3.31.2008

Barack Obama, Man of Mystery

by Laura Snedeker

Will the real liberals please stand up? After enduring months of attacks by Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, Barack Obama once again tried to cast himself as a nonthreatening moderate who nonetheless wants to rock the political boat.

Although the Democrats have an advantage on economic issues, which Americans now rate as their top concern, Sen. Obama (D-IL) is well aware that moderates are cautious about his lack of experience, and sought to out-maneuver the Republican front-runner and his Democratic opponent on foreign policy in a speech to open a new round of campaigning in Pennsylvania.

“The truth is that my foreign policy is actually a return to the traditional bipartisan realistic policy of George Bush’s father, of John F. Kennedy, of, in some ways, Ronald Reagan,” he said, accusing George W. Bush of having a naive foreign policy and accusing Republicans and Democrats alike of enabling him.

In recent months, Clinton has cautioned that Obama’s liberal record will weaken his base of support as he fails to draw in moderate and independent voters, with campaign strategist Mark Penn warning that “the evidence is that the more voters have been learning about him, the more his coalition has been shrinking."

McCain’s campaign, which recently branded Obama a “down-the-line liberal” accused him last week of “embracing the liberal tax-and-spend, big-government policies that hit hardworking families at a time when they’re most vulnerable." Sen. McCain (R-AZ) has cast himself as the only reasonable National Security candidate in the race, warning last week of the danger of terrorists who “devote all their energies and indeed their very lives to murdering innocent men, women, and children” and cautioning that a premature withdrawal from Iraq would embolden al-Qaeda and destabilize the region.

Obama’s recent remarks were merely the last in a long line of denials aimed at casting him as a candidate with ideas so revolutionary that they defy categorization, and despite the enthusiasm among liberal Democrats for Obama, their perception of him as a liberal is driven mostly by Clinton’s attempts to paint a picture of her opponent as a wide-eyed idealist and by the media’s focus on his supposed liberal voting record.

Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), a liberal lobbyist group that rates members of Congress on whether they vote for or against liberal issues that the group considers important, gave Obama a rating of 100 percent in 2005, indicating that he voted with the organization on every issue. By 2007, he had a rating of only 75 percent due to several votes missed while on the campaign trail.

The ADA’s ratings do not tell the whole story. Between September and November of 2007, Obama missed 80 percent of all Senate votes, including one that declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to be a terrorist organization. He later blasted Clinton for voting in favor of the resolution, arguing that it would enable President Bush to invade Iran. And although Obama opposed granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that eavesdropped on Americans, he could not be bothered to show up for the final vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That such a liberal senator would consistently fail to stand against such dangerous resolutions casts doubt on the media’s claims and on his ability to lead effectively.

Instead of playing up his liberal credentials and appealing to the widespread dissatisfaction with the Bush administration, while working to remove the stigma of being labeled a liberal, Obama has tried to be all things to all people and filled his campaign with contradictions.

His promise to talk with leaders that he disagrees with and build multinational coalitions to solve the world’s pressing problems of war, poverty, and climate change appeals to liberals, yet that internationalist vision strongly contrasts with his Republican-like invocation of Ronald Reagan and strengthens Clinton’s and McCain’s more consistently conservative positions.

Obama’s appeal is not that he is liberal or conservative, but that he is different. His inspiring message of hope and change assuages any fears about his nebulous foreign policy, and he is experienced enough to know that most Americans who are not inclined to keep up with the news are unconcerned about his contradictions. His approach is different. Never mind what it is.

For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:

(Political graphic by Frederick; you can see more of Frederick's graphics at the blogs Guys from Area 51 and MCCS1977. This graphic is made available through a Creative Commons License.)







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3.30.2008

Opening Nationals Stadium Means D.C. Economic Success

by Suzie Raven

Babe Ruth once said, “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way." The Washington Nationals and the District of Columbia took a gamble together, building a baseball stadium with public funds. With opening day at Nationals Stadium today (March 30), the city moves into the next inning.*

Constructing a new baseball stadium was part of the 2004 deal that brought the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C. Building in Southeast D.C. made sense: the Anacostia River is lined with some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods and there's little evidence that the Navy Yard once was a thriving economic center. The district made a deal to build the stadium, and the city needed a way to help that area.

So far, those goals seem to be on track. The Nationals expect $50 million in additional revenue in 2008 (hopefully they will use it to acquire more talent). As expected, new office buildings, retail centers, residences and restaurants have followed the new stadium. The economic impact is expected to spread as far as Prince George’s County, the Maryland suburb closest to the stadium. PG County also needs the economic help.

Even though early signs point to success, it’s not over with this year's home opener. Not all of the office space has been filled. What will become of Major League Soccer’s D.C. United? Or to the non-profit Positive Nature? Positive Nature runs an after-school program which includes tutoring, sports, art therapy, and a lot of general, much needed one-on-one time for at-risk kids. It’s a wonderful program that is struggling to make ends meet while paying a 755 percent increase in property taxes over the last two years.

The new ballpark will generate plenty of revenue for the district, but that doesn’t mean the city should discard what D.C. United brings, even though it’s a smaller economic concern than the Nationals. (The commissioner of Major League Soccer has told the owners of the United that if they can't strike a deal with the city soon, they need to move outside of the district. And the city is not rushing to close such a deal.) Yes, Nationals Stadium can transform Anacostia much as the Verizon Center transformed Chinatown. That doesn’t mean the district shouldn’t look for ways to help groups like Positive Nature find affordable options for its programs.

Right now, Washington's relationship with the Nationals puts us somewhere in the third inning and the city has a lead. Commerce is returning to Anacostia, and the costs are relatively minimal. The only permanent resident who lost his home was given $1.5 million, which he used to pay off his mom’s hospital bills. The district doesn’t have a no-hitter, but a little tightening in the infield could make a big difference by the end of the game.

*The Nationals officially debuted their new stadium in an exhibition game on Saturday, March 29 against the Baltimore Orioles: the Nationals won that contest 3-0. The Nationals open their season tonight, March 30, in their new ballpark against the Atlanta Braves.

(The photo of the construction at Nationals Stadium is from late 2007 and is by D.F. Shapinsky for PINGNews/Shapinsky MultiMedia via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. The PINGNews homepage is located here.)










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3.29.2008

Congratulations, Molly!

Fantastic news,
Molly Kenney!

One of the founding writers of this blog, Molly was named a Truman Scholar this week. The Harry Truman Scholarship Foundation names 65 scholars annually in its high-level scholarship competition. Molly was cited for her work on projects regarding the rehabilitation of criminal offenders and for her efforts as an investigator for the D.C. Public Defender Service.

As regular readers of the blog know, Molly has specialized in topics about law and justice. Some of her best pieces include: "The Supreme Court & the Death Penalty;" "Drug Sentences: Examining the Supreme Court's Surprise;" and "John Edwards Says Good-bye to the Campaign Trail, For Now." Of course, the piece that Molly wrote that is the most popular with readers has nothing to do with law, justice or politics. Instead it is about rock bands and t-shirts: "Threadless Says: I Listen to Bands that Don't Even Exist Yet."

Molly is currently studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science and she is set to return to American University next fall.

We are honored that Molly shares her stories and opinions with us regularly here. Nice work, Molly, and well deserved!



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Music: Crunchy Frog & its Danish Rockers

by Hilary Crowe

Crunchy Frog,* the record label from Copenhagen credited with breaking garage rock duo The Raveonettes (now on Vice Records), is sending some more Danish indie pop-rock stateside with Wolfkin’s Brand New Pants and X-Ray Spirit from Snake & Jet’s Amazing Bullit Band.

Wolfkin’s debut has been circulating in the band’s native Denmark and neighboring Germany since August 2006, although it was finally released in the U.S. on Feb. 12 of this year. The late jump across the pond is easily understood after 43 minutes of trite sonic punishment. The equivalent of a failed state in the music world, the frontloaded album runs out of what little self-sustaining steam it had long before reaching the lukewarm title track, proof that there’s more to songwriting than peppering otherwise flat-lining lyrics with shocking obscenities and potty-humor-inspired, tongue-in-cheek quips to give bland compositions some zing. In fact, the entire album is a monument to mediocrity, the result of yet another couple of average Joes matriculating through the increasingly meritocracy-challenged music industry.

However, despite such affronts as “Closer” and “7th Heaven” – the abysmal track that sparked the duo’s disc-making and offers little clues as to why anyone considered the venture a good idea at all – Wolfkin may find new fans in the States. “Subversatine” picks up the pace to a trot with a Morrissey-inspired melancholic, ambiguously aimed love song, as does the somewhat pleasantly repetitive “Coyoacan” – the rockingest, best song on the album. “Island of Surprise” gets a gallop going with a bit of blues-country twanging, but the Jesus references, forced wittiness, and repetition of such stop the momentary momentum in its tracks.

All of Wolfkin’s lyrics are not especially engaging or revelatory: they’re empty, trite, and ultimately unmoving. One might say that shutting up would do the band some good, but for that to be true the music would have to be strong enough to stand on its own – which it is not. The drum machine, looping, and vocoder effects have been done and done again, and by better, more creative artists (namely Broken Social Scene and Animal Collective).

It seems Wolfkin (Wolfkin is Lars Vognstrup and Christian Gotfredsen) is hopelessly snagged astride a barbed wire fence – not quite dangerous or menacing, not quite twee; neither experimental nor harmoniously and melodically appealing. It seems Wolfkin doesn't need Brand New Pants but a brand new bag and a swift kick in the pants they’ve already got.

But where Wolfkin lack teeth, Snake & Jet pack quite a bite and prove to be one of Crunchy Frog’s more redeeming bands. For fans of the hypothetical love child of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Subways, this band’s brand of indie, electric garage rock riffage ricocheting against sassy harmonica, sloppy keyboards, and high hat rapping will get even the most reluctant toes tapping and tushes wagging. Snake & Jet's X-Ray Spirit is actually a compilation of re-mixes and remastered tracks with a few new additions that displays this duo’s material from five EPs released in Denmark dating from as far back as 2003, although this is their first LP. X-Ray Spirit was released on March 25 in the U.S. Snake & Jet (mutli-instrumentalists Thor Rasmussen and Thomas Teilmann Frederiksen, who are aided by a number of guest vocalists) have the New York City garage band act down so well – complete with the gravelly, Pabst Blue Ribbon-and-Marlboro-cracked vocals – they’re almost disappointingly un-exotic. Almost.

The only downside is that the band found a shtick they carry well and run with it – ’til the (dead) end. There’s not much variation in their sound; periodic, short experimental tracks punctuate the run-on dissonance-spewing sentences with ethereal electromusings. Luckily, the band included brief respites like “Garbage Structure” – perhaps the most interesting track on the album – to break up the monotony of those too-much-of-a-good-thing, aggressive and digitally dirtied ditties. Then again, there’s nothing as endorphin-inducing as listening to one’s favorite song endlessly, dizzyingly on repeat, and with X-Ray Spirit, Snake & Jet have given future fans just that – an album of future favorites.

*For those not familiar with the cultural reference behind the name, please check out this Monty Python skit.

(The promotional photo of Snake & Jet's Amazing Bullit Band is by Simon Højbo Hansen for Crunchy Frog Records. To see Snake & Jet's video for "X-Ray" please check below. Wolkin recently finished a short tour of the U.S. That duo's video for "A Vacant Heart" is the second one below.)





Editor's Note: This post is the last piece by Hilary Crowe for iVoryTowerz. For the second time, we send her off with a hearty good-bye and we wish her luck in her new endeavors. Hilary is one of the original writers of the blog group and her views and attitude have contributed to the blog's character.








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3.28.2008

iVoryTowerz Radio = Rock 'N' Roll Radio

"Gabba Gabba Hey!" The Ramones get this rock show rolling and we keep the accelerator to the floor for almost a full 90 minutes. Along the way, as is typical for the underground podcast, we cover 40 years of rock music. But we also don't forget to make some popular stops along the way on our musical journey, including a variety of new songs. Not enough for your rock 'n roll weekend carnival yet? How about a medley of rockers doing music from James Bond films? Or a request for one of the staples of the heavy metal British scene of the 1970s? That should get you rockin'. So enjoy!




(To download or stream this podcast, please click here.)




Playlist

"Do You Remember Rock 'N' Roll Radio?" by The Ramones
Jeff’s New Wave:
“Let’s Loot the Supermarket Again Like We did Last Summer” by Mick Farren

“Supernatural Superserious” by R.E.M.
“Street Fighting Man" by Lake Trout
"27 Jennifers" by Mike Doughty
Cover Me: "Nobody Does It Better" by Radiohead
"Diamonds are Forever" by The Arctic Monkeys
"Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney & Wings
“The World is not Enough” by Garbage
"If I Could Turn Back Time" by Jennifer Batten
"The Wind Cries Mary” by Jimi Hendrix
“Always with Me, Always with You" by Joe Satriani
Rick's Metal Shoppe: "Look at Yourself" by Uriah Heep (request)
"Waving Flags" by British Sea Power
"Believe I've Found" by The Soundtrack of Our Lives
"I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock & Roll Band)" by The Moody Blues

(Mp3 Runs - 1:29:13; 82 MB.) Program contains explicit lyrics.

(Photo of Joey Ramone by Yves Lorson on permanent vacation in Kapellen, Belgium via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)




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Music Video: The Raconteurs' "Salute Your Solution"

In an attempt to defeat the critics and those who would leak their new album, The Raconteurs released Consolers of the Lonely within a week of delivering the master tapes to their label Warner Brothers Records. The release was so rushed, reviews (like our review from Vincent Lee) appeared before the band had time to release its first video single. So as a postscript to our review, you can see the band playing "Salute Your Solution" in this posting. This video is now on the band's official website, and myspace page; it appears to be posted on YouTube by a recording studio in Mexico City. (A hint to where the band put together some of the album?) According to the U.K.'s New Musical Express, the video is actually stop-action animation of more than 2,500 black and white stills of the band.

Rock on Raconteurs!



(Promotional photo of The Raconteurs from XL Recordings and Warner Brothers Records.)









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The XM-Sirius Merger: Unanswered Questions

by Rick Rockwell

The mainstream corporate media are swooning with the news this week that the Department of Justice has approved the merger of the nation’s only satellite radio firms, XM and Sirius.

But there are plenty of unanswered questions on the way to the corporate media lovefest.

What no one has adequately answered is: what will it mean for consumers?

More on that in a second, but a larger question looms: what will inevitably be lost when satellite radio becomes a monopoly?

Based upon the history of monopolies and economics, here is what subscribers of satellite radio are about to see: poor service, less originality, less niche programming, pricing schemes that look more like cable television, more advertising. And more dependence on star performers, such as Oprah Winfrey and Howard Stern, both of whom make me want to gag. The economics of mergers tells us only the biggest stars will survive the inevitable personnel cuts that follow such corporate marriages.

Finally, what no one has answered is what happens to XM once its smaller but more aggressive competitor is done swallowing it up? (Although the specifics of the merger call for each company to have equal weight in the new corporate structure, Mel Karmazin, who heads Sirius, would be the CEO of the merged firms.)

Like many of the mainstream media, The Washington Post splashed news of the merger’s approval across its front page. The story was mostly a glowing review of the Justice Department’s decision, with all the consumer concerns stuffed at the end of a long piece. The Post has usually taken a favorable view of XM, their recent send-off for XM founder Lee Abrams is just one of many examples. Truly, XM has been good for Washington, D.C., and the operation was one of the businesses spurring an urban revival in the city’s New York Avenue corridor. The Post's favorable coverage rightfully reflected this, but sometimes this cheerleader role unbalanced the newspaper’s view of the merger.

Luckily, Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein set his own paper straight this week, calling the merger just another example of special deals from the Bush administration for the privileged. Pearlstein pointed out that if the XM-Sirius merger passes muster you might as well tear up anti-trust law. Merge any company you want, he said, including Pepsi and Coke. And he makes an excellent point.

So far though, The Post in all of its local boosterism hasn’t seen fit to explore what happens if the merger means XM’s studios are shuttered due to cost cutting by the Sirius bosses in New York. But corporate media operations often don’t give us the full picture of what these mergers mean when it comes to local jobs and development. Perhaps that strikes too close to home. But one would have thought The Post would have learned something from the debacle of the AOL-Time Warner merger, which also happened in its back yard. Maybe not.

The XM-Sirius merger is designed to give satellite radio special competitive advantages after both companies piled up a mountain of debt in an orgy of spending, seducing high-profile stars. But the public didn’t follow those stars to what amounts to pay radio, although the number of subscribers for the service is growing slowly. (Currently, the services have 17 million subscribers who pay $12.95 per month.) The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) started satellite radio as a duopoly, which is bad enough. Once the merger is complete, with no competition, one large satellite monolith can raise prices much like TV cable companies do now. Consumer groups and others opposed to the merger have already criticized the satellite firms’ bundling and a la carte offerings as too expensive. Various states also oppose the merger. But the FCC is not likely to stop the merger. Usually the commission follows the lead of the Justice Department.

Only three things can stop this corporate marriage now: 1) broadcasters who oppose the merger could file suit or 2) consumer groups could file suit. And then again, maybe Sirius and XM could fall out of love with each other. But with so much mismanagement and debt to cover up, that’s not likely.

(For more background, please also see "Congress, Trust & Satellite Radio," and "The NAB Gets It Right, Sometimes.")

(The graphic of a radio satellite is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — NOAA; as the graphic is from the government, it is in the public domain.)















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3.26.2008

The 2008 Baseball Season: Or, Franz Kafka Takes Batting Practice

by Jeff Siegel

How surreal will this season be? It starts this weekend (save for a pair of games in Japan, the first played on Tuesday, which is unusual enough), and has the potential to be one of the oddest, strangest, and most bizarre ever.

• Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, the Mouth That Roared, is in semi-retirement and has barely been heard from in the past nine months. How is this possible? Steinbrenner is the man who had 17 managers in 17 seasons, including Billy Martin five separate times. If that's not enough, he has been replaced by son Hank, who makes George seem like the Easter Bunny. During one spring training controversy this year, Hank said: "I don't want these teams in general to forget who subsidizes a lot of them, and it's the Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets.... I would prefer if teams want to target the Yankees that they at least start giving some of that revenue sharing and luxury tax money back." Don't worry if you don't understand that quote. I'm not sure I do, either, and I'm supposed to.

Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader, is unemployed despite his willingness to play another season, his apparent ability to play another season, and several teams that would seem to need his services. So, of course, the players union wants to investigate why no one has signed Bonds. Note to players union: Bonds is more or less under federal indictment. That may have something to do with it.

• The Boston Red Sox, once the poster team for being not quite good enough, have not only won two World Series in the past four seasons, but are among the favorites to win again this year. The Sox are 9-to-2 by one account, which is so low it's almost not worth betting on. Their hated enemies, the Yankees, are 13-to-2. The young people in the audience may not appreciate this, that the Red Sox are favored ahead of the Yankees and have won more World Series this decade than the Yankees but this is the baseball equivalent of Rush Limbaugh spending the weekend as Bill and Hillary Clinton's house guests.

• Major League Baseball's owners, who usually throw money at free agents during the off-season the way Limbaugh spews venom at the Clintons, didn't this year. There were a couple of extravagant signings, like the Seattle Mariners giving a very ordinary pitcher named Carlos Silva $48 million over four years. But, for the most part, the owners reined in their enthusiasm. Several theories have been advanced for this: that the owners are colluding (from the players association); that a recession will curtail ticket sales and sponsor money and hence revenue; and that the owners are finally wising up. The first has happened before and the second is certainly possible. But the third? Baseball hasn't become that surreal yet.

And, for what it's worth, a few predictions for 2008: The Red Sox, Tigers and Angels will win their divisions, with the Yankees earning the American League wild card. In the National League, the Phillies, Brewers, and Diamondbacks will win their divisions, with the Mets as the wild card.

Already the 2008 Baseball season receives a five Kafka rating: (Main photo by Mayr via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. Kafka graphics from The Heretik.)









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3.25.2008

Music Review: The Raconteurs' Consolers of the Lonely

by Vincent Lee

The Raconteurs first album was one of the most talked about debut albums in recent memory. Their second album has generated similar uproar and discussion. Following Radiohead’s sudden release precedent, The Raconteurs announced the release of their new album Consolers of the Lonely only one week ago.

Consolers of the Lonely is definitely an evolution of sorts for The Raconteurs from their debut. From fiddles to horns, The Raconteurs use a number of different instruments to bring about a new sound. The sound of Consolers in general is busier and more layered than its predecessor. White Stripes fans and even those of the first Raconteurs album may question this new sound. The minimalistic Jack White is nowhere to be seen on this album. However, the signature killer guitar riffs and solos that make him one of the best guitarists in recent memory are not lost: White is here in his other guise as the pioneer of experimental rock anchored by a firm foundation of blues-rock and garage sounds.

This departure could be marked as a general all around success. All fourteen songs are distinct and solid. The flow from song to song is outstanding. That said, this album is not without its standouts. The opening two tracks, “Consoler of the Lonely” and “Salute Your Solution,” set the high energy mood for the album. Both greatly showcase The Raconteurs' “new sound” as well as evoking memories of what made Broken Boy Soldiers, the band's debut, so great.

The masterpiece of the album is the final track “Carolina Drama.” "Carolina Drama" is an insane tale rambling on about Billy, a priest, and murder that concludes with the bizarre singing of “la la la la la la yeah” over and over. Somehow, it works wonderfully.

Fans of The White Stripes and The Raconteurs' first album may be initially surprised by the direction of Consolers of the Lonely. Yet, this surprise should be a pleasant one. It is a superb album throughout that is bound to be one of the best albums of the year.

(Promotional photo of The Raconteurs from XL Recordings and Warner Brothers Records. The Raconteurs are set to open their North American tour in Vancouver, BC, Canada on April 20. As of yet, the band has not released any videos from Consolers of the Lonely. However, a video of "Level" from Broken Boy Soldiers can be seen below.)









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3.24.2008

Music Review: Temposhark's The Invisible Line

by Molly Kenney

According to Temposhark, the band behind the new album The Invisible Line, they are wildly popular with the U.K. underground. Either the Brits like tinny, sing-song lyrics that lead to migraines, or I’ve found another British custom I don’t understand.

Temposhark’s debut album relies on nursery rhyme-like lyrics with repetitive techno beats. (This is Temposhark's first full length release although the group has released singles and EPs since 2004.) The Invisible Line seems meant to be listened to with several drinks and a couple thousand of your closest friends at a generic Euro club. But The Invisible Line had me rubbing my head to relieve the techno-induced pain — and I hadn’t even left my desk while listening.

“Don’t Mess with Me,” “Blame,” “Little White Lies,” and “Not that Big” (featuring Imogen Heap) follow the same principle of repeating the song’s title as much as possible with synthesized, atonal orchestral backbeats. “Crime,” a touching ode to S&M, sounds like every other techno song that provides the soundtrack for sketchy men to grope women in clubs.

Vocalist Rob Diament (formerly of Killing Joke) stepped up the lyrics on “Is It Better to Have Loved” and “Battleship,” and while the songs sound very similar, they showcase Diament’s vocal ability in a way the other songs can’t possibly. On “Is It Better to Have Loved,” Diament slowly sings: “The sky has drained now I must live without / How suddenly the whole world can change overnight / How suddenly the whole world sings your name.” This gives the track the feeling of a regretful daydream.

“Battleships” feels like a raspier version of a boy band ballad moving very slowly through outer space, but it pulls you into the weird ride.

Temposhark tries to straddle the electropop line, but on The Invisible Line, they fall short. Diament has a decent voice and “Is It Better” and “Battleship” prove the band can write more than sing-song background music for drunk adults. If Temposhark channels its seemingly hidden talent, then maybe their next album won’t be so forgettable.

(Temposhark's The Invisible Line will be officially released tomorrow, March 25. The promotional photo of Temposhark is by Jim Dyson for Defend Records. To see a video of Temposhark playing "Blame," cut at New York City's The Annex in the fall of 2007, please check below.)








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3.23.2008

The Iraq War Retrospective

by Laura Snedeker

Five years ago, President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, an event much anticipated in neoconservative circles and much dreaded by Americans who feared the disastrous effects of an illegal war.

“My fellow citizens,” Bush said from the Oval Office. “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”

Five years spent lost in the desert have proven his words wrong. The military forces he spoke of were mostly American troops assisted by a few troops from nations such as Britain and Spain, countries that went against domestic popular opinion to support the president’s foolish endeavor. The military operations designed to “disarm Iraq” turned up trailers designed to produce hydrogen gas to power balloons instead of biological weapons facilities. Worse, instead of freeing Iraq and protecting the world from “grave danger,” the destructiveness of the war unleashed an insurgency, sparked a civil war, and transformed the country into a haven for the terrrorists of al-Qaeda.

The president took it one step further to provoke proud, sentimental, naïve nationalism in his American audience. “The people you liberate will witness the honorable and decent spirit of the American military,” he said.

The bold vision of heavily armed humanitarian missionaries marching into Baghdad to topple a terrible regime was replaced by the cold, unforgiving reality on the ground. The abuses at Abu Ghraib, a torture prison under the iron fist of Saddam Hussein, continued under the equally brutal jurisdiction of the U.S. military. Pictures of gleeful American soldiers forcing detainees to humiliate themselves and tales of horrific tortures belied the cheery tales of nation-building. The generals, willing to prove that they were prepared to destroy Iraq in order to save it, unleashed hellfire on the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and lowly grunts massacred people in the city of Haditha.

Did the president admit his mistakes and commit the last year of his presidency to righting his many wrongs? Speaking at the Pentagon last week, President Bush continued to assert that the invasion of Iraq had been the right course of action. “Operation Iraqi Freedom was a remarkable display of military effectiveness," he said, neglecting to mention the years of chaos that followed the invasion.

“The liberation of Iraq took incredible skill and amazing courage,” he said. “And the speed, precision, and brilliant execution of the campaign will be studied by military historians for years to come.”

It is undoubtedly true that the U.S. military crippled the Iraqi government in days and disposed of it in mere weeks, but it is hard to imagine a different outcome between two so unmatched foes. The U.S. military’s ability to utterly decimate a Third World army was hardly a remarkable feat.

“The best way we can honor them is by making sure that their sacrifice was not in vain," the president said of the troops who died in Iraq. “Five years ago tonight, I promised the American people that in the struggle ahead ‘we will accept no outcome but victory.’ Today, standing before men and women who helped liberate a nation, I reaffirm the commitment. The battle in Iraq is noble, it is necessary, and it is just. And with your courage, the battle in Iraq will end in victory.”

The deaths of 4,000 soldiers do not make a war just, and victory cannot justify their deaths or the war in which they died. Desperate to prove that the Iraq War was not a futile war of conquest, desperate to prove that he did not go into Iraq without a plan for getting out, the president appealed to Americans’ most base instincts. But no victory celebration, real or staged, can bring honor to what is fundamentally dishonorable and deceitful, or resurrect those who have died in vain for a lie.

(Political graphic © copyright The Project for the Old American Century, which allows the use of its material with the appropriate credit.)





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Barack Obama & NCAA March Madness

by Suzie Raven*

Senator Barack Obama believes in providing more funding for public schools while demanding more accountability, working towards energy independence, and that the University of North Carolina will win the NCAA mens' basketball tournament.

A historic presidential campaign took on a new twist when Sen. Obama (D-IL) threw March Madness into the mix. He explained his bracket picks this week on the morning radio show for 850 The Buzz (WRBZ-AM), located in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. Some wonder if he is trying to win votes before the North Carolina primary on May 6th, or earn the favor of John Edwards. Former Senator Edwards of North Carolina has not endorsed a candidate, but has a full basketball court on his property with a huge UNC logo in the center. One commentator noted that Obama didn’t pick one of the tournament’s Pennsylvania schools, such as Pittsburgh or St. Joseph’s, before that state’s critical primary on April 22nd. As the top tournament seed, UNC is a much more obvious choice than any of the Pennsylvania schools.

I would like to think Obama picked UNC because he believes in their fast break, not because he hopes to gain superdelegates. However, a presidential candidate with no ulterior motive – or at least without consideration of the impact on his campaign – would be asking too much. It’s a smart move on his part. Obama is obviously not claiming that his time in the Senate makes him an expert on college basketball, but talking about it helps the average voter identify with him. March Madness speaks to a much wider audience than the effect of interest rates on the mortgage crisis.

As usual, showing his human side sets Obama apart from Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). She said she would defer to her “basketball advisor” (her husband). She passed up easy choices in number 2 seed Georgetown, her husband’s alma mater, and Pittsburgh, considering she was in Lancaster, PA when asked. Basketball advisor?

In the grand scheme of things, the Iraq War is more important to our country than who wins the NCAA basketball championship. Still, Obama knows that if you want to catch people’s attention, talk about what interests them. I have no doubt that more Americans filled out a tournament bracket than can tell you about the latest clash between Iraqi troops and Shi'ite militias.

(The University of North Carolina Tar Heels beat Mount St. Mary's 113-74 in a first round match-up, Friday, March 21. UNC meets Arkansas in Raleigh, NC in the second round of the tournament, tomorrow, Sunday, March 23.)

*Suzie Raven is a graduate of the University of North Carolina.

(In the photo, Barack Obama is pictured in the center of his high school junior varsity basketball team at the Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1977. School yearbook photos, such as this one, are generally regarded as part of the public domain.)










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3.22.2008

NCAA Basketball: March Madness & the Underdogs

by Hayden Alfano*
Special to iVoryTowerz

In a day full of signature NCAA mens' tournament moments, I was reminded what I like the most about the Big Dance by a game that will barely register a mention in Saturday's recaps of the action.

I sat at Buffalo Billiards in Dupont Circle in D.C. and watched as my alma mater, American University, made the most of its first-ever tournament bid. The Eagles played Tennessee nearly even for 34 minutes in their first round matchup. That the Eagles ultimately lost this basketball contest by the score of 72-57 is immaterial. (The final margin is a bit deceiving, as the Volunteers capitalized on free throw attempts when AU resorted to desperation fouls until the final buzzer.) American was playing with house money, their season already a success simply by virtue of playing a game in the NCAA Tournament.

As Davidson’s Stephen Curry was in the process of dropping 40 points on Gonzaga in a virtuoso performance and Miami’s Jack McClinton scored 38 to lead his team to victory over St. Mary’s, American’s Garrison Carr was trying his damnedest to do the same thing. He tied the game at 40 on back-to-back three pointers with 11 minutes and change remaining. He finished with a heroic 26 points, single-handedly keeping his team in the game, giving two hours of memories to a school and a fan base that had never tasted March hope before.

While Tennessee – one of a handful of teams with realistic national title aspirations – began its season with aims of cutting down the nets next month in San Antonio, American’s goal at the start of practice in October was to win the Patriot League tournament and earn an automatic bid to the Big Dance. They did that, and nothing could have happened Friday in Birmingham that would have made them feel like they had fallen short of their goals.

The same was true of Portland State on Thursday. The Vikings lost 85-61 to top-seeded Kansas, but all you had to do was listen to coach Ken Bone’s voice break up after the game to know that their season was a success.

It was also true of Belmont – like American, a 15th seed – that lost 71-70 to Duke on Thursday. That the Bruins threw away an opportunity to pull a historic upset on the game’s final possession certainly hurts, but it won’t be long before those kids recognize that leading one of the game’s true powers in the final 20 seconds is a tremendous accomplishment.

It was even true of Mississippi Valley State. The Delta Devils set a record for futility on the offensive end in a 70-29 loss to UCLA on Thursday. Scoring the fewest points in a first-round tournament game in the shot clock era surely isn’t what the team had in mind heading into the game, but there are nine other Southwestern Athletic Conference teams who desperately wish they had earned the opportunity to hold such a dubious mark.

That’s the great thing about the NCAA Tournament: There is no universal measure of success. The Eagles would surely like to be like Tennessee or Kansas, or UCLA or North Carolina or Memphis, teams that surely feel incomplete without a trip to the Final Four. They’d like to be like fellow underdogs Western Kentucky – who got a 26-footer from Ty Rogers at the overtime horn to stun Drake on Friday – or San Diego, which upset Connecticut by one in overtime on a last-second shot by De’Jon Jackson. But ultimately, they know there’s nothing wrong with being American.

Thanks for the ride, fellas.

And congratulations.

(The Tennessee Volunteers take on the Butler Bulldogs in the next round of the NCAA mens' tournament on Sunday, March 23.)

*Hayden Alfano is the author of the blog 19'9" which is mostly about basketball.










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3.21.2008

Olympic Travesty: China, Tibet & Human Rights

by Robin Forman

Who gave China the Olympics?

No, seriously. What’s wrong with these people?

In addition to a wealth of human rights violations all their own, China is mixed up in human rights issues involving Darfur too.

How about the fact China is the one of world’s biggest polluters?

Oh, and remember those commies and reds that everyone once feared?

Well, guess which country is ruled by a whole bunch of commies and reds.

Now, China is giving the Dalai Lama ulcers. Don't they know this is the man who wrote The Art of Happiness?

For those who don't read the news on the weekend, you may have missed how Buddhist monks in Tibet led protests against the Chinese occupation of their country. And then the protests turned violent: the worst violence in Tibet in a generation. At least 13 people were killed, and the Chinese arrested at least 24 monks and other protestors.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao accused the Dalai Lama of orchestrating the riots by Tibetans to wreck the Beijing Olympics. Wen told a news conference in Beijiing: “There is ample fact and plenty of evidence proving this incident was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique.”

Wen also said, "This has all the more revealed the consistent claims by the Dalai clique that they pursue not independence but peaceful dialogue are nothing but lies."

In actuality, the Dalai Lama has called for an end to the violence and has threatened to step down as leader of Tibet’s government in exile if violence continues. Mind you, the Dalai Lama and Tibet's government in exile must stay in India to escape Chinese oppression.

China's methods for dealing with the Tibetan protesters are deplorable. Some human rights groups charge Chinese troops with firing indiscriminately at unarmed protestors.

Remember when I wrote about protestors being shot like this before?

It was in Kenya. Only nobody gave Kenya the Olympics.

The U.S and other Western countries bit their tongues in responding to the violence in Tibet. Both U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the European Union called for China to practice “restraint” but veered from making bolder statements. The E.U. also brushed aside the notion of boycotting the Beijiing Olympics. And President George Bush noted he still plans to attend the Olympics.

The Czech Republic and Russia had stronger reactions. The Czech Republic called for the immediate release of all detained people, while Russia encouraged its ally, China, to do whatever it had to in order to “curtail unlawful actions.”

But fear not…none of this conflict will cause the Olympic torch to have to detour.

Phew! That was close. I almost thought human rights might take precedence over a huge international sporting event.

(Photo by art_es_anna of Barcelona, Spain via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see coverage of the Tibetan protests by Al Jazeera English, please check below.)











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iVoryTowerz Radio: Brilliant Mistake

Although some might take the title of this week's underground podcast as a commentary on the entire enterprise, actually the first song is dedicated to those wrongheaded neocons who brought us the Iraq War. In case you missed it, this week was the fifth anniversary of that historic error. But this is not one of our all-show, anti-war rants. Instead, you'll find plenty of new material from various mid-Atlantic bands that the critics are calling brilliant, make no mistake about that. Not to mention, we have our usual journey through most of the decades of rock: more than 50 years of music are covered here. Oh, and if you listen carefully, you'll hear some mistakes (just like every week) which are planned, unplanned, brilliant, and stunningly bad, by turns. Hey, it's a rock 'n roll show! Give us a break. It's intended to be loose. So come along for the usual rollercoaster ride. And enjoy!


(This podcast is no longer available for download.)


Playlist

"Brilliant Mistake" by Elvis Costello
Jeff’s New Wave: “Girls are Always Right” by Any Trouble
“Can You Feel It?” by The Apples in Stereo
“Beat of the Double" by Apes
"Wedding Bell" by Beach House
"Reject Reject" by Pants Yell!
"Shady Kids" by bloodbloodblood (request)
“Dead Sound” by The Raveonettes
"That's Alright, Mama" by Carl Perkins
"Devil's Radio” by George Harrison
“Motorcycle Blues Eyes" by Havana 3 A.M.
"California" by Melissa Etheridge
"City Hall" by Vienna Teng
"I Will Remember You" by Sarah McLachlan
Cover Me: "For Whom the Bell Tolls'" by Apocalyptica
Rick's Metal Shoppe: "Serpent Saints" by Entombed

(Mp3 Runs - 1:25:36; 79 MB.) Program contains explicit lyrics.

(Graphic by SakuraFlame09 via PhotoBucket.)




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3.20.2008

London Theater Review: The Factory's Hamlet

by Molly Kenney

By design, The Factory’s Hamlet is shrouded in mystery. The production’s producers require prospective audience members to be gathered almost entirely by word of mouth and electronically: one must join their Facebook group or listserv to find out the production’s location. Seeing this Hamlet isn’t easy. Each week, the venue is somewhere new in London, and The Factory only announces it a few days before each Sunday’s 5:00 p.m. show. Also, audience members should be prepared to bring their own props, be drafted for a rock-paper-scissors game to choose the cast, to move around quite a bit during the show — basically to leave any preconceived notions of “theater” at the door.

I don’t usually go for this. “Interactive theater” scares me. I don’t want to be dragged up on stage to make a fool of myself, and I’ve never really cared for leaving a show covered in paint or water or some other substance flung from the stage. But The Factory’s Hamlet transcends interactive — and normal — and it does so with incredible style, humor, and talent.

Our Hamlet took place in The Nave, the main part of an old church in Highbury and Islington that is undergoing renovation. We were told to sit anywhere, and the audience naturally created a circle of chairs, partly to avoid the tarp and scaffolding filling the church and partly the big carpenter’s table in the center looked vaguely stage-like. I sat nervously with my stuffed Highland coo (a giant reddish cow-thing from Scotland) on my lap, while my boyfriend held a roll of toilet paper. The man sitting behind me fiddled with an iron, and the woman on my right shifted a cabbage from hand to hand.

The actors and director had no costumes. They just wore their street clothes (the guy who played Hamlet wore jeans so tight I was concerned for his ability to move and reproduce), and we did indeed pick the cast for the night via battles of rock-paper-scissors. The director then instructed us that for each of the show’s five acts, the audience would move around, changing the acting space, and that the actors would be subject to new rules. The actors would have ten seconds before each act to look around at the props we’d brought. The second the director finished speaking, what The Factory describes as “the chaos” began.

Hamlet brandished a plastic recorder, fighting battles by playing the most discordant note possible, and his victims died by plugging their ears with their fingers. In the final act, everyone died this way, and Hamlet delivered his final speech by slowly bringing his fingers to his ears. The second act came with the requirement that the actors be touching someone any time they spoke. Actors were on audience members’ laps, dragging them to their feet, or, in my case, spraying tan lotion on their faces. (Hamlet did this to me, and despite my distaste for getting dirty while theater-going, the actor was very attractive and I forgave him.) In his soliloquy at the beginning of Act Three, Hamlet tossed condoms to the audience, which fit perfectly with the speech’s diction of conception. There was wrestling, a princess crown, a giant leek, a nip of rum, and cotton balls. The King ate Pringles, and each chip was another line of a letter from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. And finally, a fitting end to the absurdity: Hamlet and Laertes dueled with a plastic duck and rubber chicken, bawk-bawking at each other while bouncing the fowl off audience members’ heads.

It sounds ridiculous, and some of it was, but The Factory’s players knew their stuff. These actors were so familiar with the dialogue and its many meanings (quite the feat, considering that they had to know all the parts) that they designed each play on words while dodging haphazardly placed chairs and working with a set of props that looked like the ingredients of a Dali painting. They managed to preserve the gravitas of one of Shakespeare’s best tragedies while stepping far outside the bounds of conventional Shakespearean theater. It was completely strange and completely amazing.

The Factory’s mission for their Hamlet Project is to answer the question: “Can you achieve absolute artistic freedom with absolutely no money and sustain it indefinitely?” I can sympathize with the absolutely no money part, but for this art, I’ll scrounge up ₤10 and go in search of the next location of the wonderful chaos.

(The logo graphic for The Factory's Hamlet Project is from the production's promotional and press packet.)





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