black Cat, please see, "Photo Essay: The Black Cat Menagerie.")

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Bang, Bang We're Dead

by Jeff Siegel

Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death, and we didn't do anything to stop the violence. John Lennon was shot to death, and we didn't do anything to stop the violence. Thirteen people were shot to death at Columbine, and we didn't do anything to stop the violence. Every day, about 30 Americans are shot to death, and we don't do anything to stop the violence.*

So, why, unfortunately, should we expect the horror in Virginia to stop the violence?

We're addicted to guns and solving our problems with guns and proving our manhood with guns. Or, as the Chicago newspaperman Mike Royko wrote with sad irony, after Bobby Kennedy was shot to death, "Because the right to shoot at you is what I mean by liberty."

And, because it is an addiction, we don't know how badly we're hooked. At this minute, there are probably hundreds of people reading this who are ready to call me names, to question my parentage, to mock my manhood, because I'm telling a truth they don't want to hear. Just like a drunk doesn't want to hear that they are a drunk.

I don't even argue with them anymore, because you can't argue with an addict. Statistics are useless. Pleading is useless. Begging is useless. You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped, and we don't want to be helped. We love our guns, and we love how they make us feel. It's not our fault that people are shot to death. It's always someone else's fault – the gun control liberals, the biased news media, the federal government.

But, in the end, it's okay, because we have our guns. And, regardless of anything else that happens, no matter how many people are shot to death, no matter how many tragedies we're forced to witness, that will make it better. Just like a bottle always make the drunk feel better.

*Statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control for 2002 show more than 31 Americans are killed daily by firearms.

(The graphic is from
radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free.)

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Abstinence by Any Name is Still Silly

by Jeff Siegel

In 1597, a fellow named Shakespeare published a play called Romeo and Juliet. I mention this not to plump up my academic credentials (it’s actually one of my least favorite of Shakespeare’s), but to suggest that those in the Bush Administration who are responsible for the president’s teenage abstinence policy read it. Alternately, if the language is a bit difficult for some of them, I’d suggest the Franco Zeffirelli film version, with the absolutely ravishing Olivia Hussey.

If they do, they’ll discover something that has apparently escaped them until now: Teenagers want to have sex, and they want to do it as often as possible. In addition, telling them not to have sex doesn’t really mean a whole lot.

I realize this should not be huge news, especially to everyone who used to be a teenager. In fact, a just-released study says the same thing, making it one of the first, rigorous scientific studies of the abstinence policy. But the Bushies, in that cute way they have of firmly refusing to believe anything they don’t want to believe, have dismissed the study. Harry Wilson, a top official in the Department of Health and Human Services, told The Washington Post that that the administration has no intention of changing funding priorities in light of the results.

This would be funny, of course, except for the money we’re spending on a failed policy: $176 million in federal cash annually and millions more in state and local matching grants. That money would go a long way, for example, in adding more than 100,000 Texas children to a federally-sponsored program called CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), which provides health insurance for working class families and which some GOP legislators seem to hate as much as they hate pointy-headed liberals.

This is not to say that sex education is not important, because it is. Teenagers need to know about making babies and condoms and sexually transmitted diseases. But telling a teenager not to have sex wasn’t productive in Shakespeare’s time, it wasn’t productive when I was that age (though wanting to have sex was not the same thing as having it), and it’s not any more productive today.

Teach kids to make intelligent decisions, and they’ll make intelligent decisions. Tell kids what not to do, and they’ll do what they’re not supposed to do every time. Isn’t that one of the first rules of being a good parent?

(Promotional photo of Romeo and Juliet from Paramount Pictures.)

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