A Brief Survey of Punk, Part II

(Editor's Note: This is the second of five parts -- to see part I, click here)

by Jeff Siegel

It is not unusual for youth to be alienated, and the punks are not unique in this respect. The proto-punk, after all, was Elvis Presley – dressed in leathers with swooshed hair and preaching the gospel of sexual freedom and racial justice. That none of his songs expressly said those things didn’t matter. It was Elvis’ attitude that counted, and in the U.S. in the 1950s, where his hip gyrations were so taboo that they were censored whenever he appeared on TV, attitude counted a lot.

What made the punks different was that their songs, both words and music, were as explosive as their attitude. When Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias sang "Kill" (1977) in 1:38 full of sloppy guitars and sloppier vocals (with the word "fuck" in the first line), no one was sure if they were joking. (Check iVoryTowerz Radio: The Ecstasy of Gold to hear the song.) There was no difference between what the punks sang and how they sounded and what they believed, and this is what set them apart from almost everyone who came before them. Elvis, after all, was really a good boy who loved his mother. Even The Beatles, as brilliant as they were, separated their politics from their music. They sincerely believed in peace and love, but a song like "Revolution" was the exception, not the rule, and it speaks volumes that John Lennon recorded "Give Peace a Chance" under his own name. Yes, the White Album (1969) may be a work of art, but "Julia" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" are songs firmly rooted in English and pop musical tradition, not the agitprop of the Sex PistolsNever Mind the Bollocks (1977), with "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen."

This is because political music had traditionally been the province of folk singers, who had been picking and strumming for change since the end of Word War I. The most famous folkie was Woody Guthrie, whose songs celebrated working men and women, proselytized for trade unions, and warned the world about the greed and the excesses of the moneyed and propertied classes. Guthrie’s "This Land is Your Land" (1940) is not a grade school sing-a-long, but a socialist anthem decrying the misery of the Depression. (Please check, "iVoryTowerz Radio: Summer Sounds.") Guthrie’s followers, and most prominently Bob Dylan, carried on this tradition, and Dylan’s "Masters of War" (1963) is Guthrie updated for the nuclear age. Pop musicians of that era, though, had other concerns. In 1963, Steve Lawrence, Bobby Vinton, the Singing Nun and even Paul and Paula had No. 1 singles.

The British Invasion, and its fallout on this side of the Atlantic, improved the quality of the music, but didn’t much alter the content. This is not to denigrate the subversive nature of rock 'n roll, but to differentiate, again, between what’s in the songs and what the bands may or may not believe. This is not to say rock bands didn't write protest songs, but that protest wasn't their reason for being and that protest songs weren't most of their music. And while Creedence Clearwater Revival’s "Fortunate Son" (1969) is as scathing as anything Guthrie or Dylan wrote, it is, again, an exception. The Archies had a No. 1 hit in 1969 with "Sugar Sugar," as did jumpsuit Elvis with "Suspicious Minds." In fact, if all you did was look at the pop charts, you’d think Vietnam didn’t exist.

(To continue on to Part III, please click here.)

(Photo of the Sex Pistols circa 1977 from A&M Records. To see The Sex Pistols perform "God Save the Queen," please check below.)

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A Brief Survey of Punk, Part I

(Editor's Note: Last week, a review of the new release from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sparked a debate about the origins of punk rock. This series is the result. This is the first of five parts.)

by Jeff Siegel

Punk, truly, has been misunderstood. What, 30 years ago, was the most political music rock 'n roll had ever seen has evolved into equal parts nostalgia, fashion statement and an excuse to get high. This is not to say that punk didn’t always contain those things; it is, after all, part of rock 'n roll. Rather, those things weren’t punk’s reason for being. Rage was. Disgust was. Revulsion was. You can argue about whether punk started in the United States or Great Britain, but what’s important is that it came of age on the other side of the Atlantic. Talk about a petri dish: Britain in the mid-1970s was stifling and rudderless, a society and a culture without direction that looked to the past for structure and was afraid that the future would not be exactly like the past.

This disgusted the punks. Surely, they thought, there had to be something better than menial jobs, run-down housing estates, and Prime Minister Edward Heath’s Conservative Party. It is difficult, three decades later, to comprehend Heath's Britain, the malaise on one hand and the great empire arrogance when there was no empire to be arrogant about. A fellow Conservative, Daniel Finkelstein, has written that “I regard Edward Heath as an absurd figure. Aside from being unbelievably rude and self-important, he was also spectacularly wrong on almost every conceivable occasion.”

This is the society the punks knew: Absurd, wrong, self-important. Then, at more or less the same time, Britain’s economy collapsed, thanks to the 1973 Arab oil embargo and an industrial base that was nearly obsolete. Unemployment would almost triple in the decade after Heath, while inflation averaged 15.9 percent between 1974 and 1980. All of this made anarchy and nihilism, to say nothing of concerted political action, not just attractive, but imperative. Is it any wonder that one of the first punk bands was called The Damned? Or that one of The Damned’s first songs was "Feel the Pain?"

(To continue on to Part II, please click here.)

(Photo of The Damned circa 1976 from Stiff Records. To see The Damned playing "Smash It Up" and "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" from 1979, please check below.)

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Film Review: The Simpsons Movie

by Molly Kenney

The Simpsons proved itself long ago to be incredibly well-written, intellectual, and entertaining television fare. But, as several other popular shows have shown, the leap from the small screen to the big is difficult and dangerous. As if waving a yellow middle finger in the face of these failures, The Simpsons’ transition is smoother than a cold can of Duff and Lisa’s saxophone jazz. Simply put, The Simpsons Movie is fantastic.

The film manages to maintain both humor and a plot line, cracking jokes even before the opening credits begin and building the story from the first scene. Grandpa Abe has a spiritual revelation at church, discovering in a cryptic message that misfortune is imminent. As Bart realizes that Homer isn’t the most supportive father in the world, Homer brings home a pig and sets the wheels of doom in motion. Despite Lisa’s campaign (which may remind you of similar campaign by former Vice President Al Gore) to clean up Lake Springfield and the town’s environmentalist efforts, Homer dumps a silo full of his new pig’s waste into the lake. Thus begins the path to Springfield’s destruction. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its director, voiced by Albert Brooks, obtain clearance from President Arnold Schwarzenegger (as voiced by Simpsons regular Harry Shearer) to isolate and destroy Springfield. Bart (voiced by Nancy Cartwright) longs to be one of the Flanders clan, and Lisa (Yeardley Smith) falls in love. Marge (Julie Kavner) and Homer (Dan Castellaneta) confront their marital problems in Alaska, and Springfield disintegrates into a war zone, while Green Day and Tom Hanks join the fun. It’s hysterical chaos, a Simpsons trademark.

The humor is crisp and as always, the writers found the perfect balance of timely political jokes and mad-cap mania. Although the film features dozens of regular Simpsons characters, the spotlight is almost completely on the Simpson family. While the hilarity of day-to-day life in Springfield and its many faces are benched, the film’s focus keeps the plot moving and the running time under two hours. As the film starts, Homer is in a movie theater yelling at his fellow patrons for stupidly paying to watch a film based on the Itchy and Scratchy TV show, which they could all be watching for free. The Simpsons' writers take their own joke seriously and flawlessly execute a feature-length Simpsons.

The Simpsons Movie (rated PG-13) was good enough to fill a theater on a rainy Sunday night and to interrupt the vigorous public display of true love and hormones that was taking place in the two seats next to me. The Simpsons continues to prove itself a comedic institution with Homer, doughnut in one hand and Bart’s neck in the other, at the helm.

(The Simpsons Movie took in almost $72 million this past weekend. Promotional film poster from 20th Century Fox. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)

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The NAB Gets It Right, Sometimes

by Rick Rockwell*

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is putting its weight behind two issues that might save both internet radio and satellite radio.

Of course, you might expect a former broadcaster to pat the NAB on the back, but you’d be wrong. The NAB is not out to save democracy. The NAB is not out to do what is best for the media system in the United States. The NAB exists solely to represent broadcasters and it does a very good job of that.

The NAB is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. (Don’t think so? Add up the dollars sometime. Or go ask Sen. John McCain: not all of his recent problems are self-inflicted.) Usually, the NAB looks out best for the biggest broadcast firms, not small family-owned operations (these days, those stations are a rare breed). So the NAB represents corporate media. That’s why its positions on low-power FM radio and reinstating the fairness doctrine are so wrong-headed: the NAB is out to stop grassroots competition for its biggest clients or to stop alternative viewpoints that make those corporations squirm.

But on internet radio and satellite radio, the NAB gets it right. The NAB may get it right for the wrong reasons, but in the end the support of this huge lobby could spell the difference.

First, the NAB wants to see equity on royalties for internet radio. That means the NAB backs bills in Congress, which would have internet radio paying the same rates as traditional terrestrial radio.

Why would the NAB support these measures, which seem to give a boost to grassroots radio? Two reasons. First, many traditional radio stations are now streaming their signals online. That means the traditional broadcasters would see the same large increases in royalties for their new online presence. Also, one of the popular webcasters, last.fm, is owned by CBS, one of the real corporate powers, which also owns 144 traditional radio stations. CBS is no longer part of Viacom and is no longer connected to a music label, so its position is different from the major record firms.

The NAB also opposes the merger of XM and Sirius in satellite radio. The NAB opposes the merger for obvious reasons: XM and Sirius provide competition for traditional broadcasters. This week, the satellite services, in a measure to win consumer support, promised to slash prices nearly in half if the merger is approved.

Smartly, the NAB attacked the economics of that offer, asking the question: what keeps those services from slashing prices now? The merger will allow the satellite radio firms to consolidate debt, but most of that debt was brought on by ill-advised deals with star talent. The NAB correctly argues that the FCC, Congress, and the courts shouldn’t reward bad business practices by allowing a merger that will create a monopoly. Also, a satellite radio monopoly will make it extremely tough for new competition in that field in the future. Further, nothing will be able to stop that monopoly from raising rates back to current levels once the merger is approved.

The NAB has successfully raised those points and Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and others will be hearing more about them soon. So for once, those who support innovative, grassroots radio and more competition have an unlikely and important ally to do the lobbying.

*Rick Rockwell worked for more than a dozen years as a full-time broadcaster; he also served on Capitol Hill in 2003 and 2004 as an advisor on communications policy issues.

(Photo by David Jones of the Isle of Wight, United Kingdom, via Flickr using a Creative Commons license.)

For related posts on these issues, please see these entries:

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iVoryTowerz Radio: School's Out

Before heading off for an August hiatus, the podcast breaks loose this week with a rock show that features plenty of tightly coiled guitar muscle. Nothing like going out in style while playing some of our all-time favorites. As usual, the program storms through about 50 years of rock history from the rockabilly of the 1950s right up to current releases. So until school resumes in the fall, load this one up in your iPod and let it rock the rest of your summer. Enjoy!

(This podcast is no longer available.)


"School's Out" by Alice Cooper
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Hell Hole” by Spinal Tap
"Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" by Warren Zevon
“Strapped for Cash" by Fountains of Wayne
"Trouble Boys" by Dave Edmunds
Jeff’s New Wave: “Checking Out the Checkout Girl” by Wazmo Nariz
"Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran
"The Golden Age of Rock 'n Roll" by Mott the Hoople
“Face the Promise” by Bob Seger
“Destination'” by The Nighthawks
“Rawhide” by The Blues Brothers
"Up on Cripple Creek" by The Band
"Soul Refreshing" by Robert Randolph & The Family Band
"Romeo is Dead" by Peter Wolf
"Saving Grace" by Tom Petty
Cover Me: "With a Little Help from My Friends" by Joe Cocker
"Don't Dream It's Over" by Crowded House

(Mp3 Runs - 1:14:30; 69 MB.)

(Photo by Jennifer Marr of Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada via stock.xchng and Yotophoto.)

(For a variety of reasons, the podcast will not be heard again until at least September. Rock on regardless!)

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Internet Radio: Negotiating a Future

by Rick Rockwell

When the recording industry granted internet radio a reprieve on paying new royalty rates, many who support the fledgling industry sighed with relief.

Little did they realize the offer came with a Trojan horse.

Now, the industry wants something it hasn’t been able to get from over-the-air radio (or terrestrial radio as some call it, you know, the radio most people have used since the 1920s) or television. The music industry wants a way to block computer users from making recordings of music they hear via the internet.

The issue is about recording streaming audio. Never mind that some believe this isn’t a current problem. How many people really take the time to acquire software to record streams of music and then take the time to cut those recorded streams up (which of course means acquiring more software to do that) into audio files? Why would people do that (a technique called stream-ripping) when they can download audio files or use torrent software to find audio on the web? Those methods of getting around the industry’s digital rights management efforts are much more efficient.

This is really an old fight. This is the same argument the music industry made against cassette tapes in the 1970s and 1980s. This is the same argument that Hollywood made against VCRs in the 1970s. The courts have ruled that consumers have a fair use right to record music and other copyrighted material for home use. Some experts would argue that mix tapes, mp3s and other consumer sharing systems actually encourage consumers to buy music from artists they can’t find on traditional radio.

But the music industry isn’t interested in those arguments. Under the guise of collecting every cent they have coming (and some they don’t) for artists, the music industry is really fronting for the big media conglomerates on this issue. Only the really successful artists collect more than pennies on a dollar for the music that is being sold in their name.

So now SoundExchange, the organization set up by the music industry to collect these fees is demanding that internet radio providers use technology that would prevent computer users from recording any audio streaming over the ‘net. Congress has rejected this demand from the music industry, but it is the new sticking point in the negotiations over royalty rates that internet radio must pay. SoundExchange looked benign when it offered internet radio a delay in collecting the new royalties (higher than royalties for other media) but digital rights management is the asking price for that delay, although negotiations continue.

The internet radio industry is hoping that a bill in Congress co-sponsored by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Rep. Don Manzullo (R-IL) will set everything right. (Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas – a presidential candidate – and Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon followed the lead of the House and introduced a similar bill in the Senate.) Although Congressional pressure sent SoundExchange back to the negotiating table, the record of Congress is not to pass these measures and to let industry work it out.

The problem with that is the Goliath that is the music industry looks poised to crush internet radio for good or at least tie it into so many knots its creativity will be lost.

(Photo by KillR-B of Breda in the Netherlands via stock.xchng and Yotophoto.)

For more background on this story, please see these previous entries:

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Feeding the Bureaucracy

The summer may be in full swing, but Washington, D.C. doesn’t traditionally empty out until August, once Congress goes on its summer recess. Until then the bureaucracy must be fed.

As noted earlier ("Tunes & Transparency" and "Truth to Power") this blog has evolved from one that serves the musical needs of the bureaucracy to one that also discusses policy. And now the blog is moving beyond D.C., as more of our readers these days reside in California or the United Kingdom than any other locales. However, the D.C. bureaucracy remains one of our key constituencies.

Nevertheless, some of our notable beyond-the-beltway readers this month include:

  • The California Department of Transportation seemed to love unearthing a piece on hipsters from the deep archives. Are hipsters allowed to work for these state bureaucracies? And if so, what does that say about hipster credentials these days?

  • The U.S. Army Information Systems Center in Arizona returned this month, and seemed to center its interest on Molly Kenney’s commentary about the D.C. Madame.

  • The Army Corps of Engineers in New York also seemed to like Molly’s work, but this time to check out her review of Live Free or Die Hard.

  • Finally, our long-time fans at the Fermilab in Illinois were mining the archives and latched on to Jeff Siegel’s “The Ballad of Penny Evans.” But another group of long-time readers at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola seemed to prefer Jeff’s review of the new Paul McCartney release.
The most popular read on the blog this month was the review of the Live Earth concerts. That appealed to folks inside and outside the beltway. So the bureaucracy at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Naval Oceans Systems Center in Maryland were avidly reading the review (and watching the video clips) at the same time that folks at the state house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Information Management Directorate in Rock Island, Illinois were doing the same. And how about all those Metallica fans who work for Vanguard who were checking out the clips and the review? Who knew head bangers worked in finance?

That doesn’t mean the policy wonks have deserted us. So you could find the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) checking out Laura Snedeker’s piece about the Pentagon (inter-agency envy?). Also, the State Department and offices in the U.S. House of Representatives were reading “Guatemala Surrenders in the War on Drugs.” And finally, the Department of the Interior seemed very interested in Jeff's send-off for Tony Blair.

But of course, the most interesting connections had readers at both the Bank of Cyprus (yes, in the Mediterranean) and the American Psychological Association reading Stephen Tringali’s review of the new White Stripes’ release, Icky Thump. We aren’t sure what that means but it does make the spinning of the earth skip for a millisecond, at least in our imagination. And it shows how wide and varied our audience has become.

(Photo by ladyheart from morgueFile.)

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Music Review: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' The Is Is

by Stephen Tringali

Everything the Yeah Yeah Yeahs recorded on their debut album, Fever To Tell, made the firm declaration that this band had neither lofty ambitions nor desire to pen anything not involving Karen O’s disaffected squeals and Nick Zinner’s super-charged post-punk guitar chords — except maybe that single of theirs, “Maps.”

The band’s latest release, an EP entitled The Is Is (on Interscope Records), should draw much attention to itself — first, because its songs were written during the Fever To Tell tour and, second, because its songs sound nothing like those on Fever To Tell.

One can only wonder what these tracks might have sounded like had they been recorded immediately following that tour. One thing’s for sure, though: if they had been recorded earlier in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ history, they wouldn’t have sounded this good.

That's not to suggest that the first Yeah Yeah Yeahs' album is bad. It’s a good listen, once in a while. But there’s undeniable proof that the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs are an improved band — an uneasy, ever-shifting trio of post-punkers who have shown an increasingly competent understanding of melody, song dynamics, and dramatic construction.

Karen O (full name: Karen Lee Orzolek) seems more determined to vary her vocal presence, especially on “Down Boy.” Over haunting organ and a techno drumbeat, she croons softly: "I’ll stand kind of pushed / kind of bent / on this heavy land / I stand for the sake of my friend / I will see him there.” Her scream that follows announces the song’s chorus but quickly fades to its original calm: “Down / Down / Count me Down."

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs continue to push in other directions on the EP. “Isis” explores the capability of one band’s minimalist aspirations to communicate on an epic scale. Its stadium rock-style drumming and its hip, Western guitar lick set expectations for the next Yeah Yeah Yeahs album at an all time high.

But the question remains: can the Yeah Yeah Yeahs afford to grow bigger and smarter without compromising their punk aesthetic? The point of punk is to play to that debased, instinctual adolescent we had, or still have, lurking inside.

Draw the lines where you will. It shouldn’t matter where the Yeah Yeah Yeah stake out their claim, in punk or garage-rock. It’s all still the same good music. And what about that other word — “post” — that so many critics, including myself, have used when categorizing their music? That should be enough to let them play smart punk and get away with it.

(Photo of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs playing the Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium from Dani Lurie of London via Flickr using a Creative Commons license. To see the live video of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs performing "Down Boy" please check below.)

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Politicizing the Pentagon

by Laura Snedeker

The long arm of the U.S. military establishment reached out and touched the Clinton campaign last week when Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman issued a statement criticizing U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton’s demands for answers about a possible U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

“Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia,” the letter stated.

These days, the Pentagon and the Bush administration interpret any criticism of America’s disastrous foreign adventures as a crime akin to quartering members of al-Qaeda in the basement. I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton: She’s the latest corporate insider playing the role of sensible establishment candidate and she’s not going to shake up Washington and put an end to the covert activity that spawns terrorism. But she wasn’t writing fan letters to Osama; she questioned the government, something we all have a right to do.

Edelman’s letter indicts not only Clinton’s public and private discussions with Pentagon officials, but attempts to silence the voices of the 74 percent of Americans who believe the war is going badly. I can see the headline: “High Court Tries 74 Percent of Americans for Aiding Enemy, KBR Receives Prison Contract.”

Interesting that Edelman should draw such parallels to the Vietnam War. The United States withdrew from Vietnam when the public outcry combined with the mounting death toll on both sides forced Congress to revoke the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney elected not to fight in Vietnam (they had better things to do) and have objected to all comparisons between that war and Iraq. Like in Vietnam, the “light at the end of the tunnel” is not that of a shining beacon of democracy, but that of a gun barrel.

The Pentagon is incapable of admitting that the Iraq War is lost, that winning is not simply a matter of rounding up a few troublemakers and settling some squabbles among government ministers. No one knows how long it will take for the brass to accept the facts, but they must eventually, if only because there is a limited supply of soldiers, not to mention a limited supply of generals willing to take the risk of being the last general to fight the losing war in Iraq.

More disturbing than the Pentagon’s blindness is its foray into the political arena. While the use of military force is always political, Pentagon officials should not act as partisans of the ruling party in domestic affairs, especially during the run up to elections in which the Iraq War is the most controversial issue. The Pentagon’s instinct to protect the best interests of the arms industry has caused it to overstep its bounds as America’s defense force.

The price we pay for having a standing army is vigilance against its tendency to step into political affairs. The American military establishment is not an aberration: Like the armed forces of some of our best friends in the Third World, it too has power rivaling that of any of the coequal branches of government. It is only better kept in check by laws and traditions that discourage its involvement in domestic politics, laws and traditions that have been too often brushed aside in the War on Terror.

Acceptance of abuses of power is the death knell of democracy, and if we wish to keep our republic, we must challenge them whether they come from the White House or the Supreme Court or the Pentagon.

(Political graphic courtesy of Xark! and used with permission. As noted, Xark! is one of the blogs we heartily endorse.)

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My Environmental Awakening

by Ryan Kauffman

Growing up I was always aware of environmental issues but never truly concerned by them as anything that would affect my life. My aunt worked for the Nature Conservancy, an environment organization, and I felt for a while that vicariously relieved me of any responsibility to get involved and learn about the problems facing our world. I merely coasted through my adolescence believing that I was making a difference due to my semi-annual holiday discussions with my aunt that I could use to wow my friends.

As I entered college, however, I quickly realized that I was woefully ignorant about the environmental dilemmas facing our country. Despite this epiphany, I was far too concerned with more important things to do anything about it. I went about my schooling and social life during the year, and worked as a painter during the summer. All things considered, I had an enjoyable first three years of college.

Last spring, while relaxing in the quad at American University with a few of my friends, I was approached by a woman who asked simply, “do any of you need a summer job?” Owing to the fact that I was going to be living in D.C. for the summer and needed to find rent I responded affirmatively and went on to hear her out. The job was to work for the US PIRG (United States Public Interest Research Group), a nationwide environmental group, as a canvasser to raise money.

This summer has seriously changed my perspective of the environmental movement and the hippies that frequent it. Somewhere between being jokingly labeled an environmental terrorist by my friends (the moniker was given after I hadn’t shaved for a week and a half) and going into work an hour and a half early to compose letters to the editor as a volunteer part of our campaign, I realized that working with PIRG had become more than a job.

Currently we are working to create a renewable electricity standard that would require every state to generate 20 percent of its electricity from clean sources like wind and solar. This standard would go a long way to fighting global warming as well as making us more energy independent as a nation.

While there is a long way to go, this job has in many ways restored my faith in our democracy that individuals can in fact make a difference. We merely have to get involved and make our voice heard.

(Photo by kevinzim/sxc of Oxford, UK via stock.xchng.)

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iVoryTowerz Radio: Time

Ever notice how time moves at a different pace in the summer? Well, this version of the underground podcast is designed to complement that shift in your state of consciousness. This one might be best as the long days finally hit dusk, or even later as the day slides past midnight. Please note, as the picture warns, this edition includes a hefty slice of progressive rock (all those Pink Floyd covers!), but as usual, you'll hear other genres too, including bluegrass, country rock, and reggae, as we cover more than 40 years of music, and some new material too.

(This podcast is no longer available.)


“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by The Eurythmics
Jeff’s New Wave: “I Don't Like Mondays” by The Boomtown Rats
"Never Say Never" by Romeo Void
“Every Girl" by Lillix
"Love Hurts" by Emmylou Harris & Gram Parsons
"Angel from Montgomery" by Bonnie Raitt & John Prine
"Feel Alright" by Angela Desveaux
“Tuesday Afternoon”(altered) by The Moody Blues
“Our Hands Turn Into Machines'” by Great Glass Elevator
“A Failsafe” by 65 Days of Static
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Highway Star” by Deep Purple
Cover Me: "Speak to Me" by Echoes
"Breathe" by David West & Lorenzo Martinez
"On the Run" by Phish
"Time" by The Easy Star All-Stars
"The Great Gig in the Sky" by Dream Theater

(Mp3 Runs - 1:30:01; 83 MB.) Program contains explicit lyrics.

(Photo by Matt Gibson of Bristol, UK, via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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Threadless Says: "I Listen to Bands That Don't Even Exist Yet"

by Molly Kenney

Threadless’ new shirt is really clever, but I want one that says, “I listen to bands that you think are mainstream, trite, and completely devoid of innovation.” I’m not bitter. I’ve just been judged for my musical taste one too many times.

Hanging out with a decidedly emo crowd toward the end of my high school years first opened my eyes to the world of musical snobbery. A band was only cool enough if it was suitably obscure and tearfully melancholic. Devoted fans attended intimate concerts in tiny back-alley venues as unknown to the general public as the artists themselves. You were only as cool as your favorite band.

Musical tastes in the college atmosphere are even more specific and exclusive. Artists are defended like children, and music that does not speak to a higher truth or break new musical ground is discarded from the mind and the playlist.

I think I can appreciate innovation and genuine musical ability. I’m open-minded and willing to take risks in my musical exploration. But I like a rap song once and awhile. I have a little emo left on my playlist, a few ‘80s club songs, and Newfoundland folk music. I enjoy old classic rock, but I’m still discovering the best of it. I do love the ‘90s, and I am forever dedicated to Billy Joel. Is that so wrong? I don’t think so.

Recently my new job partner, in an effort to get to know me and to make conversation in the car, asked about my favorite band. I froze, preparing my defense. This is the moment of truth, I thought. Once he’s judged my music, he will have judged me. I took a deep breath and said, “You know. A little of everything. I know it when I hear it.” That was cool with him, but we agreed on a musical veto system just in case one of us played something pedestrian and tasteless.

(Evan Ferstenfeld is the designer of the Threadless t-shirt.)

(For an earlier take on Threadless, please see "Nude No More." And for those looking for more debate on music, please see "Music: The Best of 2007, So Far.")

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Summer Reading, Nonfiction Style

by Caitlin Servilio

Summer is traditionally a time to put aside all serious pursuits and embrace a short, blissful period of doing absolutely nothing. That attitude seems to have carried over into the category of summer reading, judging by the thousands of people lounging by pools devouring the latest installments in the Janet Evanovich, Tom Clancy, or Harry Potter franchising empires. Or those disturbingly enjoyable, humiliatingly humorous books in the genre succinctly called “chick lit.” Of course these books are the ultimate in guilty pleasure, and can happily wile away the hours when the most pressing concern is really to get an even tan.

But another option awaits those tired of formulaic fiction. All kinds of interesting nonfiction is out there, on the shelves of libraries and bookstores, and can be just as much fun to read as a typical Dean Koontz — not to mention the feeling of accomplishment you’ll experience after you finish the book: smarter, not dumber, and able to pull out all kinds of interesting trivia at your next social gathering. Here are some truly interesting nonfiction reads you can tote along to the beach this summer:

Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson: A collection of the essays that Tyson wrote for Natural History magazine, this is an interesting, often funny compilation of everything about the universe you always wanted to know but never found out in eighth-grade science. Do you know what plasma’s made of? Did you know how scientists figured out that the earth rotates? Did you know that your brain automatically color-balances your environment, or that if our eyes saw radio waves instead of visible light, we’d be able to see the center of the galaxy? These and other marvelous facts await you in Death by Black Hole.

Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger: This could best be classified as a book about classifications. It’s a history of how humans order things, and if that sounds boring, you don’t know what you’re missing. Weinberger discusses everything from what makes a planet a planet to the history of alphabetical order, which, if you can believe it, is a page-turner. The book’s premise is to discuss how the internet has fundamentally changed how we search for and classify things, which in a funny way sort of changes everything else about us as well. Goodbye, Dewey Decimal System!

Grand Avenues: The Story of the French Visionary Who Designed DC by Scott W. Berg: If you’re like me, you’ve probably never spent too much time wondering how Washington, DC was created. But it’s a really interesting story — all about Pierre L’Enfant, the stereotypical emotional, picky French guy who got George Washington’s permission to design it, and how he completely changed it from the frumpy federal village Thomas Jefferson wanted to make it into a cool place with attractions like, say, the National Mall (his idea).

Apocalypse 2012 by Lawrence E. Joseph: Civilization will be destroyed in 2012! Go on, laugh, I did. Then I read this witty journalistic investigation into the claims made by many major religious texts (The Torah, the I-Ching) an ancient civilization renowned for its astrological calendars (the Maya) and countless scientists that 2012 is the expiration date on life as we know it. Joseph comes up with many unsettling facts about the state of the earth heading into 2012 — supervolcanoes that could go off at any minute, the stormiest sun in centuries, the earth’s magnetic shield developing a crack, oh, and the fact that there’s a mass extinction every 65 million years, and guess what time it is again? I must admit that I still don’t really think the world will end in 2012. But I am much more frightened. In a good way.

(Summer book reading beach scene photographed in Corsica by createsima of Paris and obtained through stock.xchng.)

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The Return of Venezuela's RCTV

by Rick Rockwell

The leading Venezuelan opposition television channel returned to viewers without an internet connection this week. And that is proving to be a moral victory for both sides in that divided nation.

To those who haven’t tuned into this dispute, which has gripped Latin America, the Venezuelan government pulled the plug on RCTV on May 27. Up to that point, RCTV was the oldest television network in the country, and the leading voice against President Hugo Chavez.

Since that time, RCTV kept up an opposition presence by webcasting via YouTube and its own websites. Of course, its audience was diminished. Instead of millions of viewers, on YouTube, the once powerful network could only attract thousands. (RCTV produced more than 500 videos for YouTube and the most popular attracted more than 113,000 views.) Likely, these videos were intended mostly for Venezuelan expatriates or leaders of the various opposition movements, because only 13 percent of Venezuelans have regular access to the internet.

But on July 16, the network returned to Venezuela on a limited basis via cable and satellite. Of course, only about 30 percent of Venezuelans are hooked to cable. Most can’t afford it in a country where most people earn just $2 a day.

Nevertheless this was a victory for RCTV to show the Venezuelan state had not crushed the television outlet.

And it was a victory for the Chavez government too. The government had noted that RCTV was free to open as a cable concern and the return of the network proves the government’s point. Invariably, government representatives ask: if Venezuela is a dictatorship, would an opposition network be allowed to return?

The question remains though whether RCTV was given due process. Many free speech advocates, this author included, have noted that the network’s legal appeals should have been heard by Venezuela’s Supreme Court and by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights before its frequency was taken away.

However, some who use the due process and legal arguments against Chavez go too far. For instance, last week at a forum at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C. about free expression in Latin America, the RCTV case dominated the discussion. Some even challenged if RCTV and other Venezuelan networks had aided the 2002 coup, which removed Chavez briefly. This is a common tactic of the Venezuelan opposition to now question facts from 2002 as if they are part of the Chavez propaganda machine. Their argument: until recently there were no legal proceedings against RCTV stemming from 2002 and some of the reasons the government gave for taking RCTV’s license were not documented prior to 2007. So, if there is no legal trail, the argument goes, perhaps these charges are false.

Whatever the law in Venezuela, broadcasters who use the public airwaves have not just a legal obligation to the state, but also a moral obligation to the populace to serve the public interest. Anyone who has seen videotape (check this link for a documentary with English subtitles) of the Venezuelan commercial networks from 2002 will see how those networks manipulated camera angles and information to aid the coup and some reporters even bragged on the air about how they had colluded with coup leaders. Arguably, this not only violated a compact with the state to fairly use broadcasting concessions, but this also showed broadcasters were representing the interests of the oligarchy, not the public which brought Chavez back to power.

Yes, the broadcasters were never convicted. Venezuela’s Supreme Court freed the military leaders who led the coup (another argument against the idea that Chavez is a dictator). Some connected to the coup were prosecuted successfully, but for the most part the Venezuelan legal system has been fairly lenient with those who briefly overthrew Chavez.

John Dinges, who was one of the speakers on that panel last week* has even interviewed journalists who had second thoughts about their roles in the coup. But he was too kind to bring that up to those who are using the legal arguments on RCTV’s behalf.

RCTV deserves a fair hearing in both the international and Venezuelan systems. But that doesn’t mean that once it gets that hearing that it will be able to prove it deserves its broadcast concession again. No one has proved before a court that RCTV aided a coup, but anyone with eyes can witness for themselves the propaganda and manipulation the network broadcast. That ethical breach alone is enough to seal the case.

*The author of this piece was also one of the panelists.

For more background on this story, please see these previous entries:

(The RCTV logo is from one of RCTV's websites. To see a clip from "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" a documentary produced for the BBC about media manipulation during the 2002 coup, please check below.)

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Why Casablanca Needs to be Played Again and Again

by Jeff Siegel

There is a moment in the movie Casablanca when Humphrey Bogart, who has spent the previous 80 minutes feeling incredibly sorry for himself, watches Ingrid Bergman and a look of shock crosses his face. Could it be that Bogey spent the first three-quarters of the movie being utterly and completely wrong?

This is why Casablanca remains an important American film, more than 60 years after it was made – and No. 3 on the new American Film Institute list of the 100 best. Yes, some movies, like Citizen Kane, are more artistic. Some, like Star Wars or ET, are more emblematic of the America we have become. But none force us to address what we are and how we act in quite the way that Casablanca does. That it does so – and is damned entertaining besides – speaks volumes about its strengths and why it is still relevant. This is something that has always intrigued me, and is one reason why I wrote a book about the movie.

The central question in Casablanca: What must we do to live honorably in a corrupt world? That is the dilemma facing Bogart’s character, an American expatriate named Rick Blaine. His entire reason for being since Ilsa Lund (Bergman) jilted him on a train platform in Paris has been to hate her, hate women in general, and hate most everyone else, whether they deserve it or not. As Rick mutters after the cops haul off Ugarte (Peter Lorre): “I stick my neck out for nobody.” The world’s corruption – Nazis, concentration camps, the pure evil of it all – doesn’t make any difference.

This is crucial in understanding why Casablanca is so important. Typically, film heroes are never wrong, never have a change of heart, never need to change their beliefs. Terrorists are bad, Bruce Willis is good, so let’s go blow things up. (For a different view, please see, "Film Review: Live Free or Die Hard.") Is the world corrupt? Who cares? Even in a more sophisticated film, like Dirty Harry (1971), the assumption is that the only way to live in a corrupt world is to be even more corrupt, but for the right reasons. Harry Callahan has no doubts he is doing the right thing, even when pounding someone’s face in. The system may be corrupt, but it’s the only system Harry has (see Magnum Force [1973], where Callahan brings down vigilante cops who believe in the same things he does).

Rick’s world view, unfortunately for him, isn’t that limited. He understands that systems can be changed for the better, and that feeds his despair. This may be a particularly difficult concept for a post-modern American to grasp, given that we have accepted a world of laissez faire economics, market forces, and multi-national corporations that seem beyond systems. But Americans once believed in the ability to improve the world, a period that runs roughly from FDR’s election in 1932 to John Kennedy’s death in 1963. This is not the neo-conservative idea of change, which has given us Iraq and carte blanche to alter governments and institutions to suit our needs, but a more American, more de Tocqueville-like view that takes into account not just the one, but the many. Or, as Paul Henreid’s character says in Casablanca: “You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.”

Which brings us to the scene where Rick finally realizes what’s at stake. Ilsa has come to his apartment to get the papers that will allow her and Henreid, her resistance hero husband, to leave Casablanca. She tries begging, arguing – even threatening. Nothing works. When, in despair, she gives up and turns away, Rick has his revelation. The look on his face is almost indescribable, the pain he feels at her despair. Don’t feel badly if you’ve never seen it – it’s just a couple of seconds of film, Bogart’s face in the shadows, before the camera picks up on Bergman. But in that moment, he understands that the world’s suffering is more important than his, and that he must do something about it. It doesn’t matter what the consequences will be or if even his efforts will be successful. The point is that that he must do something. It is a responsibility that he owes the world.

In this, Casablanca is perhaps the most political of Hollywood’s great films. But is also an argument for politics as part of American film, something that happens all too infrequently. We feel good at the end of A Wonderful Life (1946) because George Bailey’s life isn’t ruined. We feel good at the end of Casablanca because there is a chance the world may not be ruined.

(Promotional photo from Warner Brothers' Casablanca. Pictured left to right: Humphrey Bogart; Claude Rains; Paul Henreid; and Ingrid Bergman. To see a clip from Casablanca that includes two of the greatest lines in film history, please check below.)

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Internet Radio: The Beginning of the End

by Rick Rockwell

This weekend the end of internet radio begins. Never mind that the internet could resurrect radio. Never mind that the most creative radio is on the internet. Never mind that an audience of 70 million people like internet radio.

Never mind all that because corporate greed is going to win out. As usual.

Pushed by the recording industry, the Copyright Royalty Board set in motion a new fee structure, which could almost triple rates for internet music use by 2010, and the board also instituted a new annual fee of $500. Come Sunday, internet radio providers won’t just have to pay the new rates, but also apply them retroactively to music played in 2006 too. (For more details, please see “Save Internet Radio.”)

What this is really all about though is corporate media limiting competition and pushing the music the corporate bosses have designated for you to hear.

The new rates would not just eliminate grassroots webcasters (many have already shut down rather than fight) but it also threatens the existence of the biggest internet radio hubs: Pandora, Live 365, Yahoo Music, and Rhapsody.

Who wins if internet radio dies? Well, the winners are traditional broadcasters who are now mostly corporate chains. And you know what those folks have done to the radio dial. They have crushed the creativity out of it. Note that traditional broadcasters pay royalty fees that are much lighter than what is being imposed on internet radio. Could that be due to the fact that traditional broadcasters are part of the corporate media hierarchy and the wily internet competitors are not?

Of course, the big four music companies also win. Not only do they get more revenue, but they get to squeeze out grassroots and independent sources of music that aren’t associated with the major labels. Those independents have used the internet to successfully gain notice for their acts. Less competition is good for the big corporate concerns of Sony BMG, Universal Music Group (part of France’s media conglomerate Vivendi), EMI, and the Warner Music Group (no longer part of Time Warner, but still tied to other corporate concerns). Note that the big labels have obvious connections to some of the biggest media empires on earth. The independent nature of internet radio and the reputation of services like Pandora to customize listening for individuals goes against what the music cartel wants. What the cartel prefers is to push a specific number of artists to consumers and maximize the profits from those. This is the economy of scale at work.

So don’t let the music industry fool you into believing this is about artists getting more return for their work. Yes, the heavily marketed artists of the big companies will reap more, but for the most part, independent artists who were finding new audiences via the internet will again be high and dry.

Although some members of Congress have filed bills to roll back the new rates, that legislation is stalled.

So to the tens of millions who were grooving on internet tunes, get ready, but government and corporate media, which of course are intimately tied together, are getting ready to shut down your party. This is just another happy postcard from the people who claim they really care about you.

Update, Saturday 7/14: Apparently, as this piece was posting the music industry began to realize the backlash may be too much on this issue and agreed not to impose all the new fees beginning on 7/15. The industry stated its position that it is still willing to negotiate on new rates and it may cap some of the new costs such as the $500 per station charge which would have hurt services like Pandora which allow users to create unlimited numbers of personal stations. You can read more about the reprieve here.

(Photo by altemark of Stockholm, Sweden via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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