2.28.2007

Newshound Eats Newshound: Behind the Scenes in the Information Factory

(Editor's Note: You may choose to read the first paragraph of this story in this column, or you may choose to read it in the graphic* that accompanies this story to the right.)

by Hilary Crowe


Clips. Journalism, as I am quickly realizing, is a cut-throat career, and clips are to be the bane of my existence. My kryptonite, my Achilles' heel, whatever fancy metaphors there are for that little interjection in an already heady lifestyle that could burn everything to a crisp – my mind, my relationships, my GPA, and at times, my passion for writing. As a well-respected journalism professor at American University has said, in an eerily casual, common-knowledge manner, “You can take all the journalism classes you want, but if you aren’t getting bylines, you aren’t getting hired.” In other words, if you want college to be “the best time of your life,” (i.e. stress free and “Frisbee-on-the-quad-at-noon, dude!”) and still have a job opportunity ready with your diploma, journalism probably isn’t the major for you.

I’m not going to turn this into another gripe session about not conforming to industry and social concepts of success. I will, however, lament the bureaucratic wash one must endure to become, quite simply, a translator and commentator of events and entertainment. It seems to me, based on observations along with peer and insider advice, that journalism has become less about writing ability and more about schmoozing and appeasing the right people. It’s all about connections. Just because someone else got that job or internship you were dying to land, it might not mean that they are anymore or less qualified than you are. While some may take solace in that, I cringe.

I’ve never been too great at “selling myself,” the almost pornographic euphemism for beating a potential employer over the head with reasons why they need you. I’m humble, what can I say. I spent all last night working on a résumé, only to have it ripped apart and sewn back together by a helpful career adviser. So, at least I’m taking baby steps in the right direction.

I can say “Woe is my life!” all I want, but in the end, if I so desire a diploma and a job come May 2010, I’ll have to follow industry protocol. But pair this unease with the constant fear of those journalists who remember Woodward and Bernstein before Watergate: that print journalism is eking out its death rattle. While the validity of such rumors is disputed, I am not discouraged. Well, I’m interested in writing for magazines, and those will never go out of style, I say. Too bad they’re not interested in me. Yet.

I knew this career’s cannibalistic tendencies, the newshound-eat-newshound atmosphere in the newsroom, and I’ve decided it’s the only career path for me. If nothing else, it makes me appreciate the effort that’s gone into even the tiniest sidebar buried deep within The New York Times. As for now, until I can claim five square inches of my own in that prime real-estate for bylines, I’ll keep trying to break out, find an in, and climb to the top. I just hope I won’t hit rock bottom first.

*To find other newspaper graphics tailored to your liking, please go here.


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2.27.2007

Memo to Rowling: Please Don't Kill Harry!

by Caitlin Servilio

Ah, the life of a celebrity . . . it really is cruel. Fans always knocking down the door and camping in the front yard. Greedy agents, managers, publishers looking for the next big break. Paparazzi intruding on personal time. We’ve seen the fame phenomenon far too often in recent years, from J.D. Salinger permanently retreating from the spotlight, to Chris Martin of Coldplay flipping out on photographers left and right, to Lindsay Lohan drunkenly driving away from paparazzi. It seems a month doesn’t go by without the pressure of world fame growing too much for a celebrity. (And of course, there's Britney Spears too. For more on this blog's take on her, please see: "Britney Spears & The Anxiety Closet.")

But this year might mark a first: the first time fame’s grown too much for a fictional celebrity.

Harry Potter, boy wizard, age 17, may be the world’s most beloved child star. Earnest, kind, and clever, he’s responsible for rescuing the Sorcerer’s Stone, defeating the Heir of Slytherin, and encouraging countless people from elementary school to old age to pick up novels and read — among other things. Fansites, clubs, awards, bestseller lists; there seems to be no limit to this kid’s fame. Britney wishes she could gain that kind of notoriety from shaving off her hair. Fat chance, Britney.

But that’s okay, right? It’s all right for the Western World to obsessively love Harry, because he isn’t real. There’s no actual Privet Drive for network vans to park on, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Boy Who Lived in his Bathrobe. There’s no real Hogsmeade for photographers to lurk in alleyways trying to get the scoop on who Harry’s dating, and there’s no real Platform Nine and Three Quarters (okay, so there is one now) where fans can hold a vigil each August attempting to get Potter to autograph their cloaks. So, it’s okay, right?

Wrong.

J.K. Rowling has strongly hinted that this summer Harry may join the ranks of British celebs tragically taken before their time. On an episode of British literary TV show Richard and Judy, Rowling stated, “I can completely understand, however, the mentality of an author, who thinks well, I'm going to kill him off because there can be no non-author written sequels, as they call them."

What?!

Rowling might kill Harry so people won’t pester her to write more books about him. Or she might kill him so no one will resurrect the franchise when she’s not around to protect it. In either case, it boils down to one unsettling fact: if she killed him, it would be because we (and I include myself in this) care about Harry too much.

It’s a terrible paradox. Every author wants her characters to strike a chord with readers, for readers to identify with and sympathize with her hero. Most struggling writers would kill for a chance to create their own Harry. But Rowling’s actually done it, and now it seems she’s not happy either. Now that everyone’s emotionally invested in Harry Potter, she wants us to simmer down a little bit. “Calm down, guys,” she’s saying. “He’s just a character, and I’m his creator, and I can kill him if I want to.”

Yet it still feels like a betrayal. I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when I was a mere tyke of 11, and I’ll be 19 when the Deathly Hallows comes out this summer. It’s no exaggeration to say I grew up alongside Harry and Ron and Hermione and the rest. My generation has known few stronger influences.

So if Harry Potter dies, did we murder him? Is this just another aspect of us, the members of the Millennium Generation* always wanting too much of a good thing? We kill our bodies slowly with fast food calories and our brains slowly with crap TV. Now we’re even killing our fictional heroes with too much devotion.

So please, J.K. Rowling, I understand that if Harry lives you’ll likely get several thousand tons of junk mail pleading for an eighth volume. And I understand that if Harry lives someone might get around those pesky copyright laws and mess with your boy after you’re dead and gone. But please don’t add the death of our favorite wizard to our burden of guilt, because let’s face it, my generation’s already emo enough.

*Some call them the Millennium Generation or Millennials. And some have other names for the current college-aged generation. Please see the older posting, "Generation HP," for more.

(Promotional poster for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows from Scholastic Publishers. Please see below to watch the entire interview with Rowling on Richard and Judy from the U.K.)









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2.26.2007

Tony's Retreat

by Laura Snedeker

A man can only take so much, and the escalation of the Iraq War was Tony Blair’s last straw. The 1,600 British troops controlling the southern city of Basra will leave in the next few months, having completed the turnover to Iraqis, although Iraqi officials expect sectarian violence will persist.

There are a number of reasons why Prime Minister Blair, America’s staunchest coalition ally, would so abruptly withdraw more than twenty percent of Britain’s 7,100 troops. Like the United States, Britain is trying to fight two wars at once, both of which are increasingly deadly. Troops in Afghanistan, forgotten by many who assumed that everything was under control since the invasion in 2001, are battling a resurgent Taliban who can draw on distrust of the occupiers and disgust with the failure of Hamid Karzai’s government to control anything outside Kabul. And although Basra is a relatively safe area of Iraq, deployment still takes its toll on the morale of British troops, according to military leaders (fancy that: a political leader who listens to his dissident generals instead of firing them).

Like George W. Bush, Blair doesn’t have to worry about losing the next election: He’s wisely decided not to seek another term, fully aware that he would get neither the support of the Labour Party nor the support of the majority of Britons, who were opposed to the war from the beginning. In contrast, I suspect that if Bush could legally run for a third term, he would. Blair seems to have developed a sense of loyalty. The only way to save the party is for him to go, and certainly he doesn’t want to be remembered as the man who lost Britain back to the Tories.

But maybe in addition to these practical and political concerns, Blair’s become too uncomfortable with the truth: He knows the war is lost. Even if Basra were to remain stable, Baghdad is the center of a great power struggle between American troops, Iraqi troops, and various insurgent groups, some with links to the very government supposedly trying to maintain order.

I’m not arguing that Blair’s suddenly seen the immorality of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but I do believe the man is smart enough to recognize a bloodbath when he sees one. Just as he doesn’t want to be remembered as the destroyer of the Labour Party, neither does he want to be remembered for blindness and stubbornness in the face of failure.

The British government declined to announce a date for total troop withdrawal, but it’s not hard to predict that when the last troops fly from the roof of the embassy in Baghdad, there won’t be any Britons among them.

If only President Bush would follow his pal’s lead and resign in September.

(White House photo of Prime Minister Blair and President Bush by Shealah Craighead; the photo is in the public domain.)





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The Oscar Connection

by Rick Rockwell

Congratulations to Martin Scorsese for his long-overdue nod as Best Director at tonight’s Academy Awards for The Departed.

Also congratulations to Helen Mirren as Best Actress for The Queen.

Some know this blog has a been more than inconsistent when it comes to film reviews and some of the nominated films and performances were out before this blog was even an idea.

And we can’t rightfully comment on the field when we haven’t seen all the nominees. (For instance: Forest Whitaker, in The Last King of Scotland, who won for Best Actor. That will have to be on the calendar soon.) This rather lazy writer actually took in The Queen (recently) and The Departed (soon after its release) and did not write a word about them until now – seeing them both as just pure entertainment.

The Departed won four awards, including Best Picture, and it is a great gangster film – appropriate that Scorsese would win that way. He should have had Martin Sheen, Matt Damon, and Mark Wahlberg in his cast before now, although it is easy to stick with the likes of Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci.

Go see The Queen to watch the acting craft at work. Mirren has Queen Elizabeth II down cold from her farmwoman’s gait to the fantastic scene where the queen is telling off Tony Blair (played by Michael Sheen) on the phone while arranging her collection of exquisite pens. By the way, Mirren is just as good, if not better, in the HBO-BBC miniseries Elizabeth I. Some trick playing two important queens in the same year and nailing both performances.

As for films we did write about here:

Please check Caitlin Servilio’s review of Pan’s Labyrinth, which won three Oscars for cinematography, art direction, and makeup.


Also, please see the review of Babel by Allison Dunatchik (who unfortunately is no longer part of our writing team). Babel won an Oscar for best original score.


Congratulations to all the winners, and next year, for the 80th Academy Awards, we will attempt to review all of the top films.

(Main promotional poster from the Internet Movie Database [IMDb]. Smaller Oscar graphic from Alan Light of Flickr using a Creative Commons license. To see a promotional trailer for The Departed, please check below.)











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2.24.2007

XM & Sirius: Merger Most Foul

by Rick Rockwell

The greatest invention since sliced bread apparently is a few crumbs short. Maybe most of a loaf short.

Surprise. Satellite radio is not what all the hype masters in the media told us it was going to be. You remember, they told us it was going to be the rebirth of radio.

Those now singing the mea culpa chorus forgot a few points in their analysis. First, satellite radio comes via subscription and over-the-air radio is free. (Well, it isn’t really free but it appears so because you don’t write a check to a company every month to keep it. However, you pay a corporate tax every few minutes when you have to listen to commercials.) Americans prefer anything that is free, even if it is has little quality. The internet provides some examples. Paid sites often have a difficult time unless they deliver truly unique content with quality. Many people prefer to surf the free sites, regardless of quality. The bottom line: unless you can deliver programming with the quality of HBO or other premium cable television channels on radio, Americans won’t subscribe in large numbers.

Also, Americans prefer the bargain product, even if it is of inferior quality. Remember the Beta versus VHS wars over home video? The cheaper, inferior product won.

If you want satellite radio, you must buy a new receiver or have a new one installed in your car. Although over-the-air radio is filled with tired formats, most of the hardware that delivers it is built to last. Why replace that old radio? Do you really like bluegrass or obscure alternative rock that much?

Apparently not.

The six-year experiment with satellite radio is over and traditional radio won.

How do we know? Well, the only two satellite radio providers in the U.S., XM and Sirius told us as much this week when they asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Justice Department for permission to merge. They admitted unless they have a monopoly, they can’t compete with traditional radio. They also admitted that Howard Stern is not the savior of satellite radio, another myth the hype masters wanted us to buy. (Notably, this blog predicted both the merger request and the fact that Stern could not save Sirius in "Stern Wants to Rule the (Satellite) Universe!" almost three months ago.)

This is also an admission that the iPod is affecting not just how people listen to music at home or as pedestrians, but also in their cars. Even radio programmers on traditional radio are reacting to that by shuffling formats or moving to formats with listeners who seem more loyal (for now) to traditional radio, such as the Latino audience.

Even if the satellite radio companies are flying the white flag of surrender and are warning they will fold, the FCC needs to hold the line and keep the regulation that satellite radio can only work with at least two competitors. If the FCC approves the merger, the precedent will be set for more mergers and media consolidation. And the companies that dominate traditional radio (Clear Channel and CBS) will move to further consolidate against what remains of independent radio. Some in the mainstream media (like The Washington Post) have already realized this is imminent.

Mel Karmazin, the chief executive officer of Sirius is an agent of the huge media conglomerates. Remember, he was a top executive at Viacom (before Viacom split and before Infinity Radio was absorbed by the revamped CBS) and Stern’s protector there for many years. He is a warrior of the consolidation wars that began in the 1990s which ruined what little was good about traditional radio. And he was fighting on the side of the media conglomerates, not the listeners. He certainly can’t be trusted to make consumer-oriented decisions.

So the rallying cry is out: Stop the merger. Don’t let the corporate programmers win again. Less choice is not better.

Update: For the latest on the review of the proposed merger, please see "Congress, Trust & Satellite Radio."

(Photo by leduardo of Flickr.)






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2.23.2007

Britney Spears & The Anxiety Closet

by Jeff Siegel

I’m really, really trying to get into this Britney Spears business. Really.

But I can’t. And, what’s worse, I don’t care.

She’s in rehab. She’s out of rehab. She is bald. She is wearing a wig. She likes girls. She doesn’t like girls. She’s not wearing underwear. She’s wearing underwear. And what about her poor kids? All of it just makes me want to sit in a dark closet.

I realize this makes me a failure in our post-modern, media-saturated, these-people-are famous, damn it, and stop-being-such-an-old-fogey world. But I can’t help myself. I still think People magazine is silly, and, as near as I can tell, People is the New York Times of the celebrity gossip trade. The rest of them – the TMZ website, the Extra television show, and the various media permutations that use Entertainment in their name – make me want to turn my house into a dark closet. Quick question: Do the people who work at these places enjoy what they do, in the same way their colleagues in the non-celebrity world enjoy writing about politics or football or school board meetings?

And where does Britney’s soon-to-be-ex-husband fit into all of this? Since I stopped listening to the radio sometime during the Clinton administration, I have never heard one of his songs. But, from what I understand, the recent Super Bowl commercial is pretty much the highlight of his career. Even his nickname isn’t much – sort of a dollar store knockoff of A-Rod, as baseball player Alex Rodriguez is known.

Don’t get me wrong. Even I pay attention to celebrities. I’ll never be able to figure out what Susan Sarandon sees in Tim Robbins. I have followed the careers of Uma Thurman, Winona Ryder and Scarlett Johanssen with varying degrees of enthusiasm. And I think that Philip Roth got a raw deal in Claire Bloom’s book. But these people have done something to merit attention – and it’s something that doesn’t involve Paris Hilton.

Oh well. Never mind. Sorry I brought it all up. I just checked the website for The Dallas Morning News – both Britney checking into rehab and checking out are among the most read stories. I’ll just go sit in my closet now.

(File photo courtesy of tml_fan_1313 of Toronto, Canada via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

(For another take on our celebrity-filled media system, please see: "Choking on our Excesses.")




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2.22.2007

¡Dios Mio! They’ve Blogged Me!

by Rick Rockwell

Today, more people seem to know Andy Warhol for what he said rather than his art. And his comment about 15 minutes of fame for everyone is echoing in my head this week.

I’m afraid I’ve squandered my 15 minutes on a classroom exercise.

Let me explain.

It all started when I was invited to speak on a panel. And then other professors decided to assign that panel as a classroom exercise. Little did I realize some students would be blogging about the panel in real time: a technique called “live blogging.”

Realistically, when will I have six or more reporters in one room hanging on my every word, looking for quotes ever again?

I’ve done the mental arithmetic, long division mostly. If someone spends just less than three minutes with each of those blogs, my fame is gone forever.

Or maybe not.

Because I asked myself, who really reads such things?

Now, that reaction is assuredly old fashioned, various younger people have told me.

However, I just don’t see the pleasure of watching an event with part of my attention and watching blogs react to the event with what little is left over. This is like passing satirical notes in class. Sure, they’re funny with the few who can share the joke, but it remains an inside joke. And don’t you miss the rest of the lecture while you are joking? Or live blogging?

But then I thought about it. I’ve been multi-tasking with multimedia for most of my life. Right now, music is spinning in my headphones while I tap this out on the keyboard. (Pandora or iTunes? Or podcast? No matter, they are all better than over-the-air radio.) In that way, I’m multi-tasking just like live blogging, but it is mixing the internet, e-mail, and music together instead of the combination of live event and internet. And how many times have I read the newspaper with the television going? The same process is at work.

So I’m as guilty as the rest for media multi-tasking.

But so far, I find the results of live blogging rather like inside jokes: they leave me uninspired. For example, one of my favorite DC blogs, the dc universe uses live blogging to follow the TV series 24. If you’ve never watched the program, can you follow any of the comments? This is not inclusive communication, but exclusive communication: for insiders only. My complaint: the dc universe is usually a witty, fun blog, but when it slips into live blog mode it loses me.

So how about an event, we all know, like the Super Bowl? The Washington Post’s superstar sports columnists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon followed the game in live blog mode. And the results, frankly, were poor. Nevertheless, they inspired other sports writers to use similar techniques in their columns, with the same results.

Think this is all a gripe over how my 15 minutes of fame went down? Not really. I was impressed with the comprehensive overview produced by Tatiana Sapateiro about the panel on Latin American news coverage. The posts on Journo Jabberwocky are organized in a fashion just like a traditional article and don’t have the organizational difficulties of some live blogs. Likewise, Jenn Tyre and Medina summed the forum up on their blogs in more of the traditional fashion. On her blog, CaraS adds her commentary in with a blow-by-blow account of the session. KC’s blog reads more like the stream-of-consciousness style typical for live blogging.

Compare them, if you will, to the student media coverage of the same event by The Eagle or The Observer.

So now that you’ve compared all those links, my 15 minutes is really up. And just like that, perhaps live blogging is a passing fad too.

(Photo by Richard Winchell of Flickr using a Creative Commons license.)





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Greetings from "The Island:" Wish You Were Here* (Part I)

by Hilary Crowe

“Oh, jeez. Just don’t get blown up.”

That was my dad’s snarky comment after I told him my professor for "Contemporary Media in a Global Society" was taking the class to tour Al Jazeera’s offices on K Street in Washington. A response to the mundane “Sooo, what’re you doing this week?” usually only muttered half-heartedly via webcam, one of a few painfully pragmatic Christmas gifts I received about two months ago. My enthusiasm regarding the media pariah alarmed him. He wasn’t alone: my roommate, friends and classmates were also nervous – one girl even asked what the female students should wear. Honestly, what did she think? A burqa?

I was nothing but excited to visit the network's D.C. news bureau. Since January, I had been zealously reading the books and articles my professor assigned as homework, and after watching a documentary on the network (Control Room: I highly recommend it; it’s quite eye-opening) and listening to a guest speaker who worked for other Arab media outlets (now employed by the Committee to Protect Journalists), I was ready to see for myself what went on behind the scenes with the network's controversial material and who was responsible for it.

It was nothing like I had expected.

The bustling interior is kept masked and anonymous behind the building’s marble facade. Unmarked and inconspicuous, the network's office was a challenge to find amid the morning snow flurry and when I arrived (late) I was whisked into a first-floor production studio where Al Jazeera English’s bureau chief, and later the well-respected Dave Marash (one of the anchors in D.C.), spoke to us about the mission of Al Jazeera English (AJE) behind the network’s slogan, “Setting the news agenda.” Already the network is behind; it is still looking to be picked up by a cable carrier (it is not a satellite network like its predecessor, Al Jazeera in Arabic).

Later, we were taken to the newsroom, introduced to the tech crew, and allowed to view the recording of a segment of the Riz Kahn Show; Kahn was a reporter and anchor for BBC World and CNN International before joining AJE. Surprisingly, many reporters and producers bent over their keyboards and switchboards in the newsroom were speaking with British and Australian accents, an occasional southern drawl thrown in for good measure. Admittedly, I expected to see more, well, employees of Middle-Eastern background. Instead, many were formerly employed by media outlets as varied as VOA (the Voice of America), CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), and CNN. Still young (AJE began broadcasting over the 'net late last year), the energy and enthusiasm in the newsroom are palpable and contagious. (For this blog's take of the network immediately after its debut, please see: "Al Jazeera: Ideology or Profit?") Much to Donald Rumsfeld’s dismay, I’m sure, I never felt once that I might be brainwashed by the supposedly Jihad-ist network and its evil beliefs.

(Continue on to Part II.)

*In Arabic, al Jazeera means "the island" or "the peninsula."

(Photo of Dave Marash from Al-Jazeera English.)






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Welcome to "The Island" (Part II)

(This is the second part of a story by Hilary Crowe about a visit to the bureau of Al Jazeera English in Washington, D.C. Click here, if you missed Part I.)

Al Jazeera has been famous, or infamous, since its inception in 1996 for providing a platform for “the opinion, and then the opposite,” never averse to ruffling the feathers of regime leaders, political or religious leaders and the like. Two years ago, the network was banned from Iraq, and the Saudi Arabian government has been accused of denying Al Jazeera's journalists work visas. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also criticized the network for being “the mouthpiece of Osama bin Laden.”

As of now, I don’t know what to think of these claims against the network or by the network. I neither know a single word of Arabic nor watch Al Jazeera via satellite. I only know what I saw, what I was told and who I met during my visit. I have read Al Jazeera English (AJE) online and find it similar in reporting style to CNN International and the BBC (which is no surprise, as network executives told us that Al Jazeera was modeled after Western news media outlets, and has since replaced CNN in Al Jazeera's home country of Qatar, as well as Israel, as the top news outlet). Some discredit the network’s objectivity, as it is funded by the Emir of Qatar; however, network executives insist (and based on what I saw, I believe this whole-heartedly) that journalists working there are so strong-willed and independent that they wouldn’t take the emir's orders. Anyway, how’s the network supposed to distance itself from the emir’s bank account if no cable carrier will risk picking it up because the cable operator stands to lose advertising revenues?

Since it is still early in AJE’s life, there are many internship opportunities available. Interested in learning from some of the best international reporters just a few metro stops away from my university, I was exchanging contact information with a producer when she startled me with a seemingly innocuous question: “Aren’t you afraid of what future employers might think when they see 'Al Jazeera' on your resume?” she laughed.

I said "no," but now that I think about it, "yes." Yes, I would be nervous, trying to explain to uninformed superiors the noble mission of AJE in today's society to deliver balanced, international news: news as relevant to the farmer in Iowa as it is to the banker in Malaysia. AJE seems to be a network better respected by journalists than the general public, but it is my fear that this may always be so. Honestly, I don’t know if I want my first internship to be with such a controversial, negatively-viewed media outlet. But have I been scared into thinking that way, perhaps by Rumsfeld and his compatriots? The “War on Terror?” Prejudice? I once thought that AJE could be the bridge between the East and West, a real opportunity to relate to each other and to obtain a more complete understanding of how our actions and policies affect each other. Now, like AJE’s future, I’m not so certain.

(For another view on the network, please see: "Al Jazeera: Ideology or Profit?")

(The photo is of Al Jazeera's main headquarters in Doha, Qatar by aljazeerastaffer using a Creative Commons license from Flickr. To see a trailer for Control Room, the documentary about Al Jazeera, please check below.)




(If you missed it, follow this link to Part I.)





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iVoryTowerz Radio: Life in Wartime


This week, the podcast features new sonic creations from audio artist Michael Gallelli, plus new music from David Gilmour inspires Jeff to reminisce about junior high, while Rick reveals his favorite Talking Heads number in the latest excursion into anti-war music.

(This podcast is no longer available for download.)


Playlist

“Take a Breath” by David Gilmour
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Eyes of the Insane” by Slayer
"Killing in the Name" by Rage Against the Machine
“Holiday" (single version) by Green Day
“Life in Wartime" by The Talking Heads

"Kingdom of Doom" by The Good, the Bad & the Queen
Jeff’s New Wave: “When Things Go Wrong” by Robin Lane & The Chartbusters
"California Dreamin'" by The Momas & Popas
"Dallas" by The Flatlanders

“I Love This Town” by Clive Gregson
“Runaway” by Del Shannon
“Operator (That's Not the Way it Feels)” by Jim Croce
"Cry Baby" by Janis Joplin
Cover Me: "Jailhouse Rock" by The Jeff Beck Group
“Wang Dang Doodle” by Willie Dixon
"Nothing But a Woman" by Robert Cray

(Mp3 Runs - 1:13:42; 68 MB.) Program contains explicit lyrics.

(Photo from James Duncan Davidson of Portland, OR via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)




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2.21.2007

HR-57: Resolved to be DC's Jazz Outpost

by Caitlin Servilio

Usually when my friends and I go out, we end up going to a concert venue like the Black Cat or 9:30 Club, or to a dance club of some kind. I love to see rock shows and dance the night away (for more background, please see: "(Mis)Adventures in Ticketland"). Don’t get me wrong, but there are some downsides to this as well. For instance, the fact that most everybody else in the club is likely to be a scenester kid, scantily-dressed clubrat, or various varieties of creepster. At a dance club, the music is always the same hip hop/electronica, top-40 junk, and at a rock show you get to listen to the music, but the ambiance is often very unfriendly and impersonal.

That’s why we decided to try something new recently — HR-57, the jazz club in Logan Circle near Dupont (in Washington, D.C.).

As soon as we walked through the door, we could tell it was a completely different place from other clubs in the DC area. Warmly lit and bursting with conversation, the front area was filled with booths and tables, where people were relaxing with drinks and plates of food. Farther back and down the stairs was the concert area, filled with smaller round tables grouped in front of the stage.

There were an amazing variety of people there, too — we were probably the youngest in attendance, but everyone from younger professionals to sixty-year-olds were sitting around, bobbing their heads to the music. It was so crowded, in fact, that it took a while for a group of us to find seats, but when the club's founder, who was floating around, saw us craning our necks to see the band, he found us a table directly in front of the drummer. Nice guy.

The band was pretty tight. Pianist Eric Lewis took the stage first, playing along to a recording of Coldplay’s “Clocks,” but adding his own riffs and improvising as he played. Then his band joined him, playing more covers and original material. The highlight for me was an especially jazzy cover of Cream’s “White Room.” Lewis played not only a piano and a guitar but also a keytar — a new experience for me and one I greatly enjoyed.

We didn’t eat or drink anything while there, but according to The Washington Post, the food’s quite good. The Post also mentions that this club is undergoing a lot of financial difficulties* and needs the support of the community — so if you’re looking for a different, fun way to spend a Saturday night, I’d recommend you check it out.

*HR-57 bills itself as a non-profit institute to promote jazz and blues. The club's name comes from a resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1987, designating jazz as "a rare and valuable national American treasure."

(Photo by Jacreative of Charlotte, NC using a Creative Commons license via Flickr.)





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2.20.2007

The President's Truth

by Jeff Siegel

In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes of the “emancipation of thought from experience” – that is, that ideology in a totalitarian system is more important in determining reality than experience. Once this premise is accepted, she writes, anything is possible. Hence, the defendants in the Soviet show trials in the 1930s could plead guilty even though they weren’t, because Soviet ideology taught that guilt and innocence were bourgeois concepts that didn’t exist in the Soviet system. The party accused them, so they must be guilty.

Which brings us to the Bush administration.

The point is not that the president is a Stalinist (or a Nazi, the other subject of Arendt’s study). For all of his flaws, and there are many, George W. Bush hasn’t sent his own citizens to death camps. Rather, it’s that Arendt’s book offers an insight into the administration’s behavior, which does seem to exist in a reality all of its own. Use her perspective, and the Bush ideology – a combination of 1920s corporate boosterism, neo-liberal foreign policy, and Nixonian executive privilege – explains why the administration does what it does. It still doesn’t make sense in any objective sort of fashion, but that’s as irrelevant to the administration as guilt or innocence was to the show trial participants.

We have a president who has said that he has never made a mistake, which dovetails with Arendt’s thesis that truth flows from the leader. Stalin said Moscow had the only subway in the world, so it was true -- even though there were subways in New York, Paris and London. Understand this, and it explains not just why the president says we’re winning the war in Iraq, but why we won’t lose it. The administration’s ideology will not allow it. It’s not that failure is not an option. It’s that failure doesn’t exist, in the same way that those other subways didn’t exist.

This is crucial to understanding the mess we’re in, not only in Iraq, but domestically, in our relations with the rest of the world, and in issues like global warming. The administration does what it does because it is the source of Truth. Nothing else matters: not whether climate studies are accurate; not whether we are losing allies because they question our findings on weapons of mass destruction; and certainly not U.N. surveys that say Poland’s children are better off than ours. It’s why Bush can give speeches, with a straight face, about the evils of corporate corruption and excessive executive pay. That his policies, like gutting the Securities and Exchange Commission, helped make these things possible is, again, as irrelevant as the London subway.

The one good thing about all this? We only have 21 months of it left, and we can get rid of it without suffering through what the Russians and Germans went through. Which, actually, is a pretty good thing.

(Editorial graphic "Sic Semper Tyrannis" by Darkblack using a Creative Commons license via Flickr. More visual commentary by Darkblack can be found here.)




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2.19.2007

America's Dopey Drug Policy

by Laura Snedeker

“LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!”

That was the latest statement from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (often called the Drug Czar's office), adamantly refuting the results of a study conducted by San Francisco General Hospital that concluded that marijuana significantly reduces pain in AIDS patients.

This was the latest casualty in the U.S. government’s War on Drugs, which at the moment is going about as well as the War on Terror.

But then, the War on Drugs was never meant to be won in the sense that regular wars are won when one side gives up or is eliminated. Like our farcical War on Terror, the War on Drugs was designed to be perpetual – endlessly profitable for some and deadly for others.

Who would lose if the United States legalized (or eliminated) drugs and ended the war?

1) The Arms Industry – The most immediate winners in any war are the weapons manufacturers, for their unflagging service to the nation is required immediately. Since 1999, the U.S. government has spent $4 billion dollars on Plan Colombia to eradicate the coca plantations and is currently spending several million dollars per year in Afghanistan to eradicate the poppy fields that flourished after the U.S. invasion. Not only do these governments require the standard weapons used in warfare to defeat the drug lords, but they also need chemicals to spray and destroy the plants from which cocaine and heroin are produced. If they were completely eradicated, the arms industry would lose quite a lot of money.

2) Building Contractors – Just as the War on Terror necessitates the construction of new prisons to accommodate those captured in Iraq and Afghanistan, more prisons are needed to hold the ever growing population of nonviolent drug offenders.

3) Law and Order – Contrary to popular belief, there is no direct link between crime and drugs, but rather their illegal status promotes crime. While it’s true that alcohol and other substances cause violence in some people, few seriously consider banning alcohol. But with Prohibition came the rise of moonshine racketeers and the violent crime that comes with any illegal organization.

We could take a common sense approach: legalize and regulate drugs; and reduce the crime associated with obtaining and manufacturing these drugs. Instead, we’ve decided to enact mandatory minimum sentencing laws and let narcs run wild in the streets like a horde of mad speedfreaks, knocking down doors and murdering 88-year-old women in frightening police-state operations.

Why? So the industries involved can profit, and so politicians can make platitudes about reducing drug crime and thus control the citizenry through fear of the Drug of the Decade. Buying cold medicine at CVS pharmacies now entails asking the cashier, showing ID, and filling out a book so they can make sure I’m not making crystal meth in my free time between classes.

And of course, it’s okay to smoke and drink all you want, but forget about using recreational drugs, even if you have a debilitating disease.

(Photo by Mateusz Atroszko of Szczecin, Poland from stock.xchng.)

(For an earlier commentary on advertising from the Drug Czar's office, please see: "Rise Above the Influence.")






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2.16.2007

Resurgent Rage Means Adios to Audioslave

by Stephen Tringali

It looks like some of the wishes I expressed in “Rage, Reunion & Revolution” have been granted. Chris Cornell announced his departure from Audioslave late last week, effectively dissolving the band.

Though the remaining members have yet to announce their official breakup, it’s pretty much inevitable at this point. Audioslave doesn’t exist without Cornell just as Rage Against the Machine didn’t exist without Zach de la Rocha. Cornell’s exit opens the door for a full-fledged Rage reunion following the Coachella Music & Arts Festival.

Anything’s possible now. The band could take their message on the road for a nation-wide tour. They could even record a new album, not quite better than their debut but still good enough to be on par with The Battle of Los Angeles. Of course, they’d finish up the tour with a surprise performance in Washington D.C., staging an all-night protest concert on the Mall.

What better way to let President George W. Bush know what’s wrong than by blasting political rap-rock right on his front lawn? Perhaps other bands might even join them. It could be the Vote For Change tour all over again — except that it would actually accomplish something.

But I digress into musical fantasy. None of this will likely happen. And if it does, well, it probably won’t have the impact imagined. Always the idealists, musicians rarely pull through with their intentions. If they’re political in nature, that is.

Cornell’s announcement came with a press release touting his upcoming solo album, Carry On. Kind of an ironic title, isn’t it? It’s almost as though he recorded it — or at the very least, titled it — knowing that Audioslave would be over before its release. If anyone cares to listen, Cornell’s new album will be out May 1.

I know I won’t be listening.

(Promotional photo of Audioslave from Epic Records. To see Audioslave perform "Cochise" at their historic performance in Havana, Cuba in 2005, please check below.)










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