9.30.2008

The Democratic Party’s Obituary

(Note: The following post is dedicated to the 140 Democrats in the House who voted for the bank bailout bill and those Democrats who agreed with them in the Senate.)

by Jeff Siegel


Friends and neighbors, we’re gathered here today to mourn the loss of a great institution, an organization that made the United States a better place to live. Yes, my friends, it’s time to say goodbye to the Democratic Party. Sadly, it passed over the weekend. As near as the doctors can tell, it choked to death on the Bush administration’s bank bailout plan. The party that has traditionally upheld the interests of working men and women tried to swallow all the campaign cash it had received from the financial industry, and it was just too much. Almost $25 million since 1992 — say it’s not so!

Oh, if only the party had not been quite so greedy, my friends. If only progressives like Barney Frank, faced with the choice of doing the right thing or doing Bush's dirty work, hadn't flinched. Did he really say: "If we defeat this bill today, it will be a very bad day for the financial sector of the American economy and the people who will feel the pain are not the top bankers and top corporate executives but average Americans." Oh Barney, we hardly knew ye!

Of course, my friends, the Democrats have been sickly for years, a shadow of their New Deal, Fair Deal and Civil Rights selves. First, there was the welfare reform act in the 1990s, and then the bankruptcy reform act a couple of years ago. We saw it coming, and we tried to warn them — get more exercise by walking the other way when the lobbyists came calling, eat better by turning down all those free dinners from the Washington fat cats.

But no, temptation stared them in the face and temptation won. Oh, the evils of the devils who live on K Street! Praise the Lord!

But what a legacy — battling the Depression, winning World War II, integrating the military, ending Jim Crow. And what a sad, pitiful way to go, too gluttonous, too insatiable, too ravenous in its appetite to realize it had betrayed the people who counted on it most.

Praise the Lord!

So rest in peace, Democratic Party. May you still live on earth in the acts of goodness you performed, and in the hearts of those who cherish your memory.

For other posts with similar sentiments, please see: "Note to Democratic Party: Drop Dead," and the series "Voting Your Conscience isn't Wasting Your Vote."

(Political graphic from Wrapped-in-the-Flag, a website that offers copyright-free political material.)











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9.29.2008

Baseball: Brewers, Rays Lead Small Market Revolt

by Hayden Alfano

Unlike the major professional football and basketball leagues in the United States, Major League Baseball (MLB) does not have a salary cap. As long as they can afford it, teams are free to spend as much as they want on players’ salaries. And they do — according to this list of team payrolls, the New York Yankees paid out more than $209 million to players this year.

The consequence of this is an imbalance that has threatened parity in the sport for years. This season, the Tampa Bay Rays have done a nice job of overcoming this inequity: The Rays, with the second-smallest payroll in MLB ($43 million) won the American League East over the Yankees and Boston Red Sox (fourth on the payroll list with a tab of $133 million).

But heading into the regular season’s final scheduled day, another battle of the haves and have-nots was playing out. The New York Mets (third on the list, $138 million) and the Milwaukee Brewers (fifteenth, $81 million) were tied for the National League (NL) wild card playoff berth. As it happened, Milwaukee earned the post-season spot, beating the Chicago Cubs while the Mets fell to the Florida Marlins.

Despite their similarities as small-market Davids defeating Goliaths in Gotham, the Rays and Brewers have arrived at this point in different ways. The Rays are here in large part because, well, they were so bad for so long. Prior to this season, the Rays had been in existence for ten years. Only once did they win 70 games. With an overall record of 645 wins against 969 losses, they had never even sniffed a playoff berth.

As such, Tampa Bay was always picking at or near the top of the amateur draft, with access to the best players available. Furthermore, they were able to trade any costly veterans they did have to contending teams for younger, unproven players who had shown potential. All of that potential has finally blossomed this year.

There’s an element of that in the Brewers, as well; after all, this is a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1982. They have their fair share of homegrown talent, including 2007 NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun, whose two-run homer in the eighth inning Sunday was the game-winner.

But they also have C.C. Sabathia, and Sabathia — or, more precisely, his left arm — is the biggest reason the Brewers made the playoffs this year. But C.C. and his left arm came at a price — the Brewers had to trade a host of prospects to the Cleveland Indians to get his services for the last two months of this season. And the Brewers are basically renting Sabathia; he’ll be a free agent next summer, and Milwaukee simply won’t be able to pay him the amount he’ll command on the open market.

They won’t be able to afford Ben Sheets, either, their second-best starting pitcher, who is also a free agent. Realistically, the Brewers as constructed have a very small window with their core group of young players. If they want to extend it beyond this year, they’ll need to do so at the expense of some of their other prospects — a risky practice that is falling out of favor.

In contrast, the Rays actually have a chance to keep this going for a little bit longer. Even so, their route to this point isn’t exactly highly replicable — no team wants to be the worst in baseball for a full decade. The Brewers’ method of getting here is the one most common among baseball teams. Over the next month, we’ll see if it was worth it.

(To see more background on baseball's salary structure, please see: "The Real Cost of Spiraling Baseball Salaries." And to see last year's reaction to the season-ending collapse of the Mets, please see: "Ain't the Mets Amazin'?")















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9.28.2008

Obama, McCain & the Economic Crisis

by Rick Rockwell

Voters in the tony suburbs that circle the beltway of what would be the capital of the world are worried. They are worried now that their chosen candidate Barack Obama won’t be able to deliver on his promise of change, because the Republicans have saddled the country with perhaps the worst financial crisis in almost 80 years.

Worse. They have a second nightmare creeping into their psyches: after a week of maneuvering by John McCain, their candidate Sen. Obama (D-IL) won’t win because the rest of the country will decide to move to a candidate with more experience and more connections.

The polls after the first debate should have staunched those fears, as many believe Obama bested McCain. But perhaps they are concerned because for whatever reasons the political polls have been entirely unreliable during this election cycle. The chatter in the suburbs after the debate was filled with those fears.


Fear, as we know, comes from what we don’t know. And in these perilous economic times, fear abounds, because even the so-called experts either haven’t been shooting straight with the rest of us or they also have gaps in their knowledge but won’t admit it. What this crisis has revealed is the Wall Street shell game is over, at least for a little while. Until the rules are reset.

That’s what has the Obamaniacs worried. Right now, their candidate doesn’t seem to be the one who is having much of an impact on the $700 billion bailout. And they are reading daily in The Washington Post about how Sen. McCain (R-AZ) threw his considerable weight around the capital last week and stopped what many voters saw as a deal that rewarded the corrupt bankers. Unbelievably, it took Obama until the eve of the debate to figure out what populist language to adopt and to blast the bailout fashioned by the banking industry’s protectors in the administration of George W. Bush.

But McCain had to be prodded into action too. His aides also read The Post, and believe polls or not, the headlines at mid-week were all about how Obama was erasing the Republican convention bounce because of his image on the economy. (How Obama has any image on the economy as a Senator and legislator who has little to no record in the economic arena is amazing, but more on that later.)

So McCain threw himself into a week doing what he does best politically: throwing the long bomb. Cynical, self-serving or not, McCain’s so-called “suspension” of his campaign (which didn’t amount to anything because the financial crisis wasn’t solved and there he was debating Obama) focused media attention on his actions. Obama may have been on the phone to Sen. Chris Dodd, one of the Democrats walking point on this issue (and now isn’t Dodd, who was once a presidential candidate looking more like the better vice presidential pick) long before McCain’s grandstanding. Obama may have been at that economic summit meeting at the White House. But McCain was the one stealing the headlines. By carrying the views of disaffected Republicans in Congress to his party’s caucus that was coalescing behind Bush’s plan, McCain stopped a bad bailout in its tracks.

Granted, neither candidate wanted to discuss much of the details of how to deal with the financial mess during the debate. After much pressing by moderator Jim Lehrer, McCain finally suggested a freeze on all government spending except for defense, veterans affairs, and entitlement programs (such as Medicaid and social security). McCain also suggested “scrubbing” government accounts looking to eliminate waste, including taking a strong look at Pentagon spending. Although bereft of an overall plan, Obama belittled those ideas as using “a hatchet when you need a scalpel.” However, that comment may reveal how much Obama does not know about the monumental task ahead.

The truth is neither of these candidates is the right one for the dire economic straits the country faces. McCain may have a record of fiscal discipline, but he has not been a leader on budget issues beyond his desire to eliminate Congressional pork-barrel spending. No, McCain and Obama are the candidates who the country picked to discuss the Iraq War. Or to discuss generational change. Or reform in Washington. They are not the right candidates to handle the huge financial mess. This is the problem with the current election system in the U.S. that forces candidates to start running two years before they will hold office. We have the candidates perfect for two years ago. Not for now.

So hunker down. It won’t matter which of the major candidates wins. The next four years are going to be very painful. But few are willing to say that, when the watchword for this election is “hope.”

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

(Political graphic by AZRainman. To see more of AZRainman's work, please check out his blog.)













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In Memoriam: Paul Newman

Good-bye.


Paul Newman


(1925-2008)







(The photo of Paul Newman is from the trailer to the film Exodus and is in the public domain. Newman's work as an actor was exemplary to the end: his last film appearance was in 2002's Road to Perdition; and he won several awards for his work in HBO's mini-series Empire Falls from 2005; he also provided voice work for Pixar's Cars in 2006. Please see the BBC's obituary for more.)



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9.27.2008

iVoryTowerz Radio: In the Wake of Disaster

Disasters seem to surround us these days, natural and otherwise. Some folks are actually wondering about end times. Well, we are not believers in such apocalyptic signs. But even if we were, what can you do to stop the inevitable? Might as well enjoy life while you can. That's the philosophy of the underground podcast. So give up your blues the natural way: by tuning into some musical sunshine. So yes, we have a special set dedicated to those struggling to recover from Hurricane Ike. And yes, Rage Against the Machine makes an appearance too, for those who want to rant and rave with us against the current economic and political times. But we follow their suggestion by kicking out the jams in the wake of disaster. The usual eclectic mix is here, covering more than 35 years of music: British folk; country-folk; alternative; new wave; power pop; heavy metal; and art rock. Tune in and tune out your troubles.



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




Playlist


“These Days” by Glen Campbell
"Galveston" by Sparklehorse
“Helpless" by Sugar
"Dig Me Out" by Sleater Kinney
Jeff’s New Wave: “8.3” by Robin Lane & the Chartbusters
“Dose of Thunder” by The Replacements
"Bored of Edukation" by Paul Westerberg
"Harbour Lights” by The Walkabouts
"Please Stand By" by The Shivvers
"Don't Cha Stop" by The Cars
“Lock Me Up” by The Kicks
Cover Me: "Kick Out the Jams" by Rage Against the Machine
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Saints of Los Angeles” by Mötley Crüe
“Into the Sun" by Candlebox
"The Battle of Evermore" by Led Zeppelin
"Here in Silence" by Sandy Denny
"The Great Gig in the Sky" by Pink Floyd

(Mp3 Runs - 1:31:08; 84 MB.)

(Graphic by AZRainman, via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see more of AZRainman's work, please check out his blog.)




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Film Review: Choke

by Z*
Special to iVoryTowerz

The greatest movies present the greatest challenges. For a new feature film adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Choke, it is not an easy task to satisfy the loyal fans of Palahniuk's Fight Club, and its film adaptation. That 1999 adaptation of Fight Club, made the top ten of the 500 greatest movies of all time in this week’s Empire magazine. And although Choke opened to a mixed reception, that doesn’t indicate the film's failure. The movie still stands a chance at gaining recognition and reserving a spot in some elite charts in the future after the initial buzz, theatrical showcases and DVD releases.

Choke’s genre falls between drama and comedy. It’s about the disturbing lifestyle of a sex addict Victor Mancini (played by Sam Rockwell) who makes money by double-acting. During the day, he is a tour guide in a colonial theme park, and in the evenings he is a helpless nice guy who chokes on food, stumbles around gasping for breath (and evaluating the “candidacy”), and finally finds a hero, his ultimate patron, who saves him. Victor receives money from his saviors and spends them on his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother (Anjelica Huston). Choke is funny when Victor is at work but sad and touching when Victor is a son and a bachelor with a troubled childhood.

The film's director Clark Gregg plays a small part as Victor’s manager. Nonetheless, Gregg’s character and its contribution to the laughing side of Choke reflect the biggest achievement of Gregg’s directorial debut: he does not waste characters or scenes. He never abandons his heroes, making each act meaningful in this aimless feature. A scratch on Victor’s ear will be remembered when we go back to his traumatized childhood and understand how it shaped his adulthood. A random sex scene, one out of dozens, draws laughs in the end, long after it’s seemingly forgotten. A stripper brightens up his friends' life, while teaching Victor that appearances are deceptive, etc. That is why in a matter of eighty-nine minutes the viewers go through a wide range of emotions. They feel disgusted, compassionate, nauseated, sympathetic, angered, sad, romantic, you name it.

Images of female bodies of various age groups and frequent love-making scenes without the essential part — love — might make some people call it a night before the movie is over, but the lovers of twisted plots will appreciate Gregg’s work. Choke might disappoint those who read the book as the movie does not precisely follow it. Apparently, according to Gregg, Palahniuk advised him not to be too faithful to his text, so the film turned out to be, in the first place, inspired by the novel rather than playing it out on screen.

*Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.

(The promotional poster for Choke is from Fox Searchlight Pictures. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)












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Presidential Debate Highlights, Round One

(Editor's Note: As the usual public service after major debates during the presidential campaign, this blog is providing video highlights of the salient moments from the first one-on-one debate between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. This debate was held at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi.)

by Rick Rockwell

After Sen. McCain (R-AZ) gave up on his position that there should be no debate before Congress dealt with the current economic crisis, both presidential campaigns came to Mississippi ready to discuss the issues. In a 97-minute discussion, moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS, both sides scored on various issues. The main themes of the debate included the economic crisis, the Iraq War, the Afghan War and international relations with Pakistan, Iran, and Russia. Other topics of national security and budget issues also crept into the debate. Immediately, some commentators latched on to the difference of style: Sen. Obama (D-IL) often addressed the cameras directly or McCain. McCain rarely looked directly at Obama or the cameras, instead directing his gaze to Lehrer or the audience in the hall. So the differences in the candidates were apparent, even beginning with body language. And now the video highlights after the jump....


Although the debate began like many of these affairs with the candidates repeating sections of their current campaign speeches, Lehrer managed to get both to stop using that tactic after the first 20 minutes or so, at least until the final moments. This opened the way to verbal sparring from both sides with a variety of jabs, some revealing Obama's inexperience in the Senate and others about McCain's shoot-from-the-hip temperment (including his song about bombing Iran).

The debate format allowed candidates to directly question and respond to each other without intervention from the moderator, and one of the first feisty exchanges came over which candidate had actually helped the oil companies more. Watch also as both candidates duck specifics about how the economic crisis will affect their promises and plans, although McCain did offer a broad outline of how to align the federal budget during the crisis.





Another heated discussion revolved around the thorny issues of relations with Pakistan and the conduct of the war in Afghanistan.



The vice presidential candidates will debate next Thursday, Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:
(The photo of Sen. Barack Obama campaigning in Philadelphia, PA in July is by Llima via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)














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9.26.2008

Goya, Calero and Los Disparates in Washington

by Molly Kenney

Desolation, memory, and natural force are portrayed with a quiet power in a new exhibition at the American University Museum at the Katzen Art Center. Presented in collaboration with the Embassy of Spain, the exhibition, “Ricardo Calero. Goya. Disparates… Continuity of an Unfinished Project,” is the first U.S. appearance of three series together.


The exhibit features Los Disparates, a little-known series of 22 engravings by famous Spanish artist Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Goya’s engravings, in black and white etching and polished aquatint, depict the bleakish characteristics of human nature. Displayed in a dim, curved room, the aspects of humanity feel as hidden away as Goya’s relatively unknown series.

The other two series, Disparates de Fuendetodos (2005) and Grabados de Luz (2006), were produced by contemporary Spanish artist Ricardo Calero in response to Los Disparates. The series both literally and figuratively revisit Goya’s birthplace of Fuendetodos, a small town in Aragon, Spain. The photographic elements of Calero’s series, namely pictures of the artist creating his works, seem superfluous and self-conscious in the wake of the other powerful media used. The most striking medium is bullet wounds, created by firing live ammunition at cream-colored canvasses prepared in various ways. This technique produces a starkly moving effect, echoing both the radical nature of Goya’s work and the quiet contemplation it influences.

The simplicity of the installation and the series’ color palate complements the detailed, powerful works of Goya and Calero. Disparity and continuity find harmony in this wonderful exhibit.

(“Ricardo Calero. Goya. Disparates… Continuity of an Unfinished Project” runs until Sunday, October 26 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center.)

(The artwork is
Disparate Ridiculo — 1930 — by Francisco de Goya, which is part of the exhibition.)








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9.25.2008

Bank Bailout: Enough is Enough

by Jeff Siegel

They invaded Iraq, and we said, “Well, OK, because Saddam is such a bad guy.”

They let New Orleans die, and we said, “Well, OK, because I don’t live there.”

And now they’re going to bail out the banks, and they expect us to say, “Well, OK, because finance is so confusing.”

Well, it’s not OK, and it’s not confusing, and it’s about time the American people said so.

Enough is enough. In the past eight years, the Bush administration has run the government for the benefit of rich people, and they’ve run the country into the ground in the process. Tried to get a mortgage lately? Tried to buy gas? But what do they care? Does Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson have a mortgage to pay off? Does Dick Cheney sit at the kitchen table and write checks, trying to figure out how he is going to stretch this month’s paycheck to cover all the bills? Does George Bush even know how much a head of lettuce costs?

The bank bailout is more than bad policy. It is morally reprehensible: rewarding rich people people who fail for no other reason than they are rich. And I don’t exaggerate. The 2005 bankruptcy bill, which made it more difficult for consumers to declare bankruptcy, was praised by the Bush administration (and its Democratic allies in Congress) because the law made it harder to “abuse” the bankruptcy laws. So working people get the shaft, while the rich get a welfare check.

And, because the Bush administration’s arrogance knows no bounds, they tell us that we don’t understand why it’s needed, that we must do it immediately, and that they know better than we do.

Which is, to use a French expression, a bunch of merde. The only thing they are better at is covering for their friends. The Financial Times, hardly a wellspring of Bolshevik thought, understands exactly what is going on. These companies are getting bailed out not because they are too big to fail, it wrote during the AIG fiasco, but because they are too connected.

And we’re not, so we get screwed. Which is why it is time to say we will not let them do this to us any more. It’s still our government, despite their best efforts at taking it away from us — unsanctioned wiretaps, tax cuts for the super rich, and all the rest. So now we need to do something about it. And that’s as easy as walking into a voting booth in November and throwing the bums out.

(Political graphic by AZRainman. To see more of AZRainman's work, please check out his blog.)











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9.24.2008

NFL: Week Four, 2008

by Rick Rockwell

As is the custom lately, no formal column but some interesting questions and an observation. Have teams in the NFC East laid all doubters to rest? That aside, are all the bumps and bruises on the Eagles the beginning of the annual Hero Team hex, or just the normal bumps and bruises of a hard knocks football season? Are the Cowboys the Patriots of 2008? And what does that make the Patriots? Will they be like last year's Bears? And what happened to those Bears after they surprised the Colts opening week? Now that Marc Bulger is riding the pine in St. Louis, and the Cardinals still have a winning record, are Rams fans wondering why the team got rid of Kurt Warner in the first place? Can the Titans manage to win the AFC South without Vince Young? Is the Evil Emperor of the Raiders (Al Davis) crazy like a fox to threaten his coach's job after just three games? Are the Ravens everything the pundits say, or have they just played some mediocre to poor teams? We'll find out this week, as the Ravens defense looks like it is in its old form and the Steelers' offensive line needs to figure out how to block while fending off blitzes. And now, the picks are after the jump....

Week 4 Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week: Ravens at Steelers (Steelers)
Upset Special: Packers at Buccaneers (Packers)

Texans at Jaguars (Jaguars)
Browns at Bengals (Bengals)
49ers at Saints (49ers)
Cardinals at Jets (Jets)
Vikings at Titans (Titans)
Washington at Dallas (Dallas)
Bills at Rams (Bills)
Falcons at Panthers (Panthers)
Eagles at Bears (Eagles)
Chargers at Raiders (Chargers)
Broncos at Chiefs (Broncos)

Last Week: .750
2008 Season: .660

For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:

  • The D.C. Universe,
  • Gun Toting Liberal, and
  • The Liberal Journal.








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    9.23.2008

    Film Review: Battle in Seattle

    by Z*
    Special to iVoryTowerz

    It took nine months of preparation and five days of action to make history in 1999 at the protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Seattle. And it took six years to revive that history in a new film that also marks the directorial debut by actor Stuart Townsend. His docudrama Battle in Seattle is based on true events from the anti-WTO protests on November 30, 1999 when thousands of people took the streets to disrupt negotiations in Seattle, Washington. The movie is opening in only five cities and that limited opening is reason enough to see it, more than offsetting a number of shortcomings in the movie.


    Having dealt with disappointing indifference in Hollywood, Townsend managed to assemble a famous cast including Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, Andre Benjamin, Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez, Ray Liotta, and Connie Nielsen. Their fictionalized characters provide different angles of the story: authority, cops, bystanders, protestors and the media. Meanwhile, there seems to be an attempt to appeal to different audiences; to the mainstream public, while trying to satisfy those who participated in the action and those who still care.

    For many people, the drama of what is called "free trade" and its consequences is not enough to forego seeing Lakeview Terrace (this past weekend’s number one box office hit) and the director is clearly aware of it. Hence, romanticization of the events as Henderson’s Jay falls in love with Rodriguez’ tough activist named Lou. Re-creating a true story, the movie is already predictable, however, the conventional storylines of individuals exacerbate it.

    Perhaps Townsend spent too much time in his quest for an accurate script that would reflect the truth. This aim is unarguably achieved as the movie includes a lot of documentary footage that makes the film credible. Some scenes are word-by-word replaying of the dialogues and actions that took place in what the media dubbed the Battle in Seattle. One can be happy enough to watch these events on YouTube to see the protestors getting beaten up, and tear-gassed by the police.

    Townsend’s noble motives to educate people who don’t know about the so-called "free trade" movement and its implications for developing nations, to inspire people to take action and believe in change might prove worthless unless his film opens around the U.S. As an independent film it lacks complexity that will satisfy the primary audience — people who know and care — as a mainstream movie it lacks a popular explanation why others should care about the events that are nearing their tenth anniversary celebration.

    As one of the jailed heroes, played by Andre Benjamin, cheers up his comrade, he predicts why this movie might fail to win over a bigger audience, “Three days ago, nobody even knew what the WTO was… Now they still don't know what it is, but at least they know it's bad.”

    *Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.

    (The promotional photo is from Battle in Seattle
    and Canada's Insight Film Studios. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)













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    Music Review: Kings of Leon & Only by the Night

    by Vincent Lee

    The Kings of Leon have rapidly, and rightfully become one of the most acclaimed bands in the past five years. Only one year removed from the release of the successful Because of the Times (a number one hit in the U.K., which hit #25 on the U.S. charts), they have released another new album Only by the Night. On this record it appears they have moved forward once again.


    On Only by the Night the Kings of Leon never do too much. More or less every song is basic and short. Both lyrically and musically they do not over-extend themselves. Whereas some bands attempt to write a masterpiece and subsequently create a bloated piece of pretentious crap, Kings of Leon simply further refine their technique and construct a very strong album in the process.

    Lead singer Caleb Followill molds his songs in a very simple manner. Each song has a specific hook or catchy line, which is built upon as the song grows. By writing this way Followill creates very catchy songs with depth. Musically, the songs develop similarly. “Closer,” the opening track and one of the best songs on the album, is a perfect model of this. From song to song, the album transitions exceptionally. There are no weak or blank songs that feel out of place. This record also sees a return to their Southern rock roots (the band is from Tennessee) that was not as present on Because of the Times.

    With this release, Kings of Leon have created one of the best albums of the year. They sound as energetic as ever on this consistent album with no true weaknesses. Fans of rock and music in general should really enjoy this. Previous fans of the band will undoubtedly enjoy it as well. By not taking themselves so seriously and keeping things simple, Kings of Leon on Only by the Night come out as something truly special.

    (The promotional photo shows Kings of Leon performing live in Brixton, U.K. in 2005; the photo is from RCA Records. The band will perform tonight, Sept. 23, in New York City at Webster Hall and also make an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS, as part of a tour of the U.S. and Europe. To see Kings of Leon perform "Use Somebody" from Only by the Night, on the BBC, please check below.)








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    9.22.2008

    So Long to Yankee Stadium

    by Suzie Raven

    In 1923, Babe Ruth hit the first homerun at Yankee Stadium. Four years later, he became the first player to hit 60 homeruns in a season. On September 21, 2008, New York Yankees catcher Jose Molina hit the last homerun in the House that Ruth built.

    In Yankee Stadium, Lou Gehrig — who was dying of ALS — declared himself "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." Legendary pitcher Whitey Ford, who has won more World Series games than any other pitchrer (10), also called himself lucky when remembering some of the finest moments in the ballpark.


    The memories include Joe DiMaggio starting his 56 game hitting streak, Mickey Mantle’s 500th homerun and Reggie Jackson’s three homeruns on three pitches against three pitchers, leading the Yankees to win the 1977 World Series. At Yankee Stadium in 1956, Dan Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history.

    Ford remembers seeing Roger Maris’ 61st homerun, the hit that broke Ruth’s record and was caught by Sal Durante. Durante could’ve sold the ball for an enormous sum of money, but wanted to give it to Maris for free.

    “Times sure have changed,” Maris said.

    Or, as catcher Yogi Berra, who is arguably more famous for his outlandish statements than for having a World Series ring for each finger, once said, “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.”

    His comment came years before the franchise decided to tear down the stadium, but his words seem especially appropriate now. While the New York Yankees are only moving across the street, no stadium will ever hold the same history.

    The new stadium will hold more seats and bring in more revenue for the richest franchise in Major League Baseball, a team that is certainly not hurting for money. We shouldn’t be surprised that the current Yankees management values increasing revenue above preserving a ballpark that represents so many of baseball's icons and historic moments. But it’s still sad to see this stadium be torn down.

    Times sure have changed.

    (Photo by Yankee Fans via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)








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    The Ryder Cup: Why it Matters

    by Hayden Alfano

    I sympathize with those who find watching golf boring, especially non-golfers. I’m a weekend golfer myself and greatly enjoy playing the game, and I watch maybe three golf tournaments per year: The British Open, because of the unique style of golf the layouts across the pond require; the U.S. Open, because of how difficult the courses are set up; and The Masters, because, well, it’s The Masters.

    But every two years, I watch The Ryder Cup. And, if you like sports, you should, too.


    Look, you like the Olympics, right? Do you often head down to your local YMCA to see people swim a few laps? Absent a gruesome accident, is there anything inherently interesting about the javelin throw? Is sitting on your porch on a weekend morning watching your neighbors jog by a favorite pastime?

    Probably not. For what it’s worth, I’m just like you. I’ve been dragged to a live gymnastics event in the past, and I swore I’d never go to another. But I watched intently as Nastia Liukin brought the gold home from Beijing last month.

    The point is, there’s something about the Olympics that holds our attention that goes well beyond the events themselves. There’s a reason that most Olympic sports aren’t televised when it’s not the Olympics.

    The same principles apply to the Ryder Cup. The competition pits 12 of the best golfers from the United States against a dozen of Europe’s best. The intensity with which both sides approach the competition is off the charts. For most, it’s the defining experience of their careers.

    The crowd at the Ryder Cup, particularly those held on American soil — the sides alternate hosting — is not your typical golf audience. The term “golf clap” doesn’t apply. This year, at Valhalla Golf Club, in Louisville, Ky., the fans were something out of Happy Gilmore. Not only did they cheer when the Americans made a good shot, they cheered when the Europeans made a bad one. Such behavior would get you angry looks at most PGA (Professional Golfers' Association) events, if not an ejection from the grounds. It’s standard at the Ryder Cup. Depending on who you ask, it’s even encouraged.

    Ryder Cup rookie Boo Weekley, one of the more… unpolished… guys on tour, spent much of the weekend channeling his inner Hulk Hogan, exhorting the crowd to make noise, stopping just short of strutting around the green with his hand up to his ear. The American fans responded, chanting “Booooooooooooo!” every time he made a good shot. One guy even showed up clad in a white sheet, dressed as a ghost the way a child might on Halloween.

    This time around, the American pulled off a monumental upset. The United States team was a big underdog heading into the weekend, as it was without the best to ever play the game, Tiger Woods. Woods went down for the season with a knee injury after a gritty win at the U.S. Open in June. But it was an Irishman who had thus far seized the opportunity created by Woods’ absence; Padraig Harrington won the final two major tournaments of the year (the British Open and the PGA Championship). With Harrington looming atop a very talented European squad and no Woods for the Americans, it appeared that the U.S. was in serious of danger of losing its fourth straight Ryder Cup.

    For whatever reason — maybe it was the crowd — the United States won this one fairly easily. I won’t trouble you with the details — remember, it’s not about the golf, and if you know what the phrase “5 and 4” means, then you were probably watching — but the Americans seized control on Friday, and never really let go. There were some tense moments along the way, but the U.S. had the thing sewn up by the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, with a handful of matches still on the course.

    The next Ryder Cup is scheduled for October 1-3, 2010, in Wales. It’s two years away, but it’s already on the players’ calendars. It’s on mine, too. And it should be on yours.









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    9.21.2008

    Reviving the Underaged Drinking Debate

    by Suzie Raven

    At eighteen, we become adults. We can live on our own. We can go to jail for life if we’re found guilty of a serious crime. We can find a job in healthcare, where we are responsible for someone else’s well being, or in a place where we operate dangerous machinery every day. We can go to college, taking on difficult courses and loads of debt. We can join the military, risking our lives for our county.

    But we can’t have a glass of wine with dinner.

    A group of 130 university presidents and chancellors have reopened the debate on lowering the national drinking age to 18. Their movement, called the Amethyst Initiative, wants to spark debate because there is a “culture of dangerous binge drinking” among underage college students. It worked. Almost every day, another college or city newspaper publishes their opinion.


    The Sonoma Star of California’s Sonoma University points out that at 18, we can sign a contract, buy cigarettes and get married, and therefore, should be allowed to drink. The New York Times, on the other hand, claims there is no evidence that lowering the age would reduce binge drinking. They also offer nothing to show that college kids engage in less binge drinking since the legal age was raised from 18 to 21 in 1984. If raising the legal age didn’t help, then why are we sticking to it?

    By raising debate on an issue that affects their students, these university leaders are doing their job. They’re also raising a good point that will hopefully lead to change. The legal drinking age of 21 is obviously not keeping college students from drinking, so it’s time we think of other ways to curb the affects of dangerous binging. (Example: better public transportation is not only better for the environment and urban congestion, but would cut back on the number of people who die in drunk driving accidents.)

    People who are under 21 aren’t going to stop drinking, just like adults of any age didn’t stop during prohibition. (Again, just one more reason why effective public transportation is a good idea.) But it’s about more than that. It’s about the fact that if someone is old enough to fight in a war, they are old enough to learn how to drink responsibly.

    I would much rather give an 18 year-old a beer than an AK-47.

    (Photo by Tym of Singapore via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)







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    9.20.2008

    iVoryTowerz Radio: Who'll Stop the Rain?

    After enduring a week like this last one, you may be looking for a bit of solace. Not to worry. The underground podcast provides unusual amounts of catharsis via radio this week. But of course, all this uplift doesn't come without a bit of caution too. And although usually we find our rescue in the blues, this time out the program finds a way to do that with a hefty dose of grunge and heavier sounds. The usual eclectic mix is here as we cover more than 50 years of rock and more. And besides the grunge there's: rockabilly, folk, folk-rock, new wave, heavy metal, and more. Tune in and tune out your troubles.



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




    Playlist


    “Come All Ye” by Fairport Convention
    "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" by Richard Thompson
    “Burn this House Down" by Amanda Thorpe
    "Learning the Game" by Sandy Denny & The Bunch
    Cover Me: "Fire and Rain" by Richie Havens
    “Bop-A-Lena” by Ronnie Self
    "Who'll Stop the Rain" by Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR)
    "She Don't” by Push Down & Turn
    Jeff’s New Wave: “Cynical Girl” by Marshall Crenshaw
    "Learn to Fly" by The Foo Fighters
    "Paperback Bible" by Screaming Trees
    “What Jail is Like” by The Afghan Whigs
    “Billy Fish" by The Melvins
    "Runnin' Wild" by Airbourne
    "Crossroads" by Avenged Sevenfold
    Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Psychosocial” by Slipknot

    (Mp3 Runs - 1:27:29; 81 MB.) Program contains explicit lyrics.

    (Photo by melodi2 of Auckland, New Zealand via stock.xchng; the photo was discovered through everystockphoto.)




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