6.30.2008

Privatization & Gentrification: Milton Friedman's Shock Troops

by Abigail DeRoberts
Special to iVoryTowerz

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the country mourned, recognizing tragedy. It was only the most ardent of capitalists among us who saw opportunity instead of ruin. Milton Friedman, the father of the modern market, has famously said, “only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change.” Friedman saw disaster-ridden New Orleans as a blank slate, a place to start over again, particularly in the areas of housing and education, and the city’s oligarchs took his words to heart. Amply funded by the Bush administration, the public school system in New Orleans was quickly privatized: its 123 public schools shrank to 25 schools, compared to 31 charter schools.* New Orleans is now the only major city in the U.S. where a majority of students are enrolled in charter schools, which essentially are private schools subsidized with tax dollars and granted wide latitude from government oversight.

Though not as drastic as in New Orleans, Washington, D.C. is in the midst of similar mass school closings. For twenty-three schools in the District, their final classes met in mid-June. Slightly different from the privatization of New Orleans’ public schools, D.C. school closings are largely a symptom of crisis rather than enabled by crisis. One of the most prominent of these crises is rapid, widespread gentrification. Gentrification is happening at a breakneck pace and spreading like a virus throughout the city. Many of the District’s low-income residents have nowhere to go, and are being pushed out to places like Prince George’s County in Maryland. Low-income families are being pushed out of the city and replaced by young professionals. These young professionals are largely childless, so schools suffer under-enrollment, the major impetus for the school closings. Many D.C. residents who do have children tend to take advantage of the city’s voucher system and send their children to private schools.

In a city shocked by intense and unstoppable gentrification, families are being pushed out, schools are being closed, and communities inside the city are being broken. Public schools are closing, and charter schools are expanding. Friedman’s followers are provided with another blank slate, and if it continues, the result will continue to be ethnic cleansing through economic violence.

*Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine from 2007 has more on this topic.

(Graphic from radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free.)










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6.27.2008

Derrick Rose & the NBA Draft: The Next Tim Duncan?

by Hayden Alfano

Tim Duncan and Derrick Rose are very different basketball players, but before all is said and done, they may well end up inextricably linked.

Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs' veteran power forward, is an 11-year veteran, a ten-time All-Star, and has twice been named the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Most Valuable Player. Rose is barely 19 years old, the newly-minted Chicago Bulls point guard, and the top overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

Once upon a time, back in 1997, Duncan was the No. 1 pick. But to understand his connection to Rose, you have to first know a little bit about how the NBA determines its draft order.

Unlike other sports leagues, the NBA doesn’t set its amateur draft order based on reverse order of finish from the previous season. Instead, the 14 teams that miss the playoffs are entered into a lottery. The worst teams, on the basis of overall record, are given the most chances to win, and the lottery is conducted for the first three picks. After those three teams are selected, the rest of the picks are given out, with the fourth pick going to the remaining team with the worst record.

In the 1996-1997 season, the Spurs stumbled to a 20-62 record, third-worst in the league. That was in large part due, however, to injuries that kept star center David Robinson out of all but six games. They won the lottery, nabbed Duncan, and two years later — with a healthy Robinson — won the title, the first of four banners they’d take home on Duncan’s back over a nine-season stretch.

The Bulls, as currently constructed, are similarly “undeserving” of the league’s overall pick. Chicago missed the playoffs with a 33-49 record, and won the lottery with the right to pick Rose on about a 50-to-1 shot.

The Bulls are better than their record. Coming off a 49-win season and a first-round playoff sweep of the defending champion Miami Heat in 2007, Chicago was tabbed in the preseason as one of the contenders in the Eastern Conference. With a budding superstar on the wing in Luol Deng, an explosive scorer off the bench in Ben Gordon, a solid young point guard in Kirk Hinrich, and several key role players, they seemed poised to take the next step and make a run. Rose gives Chicago a legitimate star to add to an already talented group that suffered an anomaly of a poor season.

Like the Spurs of a decade ago, this fortunate set of circumstances has Chicago set to become a real threat for the next several years. If a title is in the future, it won’t come as quickly or as easily as it did to San Antonio in the late '90s; the league has better teams now than it has had in years, while those Spurs won their first title the season after Michael Jordan retired for the second time. The Bulls will also need to be active in the trade market, moving some quality backcourt depth for an upgrade in the post.

Duncan is considered by many to be the best power forward who has ever played. Odds are that Rose will not achieve that level of accolade for a point guard. But he is a similarly transcendent talent with the ability to transform a team.

That may be enough for Chicago.

(To see a video recap of the 2008 NBA Draft, please check below. This video is provided by the NBA.)











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iVoryTowerz Radio, Black Edition

As we turn the corner into the first full week of summer, and others are offering froth and fluff, expect the underground podcast to head in an alternative direction. If you want dimension with your summer listening, this podcast may be for you. Or perhaps, if you know that summer has its dark corners too, then this program may link up with your mood. As usual, the program covers almost 45 years of music with a strong dash of new material and a variety of styles. Besides straight out rockers, expect to find everything here from folk to grunge to heavy metal. This one likely goes down best at night with a tumbler of Tom Waits' favorite beverage. Enjoy!


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


Playlist

"The Times They are A-Changin'" by Bob Dylan
“The Party's Over” by Eliza Gilykson
“Silver Dagger" by Joan Baez
"Broken Man's Lament" by Emmylou Harris
"Yesterday's Garden" by Tom Fite
"Jockey Full of Bourbon" Tom Waits
"Sissyneck" by Beck
Jeff’s New Wave: "Nice Girls" by Any Trouble
Cover Me: "I've Been Waiting for You" by David Bowie
“What's Your New Thing” by Walking Concert
"Tessellate” by Tokyo Police Club
“Monster" by The Automatic Automatic
"Paint it Black'" by The Rolling Stones
"Black" by Pearl Jam
"Back in Black" by AC/DC
Rick's Metal Shoppe: "Indestructible" by Disturbed

(Mp3 Runs - 1:26:01; 79 MB.)

Programming Note: Next week due to the holiday, there will be no fresh podcast, although an archival podcast that is currently not available for download will return.

(Photo by Vanessa Pike-Russell of Wollongong, Australia via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)




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6.26.2008

The Best Summer Songs, Literally

(Editor's Note: Summer brings the inevitable search for music appropriate for the season. Already, the iVoryTowerz podcast has launched its annual search for the song that will forever evoke this summer in the future. Last year, this blog looked at the magic of summer themes: music that seems attached to a particular summer. However, some readers weren't looking for an essay about evocative music. For them, it was not about songs attached in some loose way to the season or to a year. It was not about radio airplay or Top 40 hits. No. Instead, it was literally about songs that mentioned summer: songs about the season. So, here's one for the literalists, appropriately for the first full week of the summer.)

by Rick Rockwell

1) "Summer in the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful: Although this was a band that could employ soaring harmonies, this song perfectly encompassed the heat and passion of summer with a particular crack to the drums and a throaty delivery of the lyrics. The song provides the perfect balance between the joys of summer and its aggravations. This is songcraft at its best and if it doesn't evoke a summer heatwave, you aren't listening close enough.

2) "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran: This is a great slice of rockabilly and the lyrics still apply to just about anyone 18 and under from the middle class on down. Although various bands have cut covers of this classic, including a scorcher by The Who, Cochran's original contains the perfect mix of plaintive teenaged complaint and joyous rave up.

3) "Summertime" by Janis Joplin with Big Brother & the Holding Company: This is a wonderful blues-rock reworking of George & Ira Gershwin's number from Porgy and Bess. Joplin's soul-wrenching vocals make you feel every bit of the heat and pain of the season. This is truly an American classic on so many levels.

4) "The Boys of Summer" by Don Henley: To every guy who agreed to a summer breakup because the girl he loved wasn't ready to settle down yet, here's your summer theme song. Henley knows how to write the pop hook for a rock song that covers a variety of summer scenes but also manages to work in disillusionment and the loss of innocence. Although the version played on the radio these days is by The Ataris, the original is the best.

5) "Girls in their Summer Clothes" by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Perhaps this song is too new to be on a list of classic summer songs, but listen once and you'll hear Springsteen delivering bittersweet melancholy in a tall cool tumbler. Sure, you probably have to be over 30 to appreciate this for everything that's going on in this number, but who says all summer songs must be for those under 30?

6) "Hot Fun in the Summertime" by Sly and the Family Stone: Alright, summer may not be as moody as we've made it out to be. There's certainly more dimensions to the summer than a Beach Boys song. However, if you just want unadulterated fun and joy in your summer music then you can do no better than Sly Stone and this summer anthem. This song lopes along at just the right pace.

7) "Summer Breeze" by The Isley Brothers: This is another soulful number that perfectly catches the lyrical and melodic mood of a summer ticking away slowly. Ernie Isley's quicksilver guitar notes energize this song like few others. Sure, this is a cover of the Seals & Croft hit, but the Isleys remake it with such verve you'll forget the original. Fans in the U.K. thought so, where this cover charted in the 1970s.

8) "Summer Teeth" by Wilco: This song is far from popular, likely because of its dark lyrical overtones. Melodically it is summer feel-good music, with some synthesizers added to the production which definitely evoke the Beach Boys. Throw in the sound effects of birds chirping and brooks babbling and Jeff Tweedy and the band have seduced you perfectly.

9) "This Ain't the Summer of Love" by Blue Öyster Cult: It wouldn't be an iVoryTowerz list without a dash of heavy metal. This is a song from Agents of Fortune, the Cult's most popular album, but definitely the beginning of the band's long creative slide. However, this song has the lyrical and satirical depth of the group's first albums, while ceding nothing on the sonic front.

10) "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" by Queens of the Stone Age: Nothing like taking the idea of writing songs to become summer hits and twisting the concept inside out with a bit of post-punk satire. If you like shredding guitars with your sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, this is the perfect summer song/summer chant for you.

(Promotional photo of The Lovin' Spoonful by Henry Diltz from Rhino Records. To see the band performing "Summer in the City" from 1966, please check below.)









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6.25.2008

China Launches an Everest Cleanup

by R. J. Forman

Alright, China, this time you get a “Tip of the Hat.”

This week, China announced the launch of a cleanup for Mount Everest next year: the country will be sweeping up 50 years of climbing garbage scattered along the north side of the world's tallest mountain.

The over-climbed route along the north face is littered with oxygen canisters, tents, backpacks and other climbing gear cast off in quests to reach the summit.

China is moving to clean it up in a special trash collection campaign.

Chinese officials say they want to protect the fragile Himalayan environment.

This may be a crock of discarded climbing gear and really nothing other than a distraction from China’s otherwise gross neglect of environmental concerns. However, this is a step in the right direction.

China's Xinhua News Agency reports that Zhang Yongze, Tibet’s environmental protection chief said “Our target is to keep even more people from abusing Mount Everest.”

The peak lies on the border between China and Nepal and climbing revenue provides a great source of income for both countries.

Last year, more than 40,000 people visited the mountain from occupied Tibet. The cleaning effort may decrease the number of people allowed to climb for in 2009. However, the overcrowding of the mountain as well as the debris scattered across its climbing route have also been the cause of problems for expeditions.

Environmentalists estimate climbers from last year alone could have left behind as much as 120 tons of garbage — about six pounds per tourist. The total amount of trash left since Edmund Hillary first climbed the summit in May of 1953 is unknown.

The Nepalese government requires climbers and their guides to carry out gear and trash or they must forfeit a $4,000 deposit. China has no similar rule but has enacted other restrictions like forbidding vehicles from driving directly to the Everest base camp. This is despite the fact that China and the world stage that is the Olympics are the reasons for the highway on the east side of Everest to the base camp.

So this is one pretty good step, China. Let’s see you make a few more.

(Photo by Steve Evans via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)






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6.23.2008

In Memoriam: George Carlin


Good-bye.

George Carlin


(1937-2008)

"I love words. I thank you for hearing my words. I want to tell you something about words that I think is important. As I say, they are my work. They’re my play. They’re my passion...."


(To hear all of Carlin's most famous monologue, "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television," please go here. To see more on the landmark legal cases regarding free speech sparked by Carlin's work, please go here.)


(The photo of George Carlin performing in Trenton, NJ in April of this year is by Point-Shoot-Edit of Kendall Park, NJ, via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. Please see The Washington Post for Carlin's obituary. To see another one of Carlin's more recent R-rated monologues on the topic of religion, please check below.)





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Argentina in the Protest Season

by Suzie Raven

It’s 11:30 on a weeknight in Buenos Aires. I’m sitting on my friend Paula’s bed, flipping through a magazine and listening to her talk about her first day of class. The smell of different meats, rice and rich sauces float from the kitchen down the hall — many students are just finishing dinner in one of our floor’s two kitchens. I notice that my body is almost used to eating dinner at 10 or 11, as is customary here.

Suddenly, the sound of pots and pans banging interrupts our peaceful moment. No, not from the three or four people still hanging around the kitchens. It’s 300 or 400 people walking down the street, banging loud enough for the noise to travel to the 3rd floor (what we would call the 4th in the U.S.) and sound like it’s only a few feet away. At times, it sounds like firecrackers.

Farmers in Argentina have been protesting the government’s tax hikes on soybean exports and other grains since the middle of March. Now, the truck drivers are involved. With the farmers not selling their grain, the drivers are losing important business. In response, they are forming blockades, particularly on key routes in the central and eastern parts of the country.

Conflict is seemingly everywhere. We didn’t know if our bus would leave Iguazu for Argentina's captial as scheduled last weekend because the protesters blocked so many streets in Buenos Aires. (It ended up not being a problem.) My exchange program canceled this weekend’s trip to Mendoza, the province famous for beautiful mountains, delicious steak and the best wine, because buses won’t run. They also canceled a field trip to Avenida de Mayo, the road connecting Congress and the president’s offices at Casa Rosada, because of the protests. Last week, protesters also banged pots and pans loud enough to wake me up from a heavy sleep. Gunshots were fired near Casa Rosada, and I have heard them more than once while in the dorm.

People feel pressured to take the side of either President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her government or the farmers (known in the local slang as el campo). The truck drivers argue that they are not on either side, but want an agreement so they can make a livelihood. My professor explained recently that many people in the middle class, herself included, feel that while they have an opinion, they don’t have much of a stake in the conflict. There isn’t a food shortage right now and it mostly affects exports. She isn’t a farmer, but she’s not a huge fan of the government.

I picked an interesting time to come to Buenos Aires. Argentina won’t calm down anytime soon, and it’s exciting to see this first hand.

(The photo of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina at a press conference in 2007 is by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom of Agência Brasil, the Brazilian news agency, which allows use of its photos through a Creative Commons License.)








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6.21.2008

Corporate Media & the XM-Sirius Satellite Merger

by Rick Rockwell

If you’ve ever wondered why the proposed merger between XM and Sirius, the satellite radio firms, is such a big deal, the picture became a bit clearer this week.

Wall Street, Congress, and the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) all had something to say about the merger.

But if you really want to understand it, go to a car dealership.

During the past few weeks, that’s what this author has been doing, for reasons unconnected to the merger. But the byproduct of these trips is a better understanding of the stakes: who controls your car radio. Unlike over-the-air/commercial radio, which is poor enough in the hands of the corporate media, at least there are multiple corporations competing for your attention as you drive. Of course, the group-think of corporate media has reduced radio’s quality enough that a potential monopoly service (with all the problems inherent in monopolies) and one that you must pay for each month is considered a competitor to terrestrial radio. GM and other car companies bankrolled satellite radio, so not only do they push it on consumers at every turn in dealerships (this makes sense for a return on their investment) but they also have a vested interest in seeing the service survive. And in the face of mismanagement by those who run satellite radio (they spent too much on radio talent who failed to woo new subscribers in any large way), the merger is a way to keep their investment alive. The more satellite radios the car companies can install, the higher potential they have at recouping what looks like a major loss. But the end result will be one master radio programming center. Consider that the bosses who run satellite radio think Howard Stern is a genius, and you’ll know immediately what the IQ level of the programming will eventually be once the monopoly slashes programming to cover satellite radio’s huge debts.

What the folks at Sirius and XM aren’t telling you is that new competitors would like into the game. A group called Primosphere, which lost in the initial satellite bidding has asked the government to consolidate the satellite radio holdings if a merger is approved, and allow them to pick up the use of some of the satellite radio infrastructure now used by XM and Sirius. Of course, Sirius has publicly opposed that proposition. And why not? If they can keep the field to themselves, their poor management will just get bailed out by Congress and the FCC through approval of the merger. If the FCC would approve Primosphere as a new player in satellite radio before it blesses the merger, that might allay some consumer concerns.

Consumer groups such as the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union oppose the merger because the monopoly will eventually do what all monopolies do: raise prices and decrease customer service. When FCC Chair Kevin Martin announced this week he’s supporting the merger and hopes the commission follows his lead, he worked out an intricate plan to get XM and Sirius to agree to price caps, and a la carte service, among other provisions. (Including an allocation of four percent of programming for women and minority issues, a percentage that some in Congress rightly see as far too low.) However, the compromise Martin worked out will only hold for the next few years. The satellite radio bosses will wait those conditions out for the potential monetary rewards afterward.

Of course, this all may be a moot point. This week Goldman Sachs in its review of satellite radio performance noted that the stocks for both firms were over-valued and that the merger likely would not solve all of the problems mismanagement foisted on this once promising service. The investment bankers seem to buy into the notion that many folks under 40 are willing to program their iPods as a way around the tyranny of both the terrestrial and satellite radio programmers.

And while it feels wrong to agree with the investment bankers, maybe that’s what is the best hope for all of radio, satellite and otherwise. We have to kill it to save it. Here’s to folks programming their own individualized iPod stations or to downloading the myriad number of podcasts available as a way around the corporate programming bosses. The revolution is in your hands. Spin that iPod dial.

But even with that solution, that’s still no excuse for the government to give special favors to the corporate radio bosses. And that’s what the merger will be.

For more background, please also see:

(The graphic of a satellite is from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — NASA; as the graphic is from the government, it is in the public domain.)










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6.20.2008

iVoryTowerz Radio: The Origins of Rock 'n Roll

This week, the underground podcast hurtles through the time tunnel of rock and roll in search of its very beginnings. Although we just scratch the surface in this extended version of our weekly musical review, most of the major pioneers of the musical form have their say. Tracing the roots from the 1920s musical forms that would actually precede what was later labeled folk and country, this program covers almost 55 years of music, ending up with new wave stylings honoring the pioneers of rock. Of course, we touch on a variety of forms and sub-genres along the way: swing, country-swing, rhythm & blues, jump blues (not to mention a variety of straight blues forms), and garage rock, among others. Plus there's lots of fun to be had along the way. So sit back for a little summer daydream nostalgia. And don't forget to enjoy!


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


Playlist

"The Fat Man" by Fats Domino
“Little Richard Boogie” by Little Richard
“Do Something for Me" by The Dominoes
"You Can't Catch Me" by Chuck Berry
"I'm a Man" Bo Diddley
Cover Me: "Bo Diddley" by Buddy Holly
"Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" by Ray Charles
“Please Please Please” by James Brown
"Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” by Ruth Brown
“I Can't be Satisfied" by Muddy Waters
"Smokestack Lightning'" by Howlin' Wolf
"Love in Vain" by Robert Johnson
"Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" by Louis Jordan and his Tympani Five
"Fat Boy Rag" by Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys
“Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)” by Jimmie Rodgers
"That's All Right" by Elvis Presley
"Only the Lonely" by Roy Orbison
"Good Vibrations" by The Beach Boys
"Kicks" by Paul Revere & the Raiders
"You Really Got Me" by The Kinks
Rick's Metal Shoppe: "Shakin' All Over" by The MC5
Jeff’s New Wave: "Rave On" by Marshall Crenshaw

(Mp3 Runs - 1:38:56; 91 MB.)

(Promotional photo of Little Richard and his backing band from the film, The Girl Can't Help It in 1956, via 20th Century Fox Studios.)




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6.19.2008

Music: Trying on My Morning Jacket

by Vincent Lee

My Morning Jacket is not what most would call a traditional rock band by any means. For years they have been known as a great and innovative band, easily distinguishable by Jim James' high pitched vocals. From their first album (The Tennessee Fire in 1999) to their latest album (Evil Urges, released last week) this has remained true. Their music is constantly developing album after album making them a very intriguing and impressive musical act.

Attempting to define My Morning Jacket by one album alone would be a gross mistake. From album to album they have remained dynamic in their sound. Their first albums dabbled a bit in alternative country (alt-country, to some) and other genres. The extreme degree of reverb and unique harmonies were particular highlights of both The Tennessee Fire and At Dawn (2001). These aspects also would be highlights of My Morning Jacket albums to come. My Morning Jacket would embrace and fully develop all of their signature elements up to this point on It Still Moves (2003). On It Still Moves they would truly define their sound on songs such as “One Big Holiday.” The band would also dabble with lengthy jams, which would become a staple in their live shows.

The band's following two albums would be somewhat experimental. Z (2005) would best be described as a combination between their already established sound and a so-called dance beat. My Morning Jacket's most recent album Evil Urges is undoubtedly their most unique yet. In more ways than one, this album is a significant departure from anything they've ever made. This is the first album where Jim James is not the only featured vocalist. But to top that, the band has reinvented its sound on Evil Urges and pressed forward further into dance rhythms. Some of this new material, oddly enough, seems comparable to Prince. However, this bizarre change was, unsurprisingly, another success.

From album to album My Morning Jacket has made rapid progressions. With Evil Urges it is obvious they do not plan to slow down anytime soon. My Morning Jacket's innovation makes them a fresh band that most fans of any general type of rock would enjoy. With the great amount of diversity and range from album to album there should be something in My Morning Jacket's catalog for everyone.

(Promotional photo of My Morning Jacket performing in Houston, TX earlier this year by Mark Jensen and made available by ATO Records. The band will continue its U.S. tour with an appearance at New York City's Radio City Music Hall on Friday, June 20. To see a video of the band playing "I'm Amazed" at SXSW in Austin, TX from its new release Evil Urges, please check below.)







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6.18.2008

Celtics Win NBA Title: Worth Every Penny

by Hayden Alfano

In the aftermath of Boston’s 131-92 dismantling of the Los Angeles Lakers as the Celtics won their 17th National Basketball Association (NBA) championship, four words came to mind to define the season. It was worth it.

The wait was worth it for Boston captain and NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Paul Pierce. A ten-year veteran who has spent his entire career in the green and white, Pierce has been a part of some of the worst-ever Boston teams, including last year’s 24-win outfit. Last night, he earned his vindication.

The wait was also worth it for Kevin Garnett, the long-time superstar from the Minnesota Timberwolves who had made it past the first round of the playoffs just once in 12 years before arriving in Boston in the offseason.

It was worth it for Ray Allen to set aside the top banana status he had enjoyed at previous stops in Milwaukee and Seattle for a still-prominent but reduced role on a much stronger team.

It was worth it for Celtics general manager Danny Ainge to trade away the team’s future to bring those three All-Stars together for a two- or three-year window and the chance for an NBA title.

Tuesday night made it worth it for Boston head coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers, who has been the target of criticism — more than a fair share dished out by this very author — during his four years at the helm.

It was worth it for P.J. Brown to allow himself to be talked out of retirement to come back and take one last shot at a championship ring.

It was worth it for all the Boston players, who achieved on this night what they’ve worked for their entire lives.

It was worth it for Celtics fans, too.

For older fans, a spoiled group who witnessed the Russell-Cousy teams dominate the '60s and '70s and the Bird-Parish-McHale teams win three championships during the '80s, this unprecedented (for them) title drought is forgotten with the convincing win over an old rival.

For younger fans — fans for whom championship memories come in the form of hand-me-downs and highlight reels — this title validates a young lifetime’s worth of dedication, of perseverance through uninspired play and poor personnel decisions.

I’m a member of that latter group. I was not yet six years old when the Celtics last won the whole shebang, in 1986; just shy of seven when they had their most recent shot at the trophy the following year. My fanaticism was passed down to me by my parents, and as much as I appreciate the history of the league’s most storied franchise, I’ve always longed for a championship team of my own.

Now I have one, and I can say with confidence that everything I’ve gone through during the two months that is the NBA playoff season — the sleepless nights, the upset stomach, the inability to concentrate — has been worth it.

Out of curiosity, I even did a mental calculation of the money I’ve spent on the Celtics this year. When you add it all up — two trips to Boston; tickets to four games (including Game 1 of these Finals); the NBA cable package so that I could watch all the team’s games during the season; and a few apparel purchases — I’ve spent about $1,000 due to my devotion this year. Not an exorbitant sum, but money that, as anyone who has seen the way I dress would suggest, might have been spent elsewhere.

But it was worth it. The memories I have from this year are worth far more than the money.

(To see video highlights of Game 6 of the NBA Finals, which clinched the championship for the Boston Celtics, please check below. The highlights are provided by the NBA.)


















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6.17.2008

Ralph Nader: Too Conventionally Reasonable?

by Abigail DeRoberts
Special to iVoryTowerz

As the current election progresses, the similarities between the two ruling parties are growing increasingly clear. Many leftists are feeling disillusioned with the ever-more-conservative rhetoric of today’s Democratic party. As a result, they run, unsuspecting, in the other direction, and are greeted by the comforting embrace of Ralph Nader. However, upon closer inspection, it is soon evident that Mr. Nader is far from able to quell our concerns or fix the system.

Ralph Nader consistently runs on a platform of saving America from corporate interests. Yet his vaguely anti-capitalist rhetoric is only against “big” capitalism — capitalism in the forms of multinational corporations — while he touts the virtues of capitalism that is smaller scale yet can be equally devastating, such as small business owners who often become wealthy local elites. And despite his harsh words for big capitalists, a significant chunk of Nader’s funding in the past came from some of George W. Bush’s most prominent donors. These are wealthy Republican funders, corporate advocates who support the Iraq War. When you look into the funding game, it becomes clear that in the past they supported Nader simply to take votes away from the Democrats. Now, I’m perfectly fine with votes being taken away from Democrats, but it is evident that these donors saw Nader as nothing but a pawn in their political game.

Although Mr. Nader opposes the current manifestations of the country’s political structure, he actually strives to maintain it. He firmly believes in maintaining the so-called democratic system, and he thinks this can be achieved by returning to the Constitution and a grassroots citizens movement. He continues to be a proponent of a representative democracy that uses voting as a method to elect a Congress to make decisions on behalf of its constituents. Even if representatives believe they have the interests of the people in mind, they are still speaking for the people and not allowing them to speak for themselves. This results in a structure that is authoritarian and paternalistic, not a system that liberates individuals from elite rule.

By participating in the political spectacle that is voting in elections, you are recognizing the legitimacy of the state and its current system. Voting for Nader does nothing to oppose the system, and supporting his hypocrisy is just as bad as supporting that of the Democrats. You’re not making a statement; you’re sustaining the state.

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

(The graphic is by Mike Licht from NotionsCapital.com via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)







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6.16.2008

Simply Comcastrated

by Tony Romm*
Special to iVoryTowerz

Comcast's recent announcement — that it plans to test-drive a broadband access plan that charges users proportional to their bandwidth usage — should have triggered internet criticism ad nauseum, but the media blogosphere’s reaction instead seemed inconceivably tame. The ever-vociferous MediaBistro stayed silent on the proposed meter, barely even mentioning it in its daily news roundup. PressThink, a media criticism page run by NYU Professor Jay Rosen, similarly declined a substantive comment. Even Jack Shafer, author of the all-encompassing Press Box column at Slate.com, paid Comcast’s maneuver little attention. Predictably, the mainstream media (MSM to many on the 'net) were mum too; the issue faded quickly in a day frontloaded with hackneyed Democratic primary analysis, the substance of which was equally questionable.

Where was the requisite fury — that unique scorn and unparalleled admonition that characterizes web users and new media lovers? When Verizon attempted to block text message advertisements from supporters of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice America in 2007, customers rallied at such an unprecedented speed the company had no choice but to reconsider its stance. Months ago, when Comcast faced accusations it was slowing users’ connections to BitTorrent, a questionable file sharing method, the media blogs were ablaze with claims of censorship. (Please see, "That's Comcastic: Internet Disconnection," for more background.)

Yet, the fire seemed all but extinguished amid Comcast’s most recent blunder. Did web users finally resign to their own presupposition — the internet is so egalitarian that inhibitions drive customers to less obstructed companies and services — believing instead the market would sufficiently subdue any blowback?

If tech blogs — not to mention the MSM’s lackluster reportage — are any indication, the answer is a resounding "no." If anything, the media criticism community’s relative silence is more the result of a lack of technological understanding than a faith in the market, no matter how precarious that conclusion may seem.

Take, for instance, the way newspapers reported the limits. Sure, the MSM accurately presented the numbers — that meters would cap at either 5GB or 40GB, depending on the plan — but how much exposition did reporters devote to explaining those digits? The Associated Press made a noteworthy attempt, reporting:

“Those who mainly do Web surfing or e-mail have little reason to pay attention to the traffic caps: a gigabyte is about 3,000 Web pages, or 15,000 e-mails without attachments. But those who download movies or TV shows will want to pay attention. A standard-definition movie can take up 1.5 gigabytes, and a high-definition movie can be 6 to 8 gigabytes.”
Even that, however, seems insufficient, and a better calculation explains why. Put it this way: If the average hour-episode of my favorite television show consumes 667 MB of my hard drive, and 1 GB equals 1,000 MB, I could only download 7.5 episodes of the show each month under the cheaper, 5 GB plan (We’re using the Showtime series Dexter here for an example, downloaded via iTunes, for transparency’s sake). And that, of course, is assuming you browse not a single Web page, upload or download not a single e-mail attachment and watch not a single YouTube video all month.

Sure, users could escape these confines by purchasing more bandwidth, which still might be cheaper than their current standard monthly rate. But both limits, which also suffer wholly from insufficient details, only underscore the fact this is a media misstep as much as it is technological trouble. Of course, meters affect the way designers construct their pages, and caps decrease overall Web portability — truly egregious concerns. Underneath those logistical flaws, however, is a consequence of content: The inevitability that users would forgo access to multimedia in a vain attempt to manage their internet bills. When degree of access is contingent upon income, such that some users can’t afford to reach the internet public sphere, the sanctity of internet egalitarianism, if not free speech wholesale, is at stake

Indeed, Comcast has a legitimate interest in policing its own networks — that hermit-esque neighbor of yours who spends hours pirating copies of World of Warcraft affects community bandwidth, even if only slightly. But the limitations of metered browsing far outweigh the inconvenience of a slowed connection, insomuch that it threatens net neutrality — another one of those tech concepts most users and reporters don’t understand.

Rest assured, the market will have its say. If Comcast’s new billing plan angers enough users, the company will have to renege on the plan or face millions in losses to Verizon DSL (which doesn’t have to worry about similar bandwidth problems). Even so, content controls of any kind — from passive metered browsing to more scrupulous breaches of net neutrality — should invite the same degree of criticism as any other form of censorship, the tech and media criticism blogs be damned.

*Tony Romm is currently an intern at Slate.

For more background on this blog's criticism of Comcast, please see these posts:
(Photo by twenty_questions of London, U.K. via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)







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6.14.2008

iVoryTowerz Radio: The Three-Minute Wonder Show

Before talk radio dominated the airwaves, Top Forty was king. This week, the underground podcast attempts the seemingly improbable: a tribute to Top Forty Radio. But don't get the wrong idea. There's no bubblegum here. Instead, consider this hypothetical: what if you created an alternative universe where progressive music was played in a Top Forty format, and no song exceeded more than a tick longer than three minutes? Well, the hypothetical alternative music universe might sound somewhat like this week's podcast. So you get the usual mix but with some classic Top Forty moments thrown in for good measure. And for those worried that the format will dictate too much pop, this program may have some of the heaviest musical content ever on the underground podcast. Besides heavy metal and industrial sounds, the program ranges through punk, new wave, folk, and soul, besides straight up rock 'n roll. Enjoy!


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


Playlist

"I Love my Label" by Nick Lowe
“Old Home Movies” by The Botticellis
“22 Dreams" by Paul Weller
"Stop!" by Against Me!
Jeff’s New Wave: "Rock 'N' Roll High School" by The Ramones
Cover Me: "Louie, Louie" by Black Flag
Rick's Metal Shoppe: "The Surface" by Beneath the Massacre
"Untitled" by My Dad is Dead
“12 Ghosts 2” by Nine Inch Nails
"Turning of the Tide” by Richard Thompson
“You Can Do Better Than Me" by Death Cab for Cutie
"Over the Hill" by Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle
"Time for a Change" by Dr. John with Eric Clapton
"Lay Down Low" by Back Door Slam
"Too Many Cooks" by Robert Cray
“What More Can I Do to Prove My Love for You?” by O. V. Wright

(Mp3 Runs - 1:08:37; 63 MB.) Program contains explicit lyrics.

(Photo by Phineas H. of Exeter, UK via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)




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6.13.2008

NBA Finals: The Celtics' Big Comeback

by Hayden Alfano

Big comebacks in basketball are a funny thing. The team trailing expends so much energy making up their deficit that they often don’t have enough left to get over the hump and win the game.

It happened to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals on Sunday night. Down 24 points with under eight minutes to go, L.A. launched an improbable rally, pulling to within a basket before the Boston Celtics’ Paul Pierce sealed the game by driving the lane, getting fouled, and making two free throws. The Lakers' effort was wasted in a 108-102 defeat.

In Game 4 on Thursday night (June 12), Boston found itself in a similar position. After a horrendous first half of basketball, Boston found itself down 21 points at the end of the first quarter — an NBA Finals record for a deficit after 12 minutes — 24 early in the second quarter, and 18 at halftime. But a surprising 21-3 run to close the third had them trailing just 73-71 heading into the fourth.

Would the Celtics fall short like their opponents had four days earlier, or would they finish the biggest comeback in Finals history?

Leon Powe’s basket in the lane was the first step, tying the score for the first time since the teams traded buckets on the initial two possessions of the game. That was psychologically significant for Boston, even though they then missed no fewer than three very good opportunities to take their first lead of the game over the next couple of minutes. But they hung tough, even when the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant stretched the lead to four on a slam dunk with 5:48 to play. Celtics coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers took a timeout to rally the troops.

From that moment on, Boston played near-perfect basketball. They had the ball on offense ten times, and scored on each possession. Every Celtic on the floor scored during that stretch: starting with James Posey’s three-pointer (the first of two he’d hit in the clutch); highlighted by an Eddie House jumper that gave the Celtics their first lead of the game (one which they’d never relinquish); and punctuated by a Ray Allen drive and reverse layup that sealed the game with 16 seconds left.

For large periods of these playoffs, the Celtics have hardly looked like a team ready to win the title. They haven’t been as consistent as most championship-caliber teams. They have, however, played their best when the situation absolutely demanded it, and their best is, it’s safe to say at this point, better than what the Lakers can bring.

And that’s why they’re one win away from their 17th NBA championship.


Television Advisory

The Celtics and Lakers will resume the Finals for Game 5 on Sunday, June 15 at 9 p.m. EDT on ABC.

(To see highlights of Game 4 of the Celtics-Lakers Finals from the NBA, please check below.)













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Music Review: Community Gun

by Rick Rockwell

Technology and the changing shape of music distribution now create some interesting questions and new dynamics. It is old hat for bands to stake out a page on myspace and appeal directly for fans. That isn’t enough.

So bands like Community Gun, which do not have labels (yet), must find other avenues. With a website, a new EP, and e-mail, Community Gun is appealing directly to critics as a way to amplify its message, find new fans, and, with luck, get a record contract too. (That is until they’re big enough, like Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails, to distribute directly without a label.) So the question for critics: brave enough to pan a struggling band that claims to live in a house without heat when they have your e-mail?

Sure, if they deserved it.

Instead, Community Gun probably deserves that beginners’ recording contract.

That’s not to say the band’s second EP is perfect. Far from it. But the raw talent is evident. With some support, working utilities in their house, and the right producer, Community Gun might actually have a breakthrough.

On this new self-titled six-song release, “Midnight Moses and Elaine,” is the stand-out: a soundtrack for a film noir. Vocalist/guitarist Cove Aaronoff has a distinctive rasp to his singing. Others have compared his vocals to Tom Waits, and yes, there are some of those rich textures, but there’s also more than a dash of Jim Morrison, not to mention various blues influences. When Aaronoff moans, “all that’s left / are cigarettes and cocaine,” you feel his despair.

At times, Community Gun electronically processes Aaronoff’s growl which manages to sell lyrics that sometimes fall to cliché. “Before She Goes” with its nods to cosmic jokes, girls wrapped in overcoats, and teardrops attempts to sound Dylanesque (“Just Like a Woman”) but instead comes off like a lame ballad from Warrant.

Part of Community Gun’s difficulty is the band isn’t sure what it wants to be. The band describes itself as “a folk, rock, blues, indie, punk band.” But playing songs barely over 90 seconds doesn’t make them punkers. They lack the sonic crunch and politics for that. However, when Community Gun sticks to its bluesy, gritty core, as on, “James Brown” and “Ain’t Like Before” you can hear the band playing a bourbon-soaked barroom. And technology can’t change the fact that if you can rock there, you can rock anywhere.

(The promotional photo of Community Gun is from the band's website.)





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