11.30.2008

Prejudice, Hope & the American Way

by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

The woman was looking into the eyes, sad and old, of a bright young man, when she was reminded of an even older scene that absorbed her focus, and her stare turned blank.

In the moment long gone, the woman was loving her six-year-old daughter, returned from a day of finding her place in her first-grade world. The child nestled into her mother’s lap and declared it a good day — because she’d made friends with Chrissy, the really nice girl with wispy blond hair and eyes as blue as the marbles in the marble jar, and they’d both gotten smiley faces on their writing worksheets. They had matching pencils and they were going to be best friends and do the monkey bars together during recess and they were not going to be friends with the stupid Spanish kids on the playground.


The mother’s heart crashed to her womb as she searched through tumbling brown curls, into the deep black eyes of her child, her child of the blended histories of old Puerto Ricans and Southern slave owners, of Spanish fishing villagers and Western pioneers.

Her beautiful child with ugly new distinctions.

Then it was another more recent day, and all the parents waited at the schoolyard gate to embrace their children and return them to the safety of home. But one father, wild with intoxication, his eyes aflame, frightened the others. They ran to the office; they begged the principal not to allow him to take his child home, a home that could not possibly be safe. The principal reassured them with her concern. She asked which one he was, which parent, she asked, the Mexican?

She was wrong.

Then it was yet another day, the dawning of a president of color. And the couple who had supported him drove into the resort town center to stock their vacation shelves, to continue their celebration, not yet ready to remove his bumper sticker from their car. They walked past two men, leaning against a pickup, who did not offer reciprocal nods as the couple walked past, but, instead, invoked an invigorated Klan. “Nigger lovers,” the men said, kicking dirt and hate.

This, in our state, the couple mourned.

And then the woman was back in the here and now, looking into the sad, old eyes of a bright young man. He was telling her about the day when he was walking home from school, and someone yelled racist slurs at him and he cried. He cried because he was no longer safe. And he will cry again, because many white people believe his people cause all the problems in their town.

But still he is a student of hope. He believes in peace for his community, for the next generation of children walking home from school, for his whole town, his whole town.

We’re all just people, with the same needs, the same aspirations. Right?

So he said maybe things will be better now, now as the country learns from its mixed-race president.

She said her daughter has survived and thrived without the hate school once taught her.

He said the forty percent increase in hate crimes against Latinos is not a forecast, trends change.

She said those who blame immigrant gang members for all a community’s crimes — when so few of its crimes are gang-related — will surely be enlightened by truth.

He said the forty-eight percent rise in the number of hate groups will reverse as George Bush’s fear fades, as the economy recovers, when leaders no longer incite discrimination.

And so they shared their prejudice for hope.

©2008 Kit-Bacon Gressitt

(Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted from Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)

(The photo is from an anti-racism demonstration in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 2007; the photo is by thivierr of Calgary via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)





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11.29.2008

iVoryTowerz Radio: Causing Commotion!

Welcome to our surreal party. The underground podcast turns into the soundtrack for a post-punk beer bash this week. Just in time for all those holiday parties. So download this and throw it on the mp3 player at work. And you will definitely get some looks. Because this is not holiday music. But rather like any good punk show, it works on various levels. For sheer energy, this program will definitely get you moving, jumping, and stage diving. (For the older folks in the listening audience, please attempt some pogoing, but safely, if possible.) But on another level, this is the surreal realization of an artistic dream: how to make a dadaist musical statement in the form of a modern radio show. There's a reason this is iVoryTowerz radio, and this show will remind you of that. The eclectic mix is here: country, gospel, country-rock, folk, punk-folk, punk, post-punk, and metal. Plus, what would a dadaist experience be without some comedy? If you're ready to make some noise, please raise a commotion with us. Enjoy!



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



Playlist

“Don't You Know” by Cause Co-Motion!
"Normal Girl" by Squirtgun
“Holy Shit, I Can't Believe I Don't Have a Girlfriend" by The Steinways
"Marcia, She's Trying to Kill Me" by Dirt Bike Annie
Jeff’s New Wave: “Ride the Wild” by Descendents
Cover Me: "The Golden State" by Eddie Vedder & Corin Tucker
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Nine Lives” by Def Leppard & Tim McGraw
"Chest Fever" by The Band
"False Hearted Lover Blues" by Levon Helm
“The Weight” by The Staple Singers
“Never Get Enough of Your Love” by Eddie Floyd
“It Won't Be Like This for Long” by Darius Rucker
"Life is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)” by Reunion (request)
"Rock Notes" (altered) by Monty Python's Flying Circus
"All I Want" by Toad the Wet Sprocket
"Dizz Knee Land" by Dada

(Mp3 Runs - 1:22:38; 76 MB.)

Program contains explicit song lyrics and discussions of mature content including graphic language. Rated: R.

(Photo of stage diving at a music club in Germany by tamaphi
of Dresden, Germany via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

DISCLAIMER: The iVoryTowerz podcast is a non-commercial, non-profit program designed and used for educational purposes. Some of the material contained in this podcast is previously copyrighted but used with permission. Other copyrighted material is reused following fair use guidelines. Any copyright holders who do not wish to have their material used should contact the programmers directly at ivorytowerzradio@att.net and it will be removed. The programmers do not support filesharing and encourage listeners to buy music from the artists featured in this podcast.





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11.28.2008

Post-Thanksgiving Meets Post-Soviet

by Z*

All post-Soviet societies should introduce a national holiday similar to Thanksgiving, I thought, skimming through the morning news, teeming with articles about food drives across the U.S. People volunteer, donate food and toys, and write in order to increase awareness of either the poor who may not afford having a happy Thanksgiving meal or the meal itself and one's right to be treated well while giving thanks.

However, introducing another day that involves eating meat may not be feasible for post-Soviet culture, which is quite addicted to meat. Also, in times of financial crisis, there are alarming signs that meat might be disappearing from kitchens in Russia, if not across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).


You should never underestimate the value of meat in that part of the world. My family enjoys eating meat for breakfast. It might of course be some quirky diet that runs in my family, which is extremely concerned about the “negative American influence” on me — I’m vegetarian.

This summer, one babushka (grandma) was genuinely shocked upon hearing that people can live without meat in the U.S. She asked me if I had ever met another person who did not eat meat. I tried to assure her in vain that the majority of my friends are either vegetarian or vegan. However, this winter that babushka might be one of the many who involuntarily goes vegetarian.

This year’s holiday season, filled as it is with vows and resolutions, has the potential to make folks in post-Soviet society realize that maybe it is time to think about substituting something for that product that is becoming too expensive. Also, it is timely to consider your vulnerabilities at this time of year.

With our personal crisis-induced troubles on the agenda, we should still be well aware of the millions of hungry people around the world, who have no Thanksgiving that makes any difference.

*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.

(Photo by David Lat of Washington, D.C. via stock.xchng.)









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11.27.2008

Thanksgiving 2008


Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude.

— E. P. Powell


(The graphic is a lithograph by George H. Durrie, distributed by Currier & Ives for Thanksgiving celebrations in 1867; this image is from the Library of Congress collection and is in the public domain.)




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11.26.2008

NFL: Week Thirteen, 2008

The Lions: America's Real Team

by Rick Rockwell


The Detroit Lions should be America’s Team.

Forget the Dallas Cowboys. Forget the New England Patriots. Forget the Tennessee Titans.

Those teams may have captured the nation’s football fans this year and in seasons past, but they do not really represent America. No, this year, the Detroit Lions are America. They are a metaphor. They are winless. They are searching for answers. They are desperate. And they know that their solutions are not easy ones. They know it may take years to correct their downward spiral.

That’s America right now. Sliding down the canyon wall into recession. Hoping against all hope that the slide is not off the precipice altogether and into economic depression. New leadership is standing in the wings, no doubt. But we still have to play out this season with the team we have. As Donald Rumsfeld so cynically put it after failing to equip our troops with sufficient body armor and armored humvees: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.”

So it is with the Detroit Lions who have more than a few parallels to the black and blue state of our government, our economy and our times.

First, let’s start at the top with ownership. The Ford family owns the Lions. No better team to represent down-trodden times in America than a team owned by one of the big three automakers. The Ford family has been as tone deaf about how the Lions are run, as they have been about the cars their company makes. Now, after they have lost 96 percent of their capital in stock losses in the past decade (Yes, you read that figure right.) and are fighting to retain control of their company the Ford family has awakened not just to the plight of their industry but the plight of their team.

So after years of wailing by fans of the Lions, the family finally sacked team president Matt Millen (31-92 record over eight years). This was the man who picked wide receivers to be the team’s top draft pick three seasons in a row. Forget about building a team around a strong offensive or defensive front. Forget building around a quarterback (Joey Harrington, Millen's pick as the quarterback of the future in 2002 was a bust). Forget a dependable running back (rookie third rounder Kevin Smith has shown potential this season but not brilliance). No, the strategy was for a corps of fleet receivers.

That strategy might work if you had Mike Martz as your offensive coordinator, the man who built the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis with the Rams. And indeed, Martz was with the Lions for two seasons. But now Martz is unhappily employed in San Francisco. And although Martz' offensive made Jon Kitna into a very good quarterback, with Kitna injured this year and Martz on the west coast, the Lions offense has crumbled. Almost in capitulation, the Lions traded wide receiver Roy Williams to the Cowboys for a basketful of future draft choices. And the team turned to washed up quarterback Daunte Culpepper in desperation when the various Lions backups could not produce.

Typical for the Lions though, Coach Rod Marinelli seems indecisive about what to do as the Lions sink toward the historic notoriety of the only team to earn a regular season record of 0-16 in the National Football League. Last week, barely three weeks into Culpepper’s time with the team, Marinelli pulled Culpepper mid-game for Drew Stanton. And then Marinelli had to re-insert Culpepper when Stanton was hurt. The lesson: If your ship is going down, pick a quarterback and stick with him. Culpepper is still learning what passes for an offense in Detroit. Giving him less time behind center is illogical. But that sums up a mountain of recent history by the Lions.

Of course, Marinelli must know his head is on the chopping block too. Likely, he and Culpepper will be sent walking at the end of the season. Someone will be coming in to clean house. Just like how Bill Parcells went down to Miami after their 1-15 season last year and remade the team.

For Lions fans, this wholesale change will be good. They’ve been asking for it for years. But with the total collapse of the Lions, the team’s owners finally realized such change was long overdue.

Such it is for the Lions. Such it is for Detroit. Such it is for Ford. Such it is for the U.S. automakers. Such it is for the U.S. economic and political systems.

And so therefore, the Detroit Lions are America’s team, at least for the rest of 2008.

Week 13 Office Pool Predictions


Game of the Week: Bears at Vikings (Vikings)
Upset Special:
Steelers at Patriots (Steelers)

Panthers at Packers (Packers)
Falcons at Chargers (Chargers)
Chiefs at Raiders (Raiders)
Ravens at Bengals (Bengals)
49ers at Bills (Bills)
Cardinals at Eagles (Eagles)
Dolphins at Rams (Dolphins)
Giants at Washington (Giants)
Jaguars at Texans (Jaguars)
Broncos at Jets (Jets)
Saints at Buccaneers (Buccaneers)
Seahawks at Cowboys (Cowboys)
Colts at Browns (Colts)
Titans at Lions (Titans)

Last Week: .438
2008 Season: .640

For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:

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



















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    11.25.2008

    Music Review: The Killers' Day & Age

    by Vincent Lee

    The lead singer of The Killers, Brandon Flowers has a well noted high opinion of himself and his band. An ego and aura that is largely unfounded. After dubbing the band's second album Sam’s Town, “one of the best albums of the past twenty years” and backing it up with what can more or less be summarized as a wretched Bruce Springsteen imitation, Flowers does little to improve on the band's latest, Day & Age (released Monday, Nov. 24). The Killers' third full studio album exemplifies this group: a band trying very hard to be great, but failing miserably with generally poor impersonations, completely unnecessary repetition, and contrived lyrics.

    Moving on from their attempt to draw from The Boss, on this new album Flowers claimed to draw inspiration from David Bowie, Elton John, and Lou Reed. The influence of these three artists is noticeable, but the rather lackluster results continue. Elton John’s influence is heard rather clearly on the first minutes of “A Dustland Fairytale.” Lou Reed is present on the next track “This is Your Life.” Actually, these artists’ marks can be seen all over Day & Age. There is even still some Bruce lingering. Yet, the ultimate result is something much less than the sum of these great musicians. The basic sounds of these master rockers are there, but the subtle touch and strong lyrics that made them classic are nowhere to be found.

    Apparently the success of “All These Things I’ve Done” (from the band's debut Hot Fuss) and the one line repeated ten times, “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier,” has The Killers deeply believing that reiterating lines is the way to make a profound statement and impact. On “Human,” Flowers sings the line “Are we human? Or are we dancers?” over and over. Repetition can be used effectively to shape a beautiful song, or it can be used to butcher a line and ruin a song entirely. The Killers chose the latter.

    The issue of repetition is only a taste of the lack of strong lyrics plaguing Day & Age. If overly-done lines and bad puns are your things this album is most likely for you. That said, it would be unfair to say this album is entirely awful. Five songs in, “A Dustland Fairytale” turns out to be the best song by The Killers ever. Starting slow with the aforementioned Elton John-influenced piano, it truly develops into something special. It leaves you thinking maybe there really is something in this band that could make them as great as Flowers believes they are. Then you are brought back down to earth by the ensuing songs that do little to support Flowers’ remarkable ego.

    The millions of people who have purchased and enjoyed the first two Killers albums will most likely absorb Day & Age with similar force. It draws on the energy and zest that made Hot Fuss such a hit, but mixes it with the influence of greater artists. For those who share my opinion on The Killers and their first two works, Day & Age is not the solution to changing minds.

    (The photo of The Killers performing in 2006 is by Danny Wilson of Provo, UT via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. The Killers open their North American tour in Oakland, CA on Dec. 11. To see The Killers perform "Losing Touch" on Later with Jools Holland from the BBC, please check below.)









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    11.24.2008

    Obama & Clinton: Change We Can't Believe

    by Phil Kehres*
    Special to iVoryTowerz

    President-elect Barack Obama’s unofficial nomination of Hillary Clinton to Secretary of State is not change we can believe in. After running a hard-fought campaign that painted Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as “more of the same,” Obama decided to go with someone whose face and name has saturated the talk shows and headlines for years.

    Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama was one of the most exciting parts of the presidential campaign for me. Watching Powell over the years, despite his regrettable gaffe at the U.N. before the Iraq War, made him one of my favorite politicians, if only because he wasn’t really a politician. He is superbly intelligent, rational, and level-headed. Based on my anecdotal experience at the State Department, most employees preferred Powell’s military organizational style over Condoleezza Rice’s harsher top-down rule. They said Powell valued everyone’s opinion and treated them as if each was one of his “soldiers” and making decisions based on bottom-up analysis. So when Powell endorsed Obama, I was sure he’d find a way into Obama’s cabinet, possibly reprising his role as Secretary of State.

    Instead, Obama chose one of the most divisive figures in American politics to be the face of American interests overseas. Yes, Sen. Clinton (D-NY) was a bitter rival, but by skipping over Powell, Obama missed a chance to truly reach across the aisle and send a message that he wanted the best people for the most important jobs. Obama missed an opportunity to say he wasn’t interested in the petty political bickering that follows the Clinton name.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think Clinton will do a fine job. Like Powell, she is intelligent and rational. Initially, I was incensed by word of her nomination, but let’s be honest — it’s not like Obama appointed Bill Ayers to head up the Department of Homeland Security. Still, the appointment seems so conciliatory and borders on cronyism. It’s as if Obama said “hey Hillary, good campaign — here’s the State Department for your troubles.”

    Maybe I was clinging irrationally to some naïve sense of hope that Obama would do things differently, that he’d really embrace his motto of change. Maybe I drank too much of the Kool-Aid, but I can’t help but feel that Obama dropped the ball here. Instead of change, he has opened the floodgates for another four years of criticism and obstructionism from the Republicans and their revived philosophical leader Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House. Not to mention talking head bombast from the likes of Sean Hannity and his ilk.

    Of course, that’s the worst-case scenario. To those that share my initial disappointment, let’s not get too jaded yet. Clinton has the experience and the mentality to be a more-than-capable Secretary of State. And it’s not like she and Obama see eye-to-eye on everything — quite the contrary, in fact. Indeed, the two could prove to be valuable checks on each others’ inclinations. In addition, this appointment is an opportunity for Clinton to finally prove, on a national scale, that she can separate herself from the ever-lurking shadow of her husband’s polarizing and controversial past.

    *Phil Kehres is one of the authors of Excuse Me, Is That Your Blog? He served as an intern at the State Department and worked for the State Department in Uzbekistan, among other assignments.

    For other commentaries on Sen. Clinton, please see these archival posts:

    (Political graphic © copyright Comandante Agi and used with permission; you can see more of the comandante's political graphics at his blogs, PIME and Guys from Area 51.)









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    11.23.2008

    Politics: Women, Power & the Next Four Years

    by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

    President-elect Barack Obama is naming names — well, no, someone is deftly leaking them. Regardless, given the brilliant and well-accoutered rivals, intimates and mutual admiration society members from whom he’s selecting his cabinet nominees, the country is likely to enjoy the perks and quirks of some very interesting minds.

    Being of the female persuasion, I’m particularly keen on the minds of the women whose names are making it up the flagpole.

    Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as Secretary of State is a nice plug to chaw: The thrill of her former presidential campaign supporters is surely matched by the horror of those who would have voted for anyone but Clinton for president had she won the primaries — even Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who tripped through the campaign on her syntax.

    Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security is really satisfying. Dang it — a woman in charge of security! Although I can hear it already: Those who despise her for representing Anita Hill during U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing, along with those who despise her for her gender (juxtaposed with her accomplishments), will have a rip-roaring time delineating various imagined security shortcomings they believe inherent in her body parts and apparel. Tucker Carlson, Marc Rudov, Mort Kondracke, Sean Hannity, Chris Matthews, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly all come to mind, with their penchant for misogyny posing as punditry.

    Napolitano, Clinton and all other female nominees had best gird their loins for the onslaught of PMS, nagging wives, witches and bitches, cosmetics, cleavage, vaginas, aging and ball-buster slurs masquerading as political commentary.

    I know it would be equally unprofessional and sophomoric, but what a lesson for those boys (and the girls who try to win by foolishly playing their game), were they to be similarly critiqued for their prostate problems, midlife crisis acquisitions, erectile dysfunction, increasingly hairy ears, comb-overs, male hair dye, androgen deficiencies and those little dribble spots on the crotches of their designer slacks. Think I’m being mean? Check out the video compilation by the Women’s Media Center.

    Chicago businesswoman Penny Pritzker escaped the sexist critique, although her name was briefly floated for Secretary of Commerce until it dropped like a sinner to her knees. She was quite successful as Obama’s national campaign finance chair, but she withdrew her own name for cabinet consideration — perhaps due to her historical subprime lending involvement.

    Still in the running for targets of pundit prurience: Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, one of a multitude of pro-choice Catholics I’d like to point out to Father Jay Scott Newman. And there's also economist and professor Laura D'Andrea Tyson, President Bill Clinton’s chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (the first female in that position). Both women are on media shortlists for a variety of cabinet nominations yet to be claimed.

    And then there’s … um, ah … hmmm, either a dearth of leaks or a dearth of women in contention for the rest of Obama's cabinet posts. If the mass inside the Beltway were not so prone to verbal vomitus, we could believe the lack of names of additional women being seriously considered was a failure to disgorge. Sadly, that’s a tough one to swallow.

    So, while we wait, perhaps fruitlessly, for additional female nominees’ names to leak forth, I’d like to get back to Alaska’s Governor Palin for a moment. Because we’re in nomination mode and because Palin is in “What’s next for me?” mode and because she apparently doesn’t read much and, hence, is unlikely to read this. How about congressional Republicans create a special position just for Palin: Minority Mascot? It puts her safely out of the running for president (I could find nary a mascot who succeeded a team leader), saving the Republican Party from untold embarrassment; it panders to those who took Palin seriously; it feeds her craving for on-camera face time, as long as she declines the head gear; and the William Morris Agency will have a better opportunity to gauge her ability to speak extemporaneously.

    Extemporaneously, that’s like when the speaking of things that is, which people who love this great country of ours, when they are finding themself wanting to hear the hopefulness that we all hope to feel also, is the way to say those things of importance that which they hope to hear, there, without a teleprompter. Yeah, OK!

    I’m sure the other nominees will know what it is.

    ©2008 Kit-Bacon Gressitt

    (Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted from Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)

    (The photo of Sen. Hillary Clinton campaigning in Georgia is from earlier this year; the photo is by Nrbelex via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)












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    11.22.2008

    iVoryTowerz Radio: We Got Our Mojo Workin'

    Mojo. It's so elusive. You've either got it or you don't. And if you lose it, well, summoning it back can be difficult. (Just ask Mike Myers who has used the concept of mojo as a running gag through several of his Austin Powers flicks but can't seem to get anyone to buy tickets to his films these days if he isn't playing a grumpy green ogre. But we digress.) Do we have our mojo back this fall, after not being online on a regular basis? Well, only the audience can decide that for sure. But the underground podcast starts with a shot of adrenaline, courtesy of 94-year-old Pinetop Perkins, who certainly has his mojo workin'. And after that Grammy-winning blues workout, there's plenty more. Besides a hefty dose of new rock, leavened with a few classics, there's new wave, alternative, indie rock, neo-psychedelic, industrial and metal, covering more than 40 years of sound. Enjoy!



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



    Playlist

    “Got My Mojo Workin'” by Willie Joe "Pinetop" Perkins & Friends
    Cover Me: "Mannish Boy" by Paul Butterfield
    "Right Thang Wrong Woman" by The Homemade Jamz Blues Band
    “Oh Atlanta" by Little Feat and Chris Robinson
    "Pretty Bird" by Jenny Lewis
    "I Drove All Night" by Cyndi Lauper
    "Crying" by Deanna Carter
    “Working for the Man” by Roy Orbison
    “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
    “Working Class Hero” by Green Day
    Jeff’s New Wave: “Look Sharp” by Joe Jackson
    "I Feel My Stuff” by David Byrne & Brian Eno
    "Touch Me" by Weeping Willows
    "Until the Sun Dies (Part II)" by Crystal Antlers (request)
    "Hey Man Nice Shot" by Filter
    Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Devour” by Shinedown

    (Mp3 Runs - 1:31:07; 84 MB.) Program contains explicit lyrics.

    (Photo by Яick Harris
    of Whiby, Ontario, Canada via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

    DISCLAIMER: The iVoryTowerz podcast is a non-commercial, non-profit program designed and used for educational purposes. Some of the material contained in this podcast is previously copyrighted but used with permission. Other copyrighted material is reused following fair use guidelines. Any copyright holders who do not wish to have their material used should contact the programmers directly at ivorytowerzradio@att.net and it will be removed. The programmers do not support filesharing and encourage listeners to buy music from the artists featured in this podcast.





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    11.21.2008

    Economic Crisis: Rethinking Post-Soviet Society

    by Z*

    It may be that every cloud indeed has a silver lining. This year, plagued by the ongoing financial crisis, has so far been the most eventful and memorable in my bicultural life. Having had to cut spending, I found new ways of enjoying my life besides shopping and going out. And what is making each day memorable is the increased amount of thinking I now go through.

    Summer break this year significantly differed from the previous year. In 2007, I came home to find my parents buying property to expand their business, opening a gaming parlor, and building a house that would allow my grandparents to move in with us. I also barely had a chance to sit down and chat with my parents about anything.

    This year, while I spent only a month at home (unlike three months in 2007), that month was filled with all sorts of family events. Despite the unfinished house, untouched and unsold property, and inability to pay back debts, my parents found strength to praise the financial crisis for allowing them to reconsider their values.


    In a post-Soviet culture, very similar to the Chinese culture of conspicuous consumption described in a recent Washington Post article, reconsidering values means forgoing that new $900 cell phone, resisting the temptation to buy overpriced European brand clothes, and even going somewhat vegetarian.

    My parents have never traveled anywhere because they do not want to leave their small business without supervision. Yet, several years ago my dad bought a German Mercedes while my mom was spending thousands of dollars on clothes. With the financial crisis spreading across the globe, we realized that in difficult times it is not a Chanel purse that helps you make it through.

    This summer, for my family, things like making the first vegetarian pie, arranging improvised photo sessions, walking around the city, and drinking tea late at night while talking about cultural differences kept our spirits strong.

    It is sad that in the times of crisis people begin thinking fresh and realize their mistakes but it is an uplifting thought to view the crisis as a moment of introspection. The financial crisis certainly is causing a lot more headache and problems than joys. However, reflecting on the past few years, I realize only now am I really seizing the moment.

    *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.

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





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    11.20.2008

    Baseball: Who's the Real MVP?

    by Suzie Raven

    All week, Philadelphia Phillies fans have been complaining that the Cardinals' Albert Pujols beat Ryan Howard for National League MVP. For the second time in team history, Philadelphia Phillies fans have nothing to complain about.


    The Phillies dominated the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers in the first two playoff series on the way to beating the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series. Key hits came from all over the line-up, including a mammoth pinch hit homerun from Matt Stairs in game 4 of the National League Championship Series. Pitching was outstanding, topped off by closer Brad Lidge, who did not miss a save all season. This is more than enough to keep me happy until April.

    With 146 RBIs and a league leading 48 homeruns Howard certainly had plenty of clutch hits for the Phillies. However, these are the only two categories where he outshone Pujols. Pujols absolutely deserved to be named MVP.

    The Cardinals' first baseman’s numbers were astronomical this year. He hit .357 with a .462 on-base percentage. His .653 slugging percentage was more than 60 points better than anyone else in Major League Baseball. Out of 641 plate appearances, he only struck out 54 times. Ryan Howard struck out 199 times, the second most in the National League. On top of it all, Pujols is as consistent as anyone could ask for.

    The only argument to choose Howard over Pujols is that the Cardinals did not make the playoffs, instead finishing fourth in their division. (In the American League, earlier this week, Boston's Dustin Pedroia was named the MVP, representing a playoff team, the Red Sox.) That doesn’t support the argument that the award should go to someone other than Pujols. It supports the argument that the Cardinals should bolster the rest of their line-up to make proper use of his talent.

    Baseball is a team sport. It takes nine fielders, nine bats, strong pitchers, solid relief, a reliable bench, shrewd management and intelligent coachers to be a contender. If one player could carry the team to the playoffs, teams would not need a 25-man roster.

    And it’s not like Howard hasn’t received proper acclaim. He won Rookie of the Year in 2005 and MVP in 2006. He’s been a solid contender for the award all of this past season, while being one of the most prominent figures on the 2008 World Championship team. Oh yeah, and he has a World Series ring.

    Given the choice, I’ll take a team World Series ring over an MVP award for one player any day.

    (Photo of Albert Pujols by todonitido via Flickr using a Creative Commons license.)









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    Our Media Cousins

    Every fall, it seems new relatives pop up for the iVoryTowerz blog. This fall, the blog has two younger cousins. And if you haven't checked them out, why not give them a read, or a listen.

    First, there's Ward's Kitchen. We are sworn to secrecy about the origins of the name of this blog but a few excerpts have popped up here in the past few months, including the recent "Are Newspapers Headed to Extinction?" and the popular "Films: Watchmen, the Darkest Night." The blog is written by students in the Global Media/Global Politics learning community at American University. You might be surprised at the sophistication of some of the posts. So why not give it a read? Readers in 24 states and territories plus 23 countries have already beaten you to this new blog, by the way.

    And then there's The Rock Report. The name is less an honorific to your sometimes confused editor here and more a commentary on the attitude of this weekly news report. But this new report is less of a blog and more of a frame to hold the weekly Rock Report podcast. You can stream or download the latest podcast by clicking here (which includes reports about the current debate on Capitol Hill regarding the proposed bailout for automakers). Or you can find it on iTunes. Why not give it a listen? Folks on three continents already have. This podcast is produced by broadcast students at American University.

    And we now return you to your usual blog fare. Please pardon this cross-promotional announcement.

    (Photo by Valerie Everett of Indianapolis, IN via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)






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    11.19.2008

    NFL: Week Twelve, 2008

    Will We Remember the Titans?

    by Rick Rockwell


    Is this really the Year of the Titans?

    Already, there’s a new man headed to the White House who swept to victory on the strains of the song “Titans Spirit,” a song from the film Remember the Titans. (A film about integration and football, something that wasn’t lost on either Barack Obama or his campaign team.) So the name Titans, as it is associated with a winning political team, is already part of the subtext of this very political year.


    But who would have predicted last year that the Tennessee Titans would be the team competing for the mantle of regular season perfection, left behind by the New England Patriots of 2007?

    Last week, this column weighed in on how Kerry Collins has rehabilitated his career as a top-flight quarterback at the helm of the Titans. But the team is more than just Collins and his arm (although the Chicago Bears found out a few weeks back that Collins and the Titans’ receivers are indeed enough to produce a win).

    First, the Titans’ success begins with Coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher is not among those the sports pundits call a genius. But he’s a survivor. He’s on at least his third generation of players with this team and he began his tenure when the team was still the Houston Oilers in 1994. (Currently, Fisher is the longest tenured coach in the National Football League.) Not only did he survive the long move to Nashville (which stretched over several seasons) but also a Super Bowl loss and the eventual rebuilding. Before this season, few football pundits saw Fisher leading a team back to the Super Bowl without personnel that matched the quality of the stars of the past, running back Eddie George and quarterback Steve McNair (both now retired). And few saw the Titans succeeding without young quarterback Vince Young, the superstar who led the University of Texas to a national championship, as the starter.

    But Young’s early season injury and subsequent emotional meltdown (after getting booed) opened the door for Fisher to install Collins as the starter. Fisher built his offense around the veteran quarterback who is not prone to the freelancing that makes Young so fun to watch, but not yet the steady leader needed in a pro football huddle. Fisher’s early vote of confidence in Collins also created the necessary stability and consistency for the Titans.

    Fisher has followed the usual template he uses – a template that is modeled on the classic championship teams of the league’s past – to construct the latest version of the Titans. The team usually depends upon a steady ground attack and a staunch defense. This team is less about flashy comeback wins (something that Young could produce) and more about grind it out close contests often decided by the defense. The Titans may not win pretty, but they win. That’s typical of teams coached by Fisher.

    The defense, as called for by such templates, starts with a solid front. Jevon “The Freak” Kearse is back from a stint in Philadelphia for his second go-round with the Titans to anchor one end of the defensive line. But Kearse is no longer the key to the Titans’ defense as he was in their Super Bowl year. Instead, that falls to both defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (who has been injured the past few weeks) and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who jams the middle and can be a terror on opposing quarterbacks. The level of play on the defensive front makes the linebackers and secondary better. The Titans have 15 interceptions this season as a result: not league leaders, but a high enough number to make opposing quarterbacks think twice, at times.

    Will the Titans go undefeated this year, making fans of the Patriots and the 1972 Miami Dolphins frown (the other teams with perfect regular season records)? Well, not likely. But you can just about guarantee the Titans are playoff bound and perhaps good enough this year (unlike last year) to win in January.

    Week 12 Office Pool Predictions


    Game of the Week: Giants at Cardinals (Cardinals)
    Upset Special:
    Packers at Saints (Packers)

    Vikings at Jaguars (Jaguars)
    Raiders at Broncos (Broncos)
    Patriots at Dolphins (Dolphins)
    Texans at Browns (Browns)
    Bills at Chiefs (Bills)
    Washington at Seahawks (Seahawks)
    Eagles at Ravens (Ravens)
    Colts at Chargers (Colts)
    Bengals at Steelers (Steelers)
    Bears at Rams (Bears)
    Buccaneers at Lions (Buccaneers)
    Jets at Titans (Titans)
    Panthers at Falcons (Panthers)
    49ers at Cowboys (Cowboys)

    Last Week: .533
    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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    11.18.2008

    Basketball: Do the Knicks have the Marbury Solution?

    by Hayden Alfano

    The National Basketball Association (NBA) season is three weeks old, and New York Knicks point guard Stephon "Starbury" Marbury has played the same number of minutes that you or I have.

    Of course, the Knicks aren’t scheduled to pay either of us almost $22 million this year.

    Marbury’s healthy. He wants to play. He’s a good fit for new coach Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo style. There’s no disciplinary reason he’s not playing. D’Antoni has had nothing but positive things to say about Marbury. And yet not only has Marbury not gotten off the bench yet this year, he hasn’t even put on a uniform for the last nine of the Knicks’ ten games this year. (NBA rules allow for teams to carry 15-man rosters, but only 12 players may be “active” each night. Marbury has been inactive for all but the season opener).


    It’s obvious that the Knicks want the Starchild gone. By not playing him, they’re hoping that he gets frustrated and agrees to a buyout of his contract for less than the $21, 937,500 he’s owed this year. Marbury, for his part, has stated that he won’t take anything less than the full amount.

    Let’s be clear about something: Marbury is definitely overpaid. Only Boston’s Kevin Garnett makes more money among NBA players than Marbury, and Detroit’s Allen Iverson’s salary is identical to Marbury’s. Garnett and Iverson are a different class of player. Garnett’s arrival in Boston last year lead to a Celtics championship, and Detroit recently traded for Iverson with something similar in mind. Marbury, on the other hand, is a selfish point guard whose teams have underperformed wherever he’s played.

    Marbury’s contract effectively makes him untradeable, as well. Even if the Knicks could find another team willing to pay Marbury’s contract, NBA trade guidelines would require the Knicks to take back almost as much salary, and no team really has the dead weight to make that happen.

    For whatever reason — jealousy, racism, team loyalty — players in these situations always seem to take the brunt of public opinion. And it’s admittedly difficult to portray Marbury as a sympathetic figure. He does, after all, get paid enormous sums of money to play — or not play, it turns out — a game. Playing in the NBA is the dream of many young boys, but only a precious few realize it. Isn’t it the “right thing” for Marbury to realize he’s not worth what he’s paid, accept his buyout, and move on with his career while letting the Knicks get on with their season?

    However, it’s not much easier to paint the Knicks in a good light. The NBA has a salary cap, but it’s a “soft” cap; teams are allowed to exceed it as long as they are willing to pay a one-to-one “luxury tax” if they exceed it by a certain amount. The Knicks, as one of the big-market “haves” of the league, have taken advantage of this structure, with the highest payroll in the league, more than $98 million this year, which means they’ll owe about $27 million in luxury tax.

    They do this, of course, while passing some of that cost down to their fans. According to Team Marketing Report, the average cost of a ticket to a Knicks game in Madison Square Garden last year was $70.51, second-highest in the league. The team with the most expensive average ticket was the Los Angeles Lakers; Boston was the third-highest. The Lakers and Celtics met in the NBA Finals. The Knicks finished 23-59.

    By not accepting less money in a buyout, Marbury’s making a business decision. He knows that if he doesn’t play this year, he’s going to earn less money as he tries to negotiate a new contract with a new team in the offseason. That’s his choice.

    But the Knicks made a choice, too. They chose to try to construct the best team money could buy when they signed Marbury to his ridiculous contract. Why shouldn’t they have to live with it?














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    11.17.2008

    Are Newspapers Headed to Extinction?

    (Editor's Note: This piece by guest blogger Leela Chengappa is cross-posted from the blog, Ward's Kitchen.)

    by Leela Chengappa
    Special to iVoryTowerz

    Every morning my father wakes up, puts on his robe, makes himself a cup of coffee, and goes to our front porch (depending on the aim of the newspaper boy) to retrieve the morning paper. He sits down at the kitchen table and begins reading the daily news. The crumpling and turning of the large and sprawling paper is a comforting sound during breakfast time. It's hard to imagine his morning routine any differently but as online newspapers are gaining popularity, the old paper alternative may be on its way to extinction.

    The internet has 24-hour coverage that is easily accessible through a computer, not to mention that many online newspapers are free. These sites have provided a new breeding ground for advertisers. The switch from newspaper ads to online ads is causing a large plunge in profits for several companies. Advertisers are reducing the number of their print ads because it's costly compared to the rather cheap online advertisements. Although this transition is good for advertisers it unfortunately aids in newspaper's revenue downfall. The newspaper industry is resorting to lay-offs and spending reductions. Time Inc., the home of TIME magazine, People, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated cut 600 jobs and began to reorganize its staff. Gannett, the biggest newspaper publisher in America, announced that it would lay off 10 percent of its work force (about 3,000 people.) The Tribune Company said that it would lower the number of workers in the Los Angeles Times newsroom by about 75 people. And that's just to name a few.

    With new and younger generations more inclined to go online for their news sources, paper news may begin to fade quickly. The online news has a greater audience already because it's free and easily accessible. But sadly, most of newspaper's revenues come from the print production, a base that continues shrinking every day. These revenues help pay for the news that we are able to read. What will happen if newspapers cannot afford to pay reporters? The country may not be informed about world events; that's a scary thought.

    Now every morning I wake up, make myself some tea, open my computer and click on my home page, The New York Times, where I read the daily news. Yes, my father's classic way of reading the newspaper and my millennial generation's routine do differ, but in the end we are both informing ourselves about the world — but this may not continue. This online, free convenience may not last long as papers have to cut back on reporters and spending because of the downfall in newspaper sales. Something has to be fixed. The news is a key way for people to inform themselves about world situations and events. If journalists can no longer work for pay, then America will become less and less knowledgeable about the news. The original newspapers need to figure out how to re-work and re-vamp their paper sales and make them appealing again to younger audiences. And besides, just imagine all those poor, jobless newspaper boys!

    (The photo is by Cultural Savage of Portland, OR via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)











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    11.16.2008

    Politics: The Catholic Church, Abortion & Voters

    by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

    “Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.”

    This sounds a little too scatological for comfort, which might not be particularly surprising given the source, a Roman Catholic priest in Greenville, S.C., or the context of contemporary Catholicism in which all things down there seem irrevocably tainted. (Is “contemporary” a misnomer?) Nonetheless, this is how the Rev. Jay Scott Newman counseled the supporters of President-elect Barack Obama at St. Mary’s Catholic Church against taking a seat at the Lord’s table until they atone for the sin of voting for a candidate who lacks awareness that abortion “is the greatest threat to the peace and security of the United States and constitutes a clear and present danger to the common good.”

    Hmmm, the greatest threat: abortion or, say, terrorists? Poignant decisions, stirrups, speculum, dilation and curettage, and suction, resulting in dead fetuses, versus religious schools nurturing new generations with a theology of superiority and hate, improvised explosive devices, kidnappings, rapes, suicide bombers, crippled economies and beheadings, resulting in dead non-combatants and military personnel.

    Oops: Scratch that religious schools thing. It seems non-terrorists do that, too — check out some of your local Sunday schools and Bible camps. It makes one wonder at what point hate mongering oozes into terrorism.

    Anyway, Newman’s homily suggests Obama, Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, President George W. Bush, our national security and military leadership and, oh, every head of every developed nation on Earth are all wrong about the threat of terrorism. Seems we might have been misled lo these last seven years.

    Perhaps, had the $864 billion budgeted since September 2001 for the U.S. military to fight a war on terror, been spent on family planning and education and birth control instead, we might have rid the United States of abortion, the “murderous abomination that cries out to Heaven for vengeance.” (Odd, the good reverend sounds rather like one of those terrorist fellows, doesn’t he?)

    Oh, oops again: The Catholic Church has a thing about birth control, and given the failure of the Bush administration’s abstinence only sex education, those billions might not have been an effective abortion deterrent. I suppose we could have bought mass quantities of chastity belts, but from the looks of them, most are not intended to forestall fornication. (Please, find your own link to that one.)

    Despite his prayer for vengeance, Newman might have been correct when he declared the abortion debate a 30-year-old culture war, although he was off on the math.

    Perhaps he’s too busy counting the expenses of dispensations to accurately subtract 1973 from 2008. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case established women’s rights to privacy and unlimited access to abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. The issue has indeed been a battle ever since, occasionally deadly, always bitter. Just this past election, voters in South Dakota defeated for the second time an effort to ban most abortions and create a case to overturn Roe v. Wade, and anti-abortion rights advocates must be mourning the McCain-Palin defeat as a lost opportunity to stack the Supreme Court even higher against Roe than Bush did. But the combatants in this conflict, for all their dedicated passion and prayer, could be blown away — literally — by the tangible commitment of a terrorist. So there’s a certain arrogance to Newman’s claim that abortion is the greatest threat to the United States and a danger to the common good.

    I might be obnoxious — and arrogant — but I’m not a threat or a danger to anyone except the rodents that got to my heirloom tomatoes before I did. I have had an abortion and although it was frightening and sorrowful, it was my decision, my loss, my fear, my sorrow — not the government’s, not any organized religion’s, not those who constitute the common good. The thought of any such entity inserting itself in my most intimate quandaries makes me, well, gag — and I don’t expect anti-abortion advocates to understand that.

    All of which is a long winded way of declaring my hope that Obama and the 111th Congress overturn Bush’s executive order extending the Global Gag Rule on abortion and appoint wise hearts and minds to our Supreme Court, minds and hearts who do not believe they belong in women’s bloomers.

    We’re having enough trouble keeping the likes of Father Newman out of them, speaking figuratively, of course.

    (Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted from Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)

    (The photo is by Alexandra Lee of Cambridge, MA via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see the Catholic Diocese of Charleston's response and clarification to Father Newman's statements, please click here.)
















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