4.30.2009

NBA Playoffs: LeBron vs. Kobe? Inevitable?

by Phil Kehres

Kobe Bryant once was the best player in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Now it seems he and the successor to his throne, LeBron James, are on an unavoidable collision course. Is the matchup of Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers versus James' Cleveland Cavaliers inevitable for this year’s NBA Finals?

Things are looking good for both the Lakers and the Cavs after dominating their respective first round opponents. The Lakers took out the Utah Jazz in five games, winning by double digits in each of their four wins and only slightly faltering in Game 3. The Cavaliers took the Detroit Pistons to the woodshed, completing the only first-round sweep, denying the Pistons a shot at their seventh consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals and driving the final nail in the coffin of a once-proud era of Detroit basketball. Bryant and James led the way for their respective teams. Despite the strong supporting casts, there’s no doubt these two heavyweights are calling the shots.

The Cavaliers have the more difficult path to the finals at this point. They will have to face a surprisingly well-rounded Atlanta Hawks team or the Miami Heat, led by rejuvenated superstar Dwyane Wade (Atlanta leads the series 3-2 as of this writing). Should they advance, the Cavs’ likely Eastern Conference Finals opponent is the other “Beast of the East,” the Boston Celtics. However, the defending champs are sans superstar Kevin Garnett and their depth has taken a hit due to injuries. The Celtics have also been tested by the “Baby Bulls” of Chicago in the first round, narrowly eking out a 3-2 series advantage (as of this writing) after three heart-pounding overtime games and what has been easily the most exciting series so far. Regardless, Cleveland’s path to the Finals will likely have to go through the Celtics, barring an unexpected second-round exit by either team. The Lakers simply haven’t been challenged in the Western Conference this year. While that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily sweep their way to the Finals, it’s hard to imagine a scenario that doesn’t find Kobe getting another shot at his first Shaq-less ring.*

While there’s no doubt that NBA execs are drooling at the possibility of a Kobe/LeBron showdown in the finals, there’s a more intriguing storyline here. It’s new wave vs. old guard. Bryant has been the game’s best for years, but James has finally surpassed him. If the Cavs can stay as focused and loose as they have all year, the championship is a very real possibility. There’s just one thing: Kobe’s Lakers are the only team to hand Cleveland a legitimate loss on their home court this season. If the seemingly inevitable happens, it will be LeBron’s chance to quash the remaining few doubters and claim his rightful throne as best in the game. But the difference between LeBron and Kobe is that LeBron has never been about himself first and foremost. His singular drive and determination to bring a championship to the city of Cleveland might be too much for even the mighty Lakers to handle.

*For those who have short memories or who do not follow the NBA closely, Kobe Bryant won three titles with Shaquille O'Neal (now with the Phoenix Suns) earlier in the decade.

(Phil Kehres also is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog?)

(To see the schedule of NBA playoff games on various cable TV networks, please go here. To see one of LeBron James' best plays from the series against Detroit, please check below.)




















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4.29.2009

Lollapalooza vs. Bonnaroo: Making the Music Festival Decision

by Emily Norton*
Special to iVoryTowerz

Having trouble picking your music festival this year? I am! The choices are endless, but I plan on doing one of the doozies. After the recent release of Lollapalooza's line-up, I have joined the thousands confronted with the choice between Lollapalooza of Chicago, IL (Aug. 7-9) and Bonnaroo of Manchester, TN (June 11-14). Every summer, teens and adults of all ages flock to both of these three to four day music heavens in search of jams of numerous eclectic bands.

Here’s the rundown: The headliners of both festivals are not quite my cup of tea, but if you’re looking for a flashback to the '90s, you’ll be happy at either (for example, the Beastie Boys are playing both). I’m more concerned with the smaller name bands that range from folk to hip-hop, and I must say, though Bonnaroo may have a few more than Lollapalooza, they are evenly matched. Often, artists at both festivals overlap, (notably, Band of Horses, Andrew Bird, Of Montreal, and TV on the Radio, to name a few), so it’s also important to focus on the vibe of the festival as a whole.

Here are a few particulars when determining the best choice:

  • Time of Day: Lollapalooza shows start early! If you can’t stand to fry in the sun from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM, you may want to try Bonnaroo. Roo’s shows typically don’t start until later in the evening, so you can camp in your tent all day if you’re a night owl. However, you can still groove the night scene in Chicago. Many of the bars surrounding Grant Park have booked the artists and interesting collaborations for some intense afterparties and shows.

  • Versatility: Because Bonnaroo is a day longer, showtimes are a little more flexible. The headliners typically play lengthier sets as well. Bonnaroo should be commended for providing a unique experience; as a result of the later start, days can be filled with the provided silent dance parties (at the Silent Disco), comedy acts, and extra hours to get those psychedelics brewing. However, Lollapalooza certainly has it’s own upbeat flavor. The DJ tent, one of my favorite haunts, hosts dancers all day long at Lolla!

  • Setting: The most important thing to keep in mind is that the setting makes the show. Personally, I don’t think you could go wrong with either festival, but, do consider: am I urban or rural? The farmland of Bonnaroo suits the hippie camper who can go nights without rest. Lollapalooza’s all-day intensity leaves you with a high that deserves a night of sleep, or, if you’d rather, its Chicago chic also provides the hipster or glam** a night on the town to celebrate an incredible day. Seeing as I fall right in the middle, I guess I ought to just swing for both!

*Emily Norton is a veteran of both Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo.

**A term for certain fashionable rockers which was current in the 1970s and is undergoing a revival.

(For another view of the Lollapalooza festival, please see a short series from last summer beginning with "Concert Review: Lollapalooza, Day 1 with the Raconteurs.")

(The photo of the entrance to the 2008 Bonnaroo festival is by rocknroll guitar of Tampa, FL via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see Pearl Jam playing "Better Man" at Bonnaroo in 2008, please check below.)








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4.28.2009

Hockey: It's Stanley Cup Playoff Time, 2009

by Dan Aspan
Special to iVoryTowerz

As spring transitions into summer, some of the best sports action is taking place on ice. The National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs are underway, and there have already been some incredible games. First, the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins squared off in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. The Penguins got the best of the Flyers (as they did last year), coming back from a three goal deficit to win Game 6 and advance to the second round. I don’t have any allegiance when it comes to hockey, which makes these games all the more enjoyable. Being from Philadelphia, I was pulling for the Flyers to make a run. But I can’t deny the thrill of watching Penguins players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. When you have two incredible players on a team like the Penguins do, it’s always going to be a challenge to keep up.

Then you take a look at the Washington Capitals and their exciting roster with players like Alex Ovechkin*, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin. After falling behind in their opening round series against the New York Rangers 3 games to 1, the Capitals have fought back to force Game 7 (tonight, Tuesday, April 28, in D.C.). If the other games of this series are any indication of what’s to come, this is a game you don’t want to miss.

As a huge baseball and football fan, I have grown to appreciate hockey much more in recent weeks thanks to the incredible talent of players like Malkin, Ovechkin, and others. Watching these guys fly around the ice and score unbelievable goals has created a huge sense of excitement that the NHL hasn’t been able to provide fans for years. As the Stanley Cup playoffs progress and the inevitable drama of sudden death overtime games unfold, the NHL will continue to reach more sports fans across the country and the world.

*If the video highlights of the Crosby and Malkin goals weren’t enough to get you pumped up for some playoff hockey, check out this insane goal by Ovechkin in Game 5 against the Rangers.

(The Capitals vs. Rangers final can be seen on the Versus cable network, along with the final between the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes. The full television schedule can be found here.)















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Music Review: Bob Dylan's Together Through Life

by Rick Rockwell

Some of the most intriguing aspects of Bob Dylan’s latest studio release Together Through Life are the Latin-inspired arrangements laid over a bluesy foundation. At times this mix gives the work a cinematic feel. At other times, the simple results are the answer to the question: what if Dylan decided to dabble with conjunto.


David Hidalgo, the leader of Los Lobos joins Dylan’s touring band and other key guests for this record and his presence spells all the difference. On the lead track and single “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” Hidalgo’s stabbing guitar solos recall the best of his band from East LA. Dylan’s shattered voice croaks out the despair-filled lyrics while the band cooks. Donny Heron’s restrained trumpet fills give the song the perfect smoky late night edge.

But perhaps Hidalgo’s greatest contribution to Together Through Life is his accordion work. Dylan, who self-produced the record, laces Hidalgo’s accordion throughout every track, which gives large swaths of the record a Tex-Mex or norteño atmosphere. With this technique the ironic closer “It’s All Good” acquires a zydeco flavor thanks to Hidalgo’s contributions.

One of the other great achievements of Together Through Life is that it unites the various strains of Dylan’s influence. Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers (representing the Tommy Petty/Byrds wing of the Church of Dylan) provides stalwart if restrained lead guitar throughout and his incendiary guitar duets with Hidalgo are set subtly underneath the main mix to provide a certain sonic tension to various numbers, especially “Jolene.” Also along for this long strange bluesy trip is Robert Hunter, the long-time lyricist for the Grateful Dead (representing the psychedelic wing of the Church of Dylan) who co-wrote with Dylan all but one of the album’s ten songs.

However, when Together Through Life isn’t loping along the border, shuffling through an after-hours East LA bar, or slow-roasting like a Texas roadhouse on a Saturday night, it evokes the sound of urban Chicago blues. Dylan has told interviewers he felt the quickly recorded album was searching for a groove more common with records released by Chess or Sun Records in the 1950s.

Dylan’s appreciation for the blues is evident on this his 33rd studio release. On “My Wife’s Home Town” Dylan and Hunter stitch new lyrics on to “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” originally from legendary bluesman Willie Dixon. (And notably, unlike others, Dylan and Hunter acknowledge Dixon in the songwriting credits.) Dylan’s cackling devilish coda to the song shows just how much fun the 67-year-old singer-songwriter had recording this album. “Shake Shake Mama” is another urban blues number that lives up to its title.

Although most of Together Through Life is a rollicking roadhouse toss off by the Bard of Rock, the last two songs on the album may have more weight. “I Feel a Change Comin’ On” could be read as Dylan’s acclamation of President Barack Obama’s political win and may be seen as a natural bookend to Dylan’s classic “Blowin’ in the Wind.” (However, note, Dylan and Hunter’s lyrics are far from upbeat: “Dreams never did work for me anyway / Even when they did come true.”) And then there’s the album closer, “It’s All Good,” which is Dylan with tongue set firmly in cheek singing satirically about coping with the world’s financial mess.

Although some have already written Together Through Life off as a fun but inconsequential Dylan release, the end result is just the opposite. By not trying too hard and having fun with the various elements of his craft, Dylan may have put together his most enjoyable album of the past decade. Dylan proves once again why he’s a master.

(The promotional photo of Bob Dylan is from Columbia Records. Dylan and his band will continue their world tour with a performance in Cardiff, Wales, UK today [Tuesday, April 28]. To see the official video for Dylan's "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," please check below.)

















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4.27.2009

Baseball: Mackenzie Brown & the Perfect Game

by Suzie Raven

Whenever my dad wanted me to try harder when we played softball in the backyard, he told me to quit throwing like a girl. I would get mad and wing it at him as hard as I could. As I got older and my arm got stronger, he said it to me less often, but he always knew it was an easy way to push my buttons.

Last week, twelve-year-old Mackenzie Brown proved what I’d been saying for years. Throwing like a girl isn’t a bad thing.

Brown is the first girl to throw a perfect game in Bayonne Little League. She struck out 12 of the 18 batters she faced, including the last six.

Since the perfect game, she has been interviewed on national television and watched her highlights on ESPN. She threw out the first pitch when the New York Mets played the Washington Nationals at the end of last week. If I were in her shoes, I would be beyond stoked to throw out the first pitch, but she’s obviously more level headed than I am despite being much younger.

She said that the best part of her week is "probably just being able to throw like that."

Baseball needs more girls like her, but next year, Brown will switch from baseball to softball so she can focus on her goal of playing collegiate athletics one day. She shouldn’t have to switch for the purpose of college if she prefers baseball. She’s proven that she can do more than just keep up with the boys. She obviously throws much better than most boys. Our society shouldn’t teach her there is something wrong with throwing like a girl.

(Photo by Matt McGee of Washington state via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)






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4.26.2009

The Economy of Family

by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

My mother is a child of the Depression: She throws out nothing.

We always knew this without ever consciously acknowledging it, because as children we were plagued a couple times a week by Mother’s lovingly prepared olios of leftovers. But the lesson of salvage Mother learned during the Depression became impressively clear when my siblings and I descended last week on our widowed mother’s home for the final accounting and dispersal of its contents.

We opened a lovely hatbox, anticipating a trove of fashion treasure adorned with feathers and veils and rhinestone studded hatpins. Instead, we found a hoard of decades old batteries, light bulbs for appliances no longer made, shoe button hooks with broken handles. The antique wooden box with hand-carved dovetail joints, oozing historicity and the hope of another era’s baubles, opened to a stash of carefully compacted plastic shopping bags from Foodtown. The bits of felt, fake gems and snippets of grosgrain ribbon with which Mother once created tally cards for the bridge clubs of yore were still tidily organized in the brittle lining of a faded cherry cordials box. A multitude of photographs — Ye gods!, as Mother would say — filled copious recycled containers: shoeboxes of forgotten brands, reused envelopes, file folders with thrice relabeled tabs. And fifty years of humor-filled letters and greeting cards reflected the gradual acceptance of scatological content in polite conversation (surely, our family pioneered it).

Nope, my mother throws out nothing.

We found an iron skillet full of bacon grease in the oven — ready for frying an egg or a chicken thigh or our favorite, creamed chipped beef. Six styles of black dance shoes, in graduated states of wear, rested in a closet, one for each of the last six decades, and a lonely Keds sneaker waited in a bathroom corner for Mother to happen upon a lucky match at a yard sale. The stubs of every check our parents ever wrote told the history of their cautious consumption, when they weren’t paying with the evermore reliable cash. A vintage milk box held — guess what — carefully compacted plastic shopping bags from Foodtown. And Mother held onto every card tablecloth she ever owned, whether hand-me-downs from her mother or later acquisitions. She even kept the quilted covers that went under the linen cloths to protect ladies’ dainty wrists from the table’s edge — neatly folded in a box from a dress shop long out of business.

As we harvested the house, it was sometimes hard to know what was a family treasure and what was the result of Mother’s penchant for yard sale and thrift store shopping. Should we really part with that little rug? Was it saved from a neighbor’s curb on junk day, before the garbage truck could haul it away, or was it made of our ancestors’ threadbare suits and camel’s hair coats a grandmother or great aunt cut into strips and braided into renewal? We worried about tossing all the plastic shopping bags released from countless caches while Earth Day was upon us. We fretted how we could possibly stuff eighty years of recipes and books and art and music and living into our four homes already filled with the fruits of contemporary consumption. And we occasionally bickered — not about what went to whom but about the proper style and order of the packing. Just like our parents.

Ultimately, it took the seventy-eleventh fingertip cut on the dreaded packing tape dispenser, and the consequent round of sobbing and laughter, to stop the desperate grasp for our parents’ life and face the exquisite loss of it. Father is dead and Mother’s delightful light is subtly fading, just a few decades before our own. No manner of memorabilia, no family heirloom cum childhood fort, no book with a hundred-years-old inscription will perpetuate our family. Our stories and aspirations, our love and anger, our sorrows and joys; these things cannot reside in objects.

But Mother and Father’s wisdom lives on — as we forgive each other our foibles, as we recycle with added vigor, as we take the previous generation into our homes and nurture them to their deaths, as we honor the ingenuity, love and humor that helped them survive the Depression by emulating those things today.

If nothing else, I hope our offspring learn the lesson that a plastic shopping bag, if they absolutely must use one, is actually packing material for china or throw pillow stuffing or a litter box liner — and that however downward the economy might spiral, we will always be rich in family. … Oh — and that laughing at elevator farts is far preferable to excusing them.

©2009 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 shows a family migrating from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to California during the Great Depression; the photo is in the public domain.)





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4.25.2009

iVoryTowerz Radio: Travelin' Music

Another trippy ride down the eclectic road with the underground podcast this week, after a week off while the hosts were journeying elsewhere. So the road is where our thoughts are centered. Sometimes the test of a good rock 'n roll show is to take it out the highway. We hope you'll road test this one. First though, let's check the map. The first exit looks like British folk rock which winds through progressive rock and indie rock. Don't miss that left turn into grunge. Then there's that big loop around new wave, punk, and post-punk. Finally, the home stretch has glam rock (in a "Jeepster," of all vehicles) and heavy metal. Don't set the cruise control because it seems you'll need to keep the accelerator punched manually for this excursion. Enjoy!


(Please click here to stream or download this podcast.)


Playlist

"Traveling's Easy" by Anne Briggs
"Mykonos" by Fleet Foxes
“The Story in Your Eyes" by The Moody Blues
"Detlef Schrempf" by Band of Horses
"I Still Want to be Your Baby (Take Me as I am)" by Bettye LaVette
"I Heard of a Girl" by Miss Li
“Doll Parts” by Hole
Jeff’s New Wave: “Don't Stand So Close to Me” by The Police
“Modern Girl” by Sleater-Kinney
“Short Fuse” by The Black Lips
"Viva La Resistance" by Hypernova
Cover Me: "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat" by Beck
"Jeepster" by T. Rex
"Vaccination Scar" by The Tragically Hip
"Unafraid" by Queensrÿche
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Seven” by Megadeth

(Mp3 Runs - 1:19:17; 73 MB.)

The program includes songs with explicit lyrics.

(Graphic by thomsimonson 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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National Child Abuse Prevention Month & the Facts

by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and a Google news search for “child abuse” produced the following articles — published over only three days.

Infant death suspect was awaiting trial in earlier child abuse:

  • Dateline: Florida — A 27-year-old Davenport man who is charged with killing an infant in Osceola County on Monday was out on bail awaiting trial in an earlier child abuse case.
Man pleads not guilty in child abuse case:
  • Dateline: Ohio — A man accused of strapping a toddler to a toilet seat pleaded not guilty to child endangering charges in Clark County Municipal court Monday, April 6.
Richmond woman pleads insanity in son’s abuse death:
  • Dateline: California — A Richmond woman charged with murder, torture and child abuse in the 2006 death of her 8-year-old son has changed her not-guilty plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.
Delta man faces first degree murder charges:
  • Dateline: Colorado — Daven Beck has posted a $150,000 bond after being arrested on suspicion of murder in the first degree, child abuse resulting in death, and child abuse.
Murrells Inlet nanny gets probation for child abuse:
  • Dateline: South Carolina — A Murrells Inlet woman on Wednesday admitted she abused a 5-month-old baby in her care and apologized to the child’s family before being sentenced to probation.
Child abuse arrest:
  • Dateline: Florida — A 6-month-old baby is in critical condition after a woman allegedly shook the child severely.
DCF report documents tot’s severe beating, troubled mom:
  • Dateline: Florida — An investigate summary compiled by the Department of Children and Families in the days following Faith J. Ray’s death indicates the 2-year-old sustained a severe beating, possibly over a long period of time, before being admitted to the hospital last December with fatal injuries.
Tampa father tortured child over porn, police say:
  • Dateline: Florida — The allegation was horrifying: A father used water torture to punish his 10-year-old daughter for finding his pornography.
CCPD investigating after child, 2, at hospital with multiple injuries:
  • Dateline: Texas — Police plan to interview a 2-year-old’s relatives and caretakers after doctors found the child had injuries consistent with abuse, Lt. Rebeca Schauer said.
Father charged with child abuse after 17 month old dies:
  • Dateline: Missouri — A Bismarck man faces child abuse charges after his 17-month-old daughter died.
River Edge man charged with assaulting 13 year old:
  • Dateline: New Jersey — The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office today announced the arrest of Yoon Park, 53, of River Edge, on charges of endangering the welfare of a child and simple assault.
Amantea pleads guilty to sexual abuse charge:
  • Dateline: Iowa — A Norwalk man involved in a police standoff in February pleaded guilty to a child sexual abuse charge. Albert Amantea, 43, pleaded guilty April 6 to the charge of a lascivious act with a child, which is a class C felony.
Jury finds man "guilty" of child abuse; recommends life in prison:
  • Dateline: Oklahoma — A Washington County jury has recommended that a Collinsville man — already serving 30 years in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections for the sexual abuse of a minor child — serve life in prison for the child sexual abuse of a 10-year-old girl in 2004.
Mashpee student abuse charge probed:
  • Dateline: Massachusetts — Police are investigating an alleged child abuse case involving a special needs student and a school bus monitor, Mashpee police officials said yesterday.
Principal charged with sexual abuse of 11-year-old girl:
  • Dateline: Illinois — A 54-year-old principal of a far north suburban elementary school has been charged with the sexual abuse of an 11-year-old girl who is a student at the school. Investigators believe other victims may be out there and they are encouraging them to come forward.
Massena man pleads guilty to child endangerment:
  • Dateline: New York — The owner of a Massena gymnastics school has admitted in court to child endangerment charges for offering alcohol and showing a pornographic video to underage girls.


There were many more articles — and the economy is aggravating the problem — yet despite their volume, I don’t recommend reading them. They are excruciating.

There is something you should know, though: As long as parental rights receive greater priority than a child’s right to live free from abuse; as long as we give parents, guardians, teachers, nannies, boyfriends and girlfriends another chance not to harm a child; as long as we hesitate to report our suspicions, these stories will be repeated endlessly. And the lives of beaten, starved, burned and raped children will continue to seep away into the hospital linens beneath them.

You can help: Report suspected child abuse and neglect by calling your local child protective services or child welfare agency or Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453). All calls are anonymous.

For more detailed statistics on child abuse, please go here.

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

(The photo is by Goran Zec via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)




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4.24.2009

Karzai, Afghanistan & Women's Rights

by Melissa Mahfouz
Special to iVoryTowerz

A few years after 9-11, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had been gaining credibility. His efforts to combat the Taliban and the opium trade, while dealing with neighboring Pakistan, were unprecedented. Yet, with the recent signing of a new Afghan law, Karzai’s respectability and credibility are reduced to nothing more than fragments, and further animosity between the Sunni government and Shi’a (or Shi'i) minority has come to fruition. Is this part of the Karzai administration’s divide and conquer tactics, to marginalize and disengage the Shi’a voice in Afghanistan?


As a caveat, this is not an attack on Afghan political culture, but rather the direction in which it is heading.

The premise of the controversial legislation that Karzai signed is primitive at best. Under the direction of the Afghan Parliament and the behind-the-scenes influence Shi’a cleric Ayatollah Asif Mohseni, Karzai signed a three-part bill severely limiting the rights of women. The law, applicable only to Shi’a Afghans calls for: 1) the right of the husband to coerce his wife into having sex every four days; 2) the requirement for women to obtain their husband’s permission to hold employment outside of the household; and 3) limitations for women who wish to wear make-up in public and leave the house without their husband. Although the law has yet to become public officially, the United Nations Development Fund has warned women about its contents. And thus the law has become the beacon of controversy and social uproar.

As Afghanistan has attempted to reach a level of development in education, poverty alleviation, and women’s rights, among others, this new law is certainly a setback. The bill is aimed at gaining the favor of the Ayatollah Mohseni to assist Karzai in the political spectrum, as the president is up for re-election. As has been customary for centuries, women are yet again being used as a political tool. Realistically, human rights groups will demand a public outcry on the basis of human rights abuses. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may yet verbally castigate the Karzai administration over this controversy. And the United Nations may take a similar course of action beyond its muted criticisms and alerting the human rights community. In the end, the law may not be affected, with miniscule, if any changes. (After women staged a bold protest in Kabul last week, Karzai asked his Interior Ministry to review the law's provisions again to see if it should be adjusted in any way.) This law is a litmus test for Afghan women to prove their strength. And we encourage you, sisters. I am not a raging feminist, but I am a human being, and this law is absurd. The law legalizes marital rape. Wow. Keep your voices yelling until they are hoarse, but do not be silent. We are with you at the virtual barricades.

(For similar postings, please see the series "The U.S. in Afghanistan & What the Afghans Want.")

(The photo of Aghan President Hamid Karzai is from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland from 2008; the photo is by Annette Boutellier of the World Economic Forum via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)











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4.23.2009

Baseball: A Tip of the Cap to Oblivious Pseudo-Fans

by Phil Kehres

Have you ever gone out for a lovely day at the ballpark, hoping to take in a victory by your favorite team, only to be surrounded by oblivious wannabes wearing gear in support of teams that aren’t even playing? I suppose it’s not a big issue for most people, but it drives me nuts. It’s my biggest sports pet peeve. It’s a sports fashion faux pas, a crime against the integrity of real baseball fans.

Most of you know exactly who I’m talking about, though you may not have paid attention before. If you don’t know, then maybe you’re one of them. They’re the east coast yuppies wearing the pre-faded Yankees caps at a Nationals-Marlins game. They’re the clueless girls in pink Cubs hats at Indians-White Sox games, who couldn’t tell the difference between balls and strikes but swear their undying loyalty to those “lovable losers.” They’re the obnoxious drunk fratboys in green, St. Patrick’s day-themed Red Sox caps singing “Sweet Caroline” a capella at an Orioles-Rays game. Each and every one of them is a wretched stain on the fabric of baseball fandom. I once went to a Pirates-Cubs game at Wrigley Field, where there was a guy dressed in a full Joe DiMaggio jersey. He stuck out even in the sea of khaki and polo shirts that make Wrigley so, um, historic. I don’t care if you’re Joe DiMaggio himself, there’s no excuse for that.

Now, some of you who are familiar with my opinions on sports will say “Wait a minute, isn’t that just a sign of loyalty and dedication, which you value in sports fandom?” The answer is no, and here’s why. One, I’d be willing to bet that at least 90 percent of people like this have no legitimate reasons to be fans of soul-sucking, evil, corporate shams like the Yankees, Cubs or Red Sox. No, having a brother whose girlfriend’s aunt’s co-worker went to Harvard does not give you license to cheer for the Sawx (in fact, I’d be willing to pay $1 to every one of these people who could actually present a logical explanation of the oft-lauded “Yankee Tradition” that doesn’t include the phrase “COUNT THE RINGS!!!” or who actually cheered for the North Siders before Wrigleyville became a hipster haven). Two, truly loyal fans who have a real appreciation and respect for the game know that rocking the gear of a non-playing team makes a mockery of our national pastime, even if the team on the field — for example, the Washington Nationals — is itself a mockery.

Other excuses for wearing non-playing team gear range from lame to laughable. My favorite is something along the lines of: “Oh, it’s the only baseball cap I have and I didn’t think it mattered, plus I needed something to keep the sun out of my eyes!” Weak. You know what you’re doing, Joe Bro. Man up and deal with the sun. Wear neutral clothes. Besides, that pre-faded Cubs cap with the 1908 logo doesn’t match your crocs and plaid shorts.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one way to deal with this idiocy. Institute a ticket tax. Add $10 to the cost of the ticket for people wearing any gear that supports a team not participating in that day’s game. Add $15 if that gear is in a color other than the offending team’s primary colors… $20 if that “off” color is pink, and $25 if it’s green and St. Patrick’s day-themed. That ought to get these heathens thinking twice about their egregious ballpark garb. Until Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig gets around to that, though, there’s nothing we can do but tip our (properly branded) caps to the unabashed obliviousness of these pseudo-fans.

(Phil Kehres also is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog?)










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4.22.2009

The DNA Database & Privacy


by Emily Norton

Special to iVoryTowerz

How well should a government know its people? The debate intensifies, The New York Times tells us, as law enforcement officials consider the ramifications of “expanding their collection of DNA to include millions more people who have been arrested or detained but not yet convicted.” The government's argument: An efficient database would not only provide more accurate evidence, but also be an enormous time saving tool. “I’ve watched women go from mug-book to mug-book looking for the man who raped her," Mitch Morrissey, Denver's District Attorney told The Times. Morrissey isan advocate for more expansive DNA sampling. "It saves women’s lives," he said. Of course, this has sparked fuming from other criminal justice experts and groups supporting civil liberties, who see DNA testing as an enormous infringement on privacy rights and proof that the the nation is becoming what The Times called "a genetic surveillance society.”


If DNA records can prove a person is guilty, let us not forget that they can also prove a person innocent. However, it is not the government’s job to keep people tip-toeing around and looking over their shoulder; that would be antithetical to a free society. To quote from V from V for Vendetta: “People should be not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” Fear is a root of mistrust; if a government mistrusts its people to the point of permanently scrutinizing citizens for the most petty infringements (sixteen states now take DNA from some who have been found guilty of misdemeanors), reciprocally, will this not birth a new wave of doubt amongst the populace? A DNA sample is a weighty and personal piece of information. Would you be comfortable, as The Times also asked with the government permanently holding your code after you mistakenly wrote an insufficient funds check? Now, that's something to ponder.

(The graphic of a DNA molecule is from NASA and is in the public domain; the graphic was discovered using the everystockphoto.com search engine.)







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4.21.2009

Music Review: Depeche Mode's Sounds of the Universe

by Rick Rockwell

First, a confession.

Throughout much of the 1990s, Depeche Mode provided the soundtrack for many of this writer’s nights. Especially, weekend nights. In clubs from San Pedro Sula to Mexico City to Los Angeles and Chicago and beyond, the Mode’s dark, throbbing electronic soundscapes proved to be the perfect backdrop. Violator, Songs of Faith and Devotion, and Music for the Masses are ingrained in the memory cells.

But Depeche Mode and this writer have both changed since that era. The disappointing releases of Ultra (1997) and Exciter (2001) ended the band’s days as one of the biggest in the world, although the stripped down, reformed three-member Mode is still a force to be reckoned with, if just for the band’s sonic legacy.

Right away, the first single from Songs of the Universe, “Wrong” has this electronic trio in superior form. Dave Gahan’s tortured and dour vocals recall the best of the band’s ‘90s sound. If the lyrics hadn’t been penned by the group’s principle songwriter Martin Gore, they might serve as a self-reflection on Gahan’s descent into heroin addiction, just one of problems that beset Depeche Mode and sapped the group of some of its creative force when it had reached the pinnacle of the music world. For those who remember Depeche Mode only as one of the lightweight synth-pop hair bands of the early 1980s and haven’t kept up since, “Wrong” shows off the minor key muscles the group developed with its evolution on 1986’s Black Celebration.

But the single proves to be a bit of musical slight of hand, because much of Songs of the Universe is far from the Mode in its prime. The standard album’s 13 tracks (the band is also releasing a deluxe edition with at least 18 tracks, hidden tracks, remixes, demos, and videos) and more than 57 minutes of music seem bloated and bifurcated. Some of Songs of the Universe is a throwback to light early Mode synth-pop: “Jezebel” with Gore singing lead is the most obvious example. Some is a nod to influences such as Germany’s Kraftwërk. Other numbers seem to be the band denouncing its dark, dangerous, decadent past. “Peace” is the most obvious example of this approach: although the sonic backdrop is foreboding at first, the lyrics are an uncommon (for this band) bid for serenity. Gahan sings: “I’m leaving bitterness behind this time/I’m cleaning out my mind….” But without that cathartic tension that often underpins the Mode’s work, the material falls flat as does the song and much of the rest of the album. On “Peace” think of Depeche Mode making songs for yoga sessions, and you’ll get the atmosphere the song evokes. Gack!

Although that’s the nadir of the band’s 12th studio release, only a few other tracks rise anywhere close to “Wrong” in stature. Unlike most of the album, “Perfect” weaves in the Morricone-inspired guitar that the band bequeathed to an entire generation of indie rockers after Violator became so popular. The closer “Corrupt” (with its delayed reprise hidden instrumental) also has more of the band’s old lyrical and sonic sensibilities woven together into the fabric. But these moments play like afterthoughts.

If this is what growing older, more mature, and more level-headed is all about, one cannot dismiss Depeche Mode’s growth in a sane direction. Indeed, Depeche Mode may still be making music for people of this writer’s age to listen to after 2 a.m., but just a reminder that most of us are now asleep at that hour. Unfortunately, the Mode’s new music now works perfectly for accompanying that activity.

(The promotional photo of Depeche Mode is from the band's label EMI. The band will open its world tour in Los Angeles on April 23 with a special outdoor performance for Jimmy Kimmel Live! on ABC. To see the video for "Wrong," please check below.)














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4.20.2009

Baseball: The Amazing Shrinking Nationals

by Suzie Raven

After playing only eleven games in 2009, the Washington Nationals managed to fall nine and a half games out of first place. It’s not that shocking for them to be that far out of first place in the National League East. After all, they finished the 2008 season at 32.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s just that it normally takes them a little longer to fall behind by 9.5 games.

Normally, the Nationals don’t lose their first seven games. They didn’t win a single game until last week (April 16), when the Phillies' struggling starting pitching gave them a little help. Joe Blanton gave up a three-run homerun in the first inning of that game. Normally, the Florida Marlins, also an NL East team, don’t go undefeated longer than any other Major League Baseball (MLB) team. The Marlins won their first four games before losing to the New York Mets. Their current seven-game winning streak gives them an MLB best record of 11-1.

The on-fire Marlins aside, what has pushed the Nationals so quickly into the major league basement? It’s their drastic lack of pitchers that has been killing them. They don’t have any stars in their bullpen and Shairon Martis is the only starting pitcher with a good outing so far in 2009. Martis got the Nationals their only victory in the first eleven games of 2009 and their last win of 2008, on September 23rd.

The Nationals offense has been impressive. Adam Dunn’s three-run first inning home run against the Phillies last week was his third this season. Josh Willingham, Elijah Dukes and Alberto Gonzalez also homered that night that the Nationals won. Earlier in the week against the Phillies, Cristian Guzman hit 5-for-5, with 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored and Dukes hit a homerun and an RBI double. It wasn’t enough, as they lost 9-8 to the Phillies.

The Nationals' offense averaged 4.9 runs scored per game in the team's first seven losses, which means the team wouldn’t be in bad shape if they had any support from their pitching staff. Being swept by the offensively impressive Marlins this weekend certainly didn’t help the Nationals standings. If their pitching doesn’t step up, this is going to be a long summer for Washington, D.C.'s team.

(The photo is by cruffo via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)













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4.19.2009

Memorial: Oklahoma City & the Bombing

(Editor's Note: This piece was prepared for the anniversary of the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the nation's deadliest domestic terrorist attack
.)

by
Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Ladies and gentlemen and children: See before you the crumbled concrete and teddy bears, the wreaths and forlorn love notes, the postcards and classroom projects, the flags and bobbing balloons, the flowers and final farewells to one hundred, sixty-eight souls. Blown from the earth with a single obscene gesture, they were three months, they were seventy-two years, they were one and twenty-three and thirty-six and forty-two and fifty-five and sixty-seven; good ages all, now etched static on stones in perpetuity.

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Look at their faces, unprepared to be memorialized, giggling from family photos; posing for graduation pictures; caught unaware in backyard barbecue snapshots; accepting awards for deeds well done; squinting through sunglasses and wind-whipped hair; smiling from beneath coquette eyelids; flirting with a future that will remain unlived.

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Do they now soar on the wings of eagles? Do they join celestial choirs, belting out the blues for those left behind? Do they rest safely where God is nigh? Do they fly wrapped in angels’ wings and draped in patriotic colors? Do they heed the solemn psalms we offer up, the precious quilts we stitch with tears, the “Taps” we sound in stolid sorrow?

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Do you know? Their memories will never leave us — children’s cries that faded before they could be found; a boot, impotent with only its warrior’s leg; the futile reach of a toddler’s severed hand; the sacrifice of a limb for life; the heart of one who would serve and protect gone limp as the baby’s body he cradled.

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Can you see? In the victims’ absence, a flag gently caresses a face of faith, memorializing last kisses never placed on loved ones’ lips. Children’s words, pure and simple, are searched for some serenity. Voices are joined to find a remnant of harmony in harrowed hearts. Hands are clasped, ribbons are donned and candles lighted to lead wounded survivors to comfort.

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Can we help but wonder just how great is the resilience of this human spirit? Can we help but question that a god would make such a day as April 19, 1995? And when the doubts are done, when grass grows where battlements once stood, can we find inspiration in the agony? Can we embrace the anguish of it all and fill the void with the wonder of hope and peace?

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Speak tenderly to the city and love each other well that darkness may not have its way.

Please visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

Isaiah 40:1-10

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

(The photo of the Oklahoma City memorial to those lost in the 1995 bombing is by R Doyle Bowman of Oklahoma City via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)





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4.18.2009

iVoryTowerz Radio: From the Archives, No. 6

Time to do a bit of spring cleaning and although there's no new version of the underground podcast this week, there's a fine one revived from the secret underground archives. Amazing what a little aging will do for a rock 'n roll show. This one, like a fine wine, has a different taste now than when it went into the bottle. Who knew then that Alison Krauss and Robert Plant would have the record of the year? (Although we had a great feeling about it from the start as recorded here.) And doesn't the request for the Dropkick Murphys take on new meaning at the beginning of a baseball season rather than at the end of one? This is a program filled with an uncommon number of requests, so grab it while you can because often these archival programs have a limited lifespan online. The usual patented eclectic mix is here, covering almost 70 years of music. We've got it all here from country rock to heavy metal. And in between you'll find some punk, power pop, alt-country, and even jazz-blues. Sometimes a program like this is better the second time out. Enjoy!


(Please click here to stream or download this podcast.)


Playlist

"How Long" by The Eagles
"Desperado" by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (request)
“Tessie (baseball version)" by The Dropkick Murphys (request)
"Glad" by The Swingin' Utters
Jeff’s New Wave: “Suspect Device” by Stiff Little Fingers
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead (request)
"Good Times Bad Times" by Cracker
"Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
“Breathe” by Dan Bern
Cover Me: "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by Uncle Tupelo (request)
“Day Tripper (live)” by Cheap Trick
“Say Hello to Another Goodbye” by Linus of Hollywood
"Photograph" by Ringo Starr
"Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday
"As Time Goes By" by Harry Nilsson
"Too Hot to Sleep" by Eilen Jewel
"The Walls Came Down" by The Call

(Mp3 Runs - 1:16:36; 71 MB.)

(Photo of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. by izik of Washington, D.C. via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

Originally podcast as iVoryTowerz Radio No. 41.


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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4.17.2009

Minor Brides & the Arranged Marriage System

by Melissa Mahfouz
Special to iVoryTowerz

From a western standpoint, much of the reaction to this story will likely be: "Those Arabs are at it again. Typical behavior." From a moral standpoint, this story tears at the heart: another case of a minor attempting to attain a marriage annulment in courts in Saudi Arabia. The case finally managed to find its way to international headlines recently. But this case is by no means an isolated one, nor is it a recent phenomenon.

What's at issue are the rights of an eight-year old girl who is married to a man her elder by 39 years. The girl has been at the mercy of a Saudi judge for more than a year, with her case being invalidated due to a lack of what the judge called proper representation, as her mother is not her legal guardian.

This situation is a microcosm of a larger, far more complex and intertwined global epidemic. Regardless of the moral implications, the fact remains that girls, many of whom have yet to reach puberty let alone double-digits in age, are being appropriated throughout class strata as a business transaction. If a man owes a debt, he provides his daughter as a form of compensation. What was formerly a less prevalent practice has become ingrained in the modern-day psyche; it is viewed as immoral by a majority, yet relatively few preventative measures have had an effect. The practice continues.

The debate has come to revolve around whether or not such occurrences are culturally justifiable. Many would claim that in particular regions of the world, notably Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, legal and religious recognition of a marriage justify its consummation, regardless of age. Yet, from the western moral tradition, that's the epitome of barbarism. The question now becomes how international organizations should get involved. When does public activism transcend state sovereignty? The U.N.’s Human Rights Commission, along with a plethora of advocacy organizations, has denounced the practice of adults marrying child brides and demanded its cessation. Saudi Arabia has internally recognized the antagonism received from the international community, and gradually has taken action. But is the action too slow? As society continues to debate the practice, young girls continue to remain vulnerable to marriages forged with men who often surpass their age by several decades.

And by no means can the 21st Century's global citizenry claim ignorance. Information about preventative measures, as well as the cultural underpinnings of this practice, is accessible within the realms of a mouse click. What needs to occur is not pitchfork retaliation against foreign governments, but rather a grassroots movement, based upon factual data, to get the wheels in motion for those without a voice.

(For a posting on a similar topic, please see: "Kidnapping the Bride: An Old Tradition Returns.")

(Photo by Ranoush of
Ismailyah, Egypt via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)







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