Archive for November, 2007

News of the World: Russian Unrest

Russia has been deep in the American news cycle as of late. The New York Times unravels “Russia’s last royal mystery”: the grave of czar Nicholas II. New books about the gulags and Joseph Stalin as a “young poet-thug” expand on key events and figures of the 20th century. (Related: The Times eyeballs an odd hidden message in the controversial new Louis Vuitton ad featuring Mikhail Gorbachev). And much has been made about the build-up to Russia’s parliamentary elections on Sunday. AP reports that Russian workers are being told “where and how to vote.” CNN recaps the arrest of chess champion Garry Kasparov at a recent pro-democracy rally in Moscow. In an editorial titled “Exit, Russian Democracy,” the NY Times wrote: “For a leader who has everything — control of the military, the government, the voting process and the media — President Vladimir Putin of Russia looks increasingly desperate and threatened.” On Monday, President Bush spoke out on the arrest of Kasparov and other dissenters in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Click here to read how it was reported in the Moscow Times.

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Swan Song for Cigarette Ads


Ten years after the Federal Trade Commission won their battle to ban the use of the Camel cigarette character Joe Camel in advertisements they claimed were aimed at young adults, America’s second largest tobacco company, RJ Reynolds, announced this week that, starting in 2008, they would no long run any cigarette advertising in consumer magazines or newspapers promoting any of their flagship brands like Camel, Winston, Pall Mall and American Spirit. “Instead,” writes NY Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott, “Reynolds said it would concentrate its marketing in three areas that already make up the bulk of its spending: stores, bars and nightclubs; web sites; and direct mail.” And although RJR’s print ads account for less than five percent of the hundreds of millions of dollars they spend on marketing each year, this decision will certainly be a huge blow for the old-guard publishing industry already plagued by plummeting advertising revenue. RJR also maintained that their decision to pull print ads had nothing to do with two recent controversies: one involving a Camel Filters ad that ran in a November issue of Rolling Stone magazine; the other, a series of ads promoting Camel No. 9, a brand aimed at women.

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Miami Vice… Now Miami Curse?

As the national media continues to descend on Florida to cover the case of Washington Redskins defensive back Sean Taylor, who was murdered at his home in Miami on Tuesday, several questions remain unanswered. Because the Taylor case involves a series of break-ins, it’s impossible to shake the comparisons to NBA stars Eddy Curry and Antoine Walker, both of whom were victims of armed robbery in their Chicago area homes this summer. (Or even, tangentially, former NFL star OJ Simpson, whose Vegas break-in landed him back in court.) But Time goes one step further, posing the question: Is there a “Miami Curse“? Though Taylor had advanced to the NFL, Time posits that his alma mater, the University of Miami, has “long seemed a magnet for guns and trouble.” Anticipating the backlash against UM, Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon made the following statement, as published in the Miami Herald. “This happens all across the country. Until people stop thinking we’re Thug U and start looking at what we really have done, I don’t know how much more we can improve our image.”

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A Game of Wait and See

While President Bush hosts Mideast peace talks in Maryland to resolve differences between Israel and Palestine by the end of 2008, the NY Sun also reports that the “American and Iraqi governments will start talks early next year to bring about an end to the allied occupation by the close of Mr. Bush’s presidency.” … Elsewhere in the news, the notion of “wait and see” has crept into various corners, including consumer affairs. For one, what action will Con Edison take after the NY Times front-page scoop about the unsafe conditions of workers in India who create thousands of manhole covers for the company every year? The same goes for churchgoers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral who learned last week that they were bowing before “sweatshop crosses” manufactured in China. Indeed, things are rotten in the global village. In perhaps the most bizarre story of the month, Reuters reports that older white women in England are traveling to Kenya to become “sex tourists.” Reporter Jeremy Clarke tagged along with two women in their 60s who said they planned to spend a whole month touring Kenya’s palm-fringed beaches, which are “just full of big young boys who like us older girls.” (How long until the implications of such crass cultural exploitation truly set in?) On the lighter side of the news, the waiting game over the signing of Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees afforded another team the chance to make a competitive bid. The team in question? The Toledo Mud Hens.

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A Time to Compile

If they list it, we’ll read it: The NYT Book Review has published their 100 Notable Books of the Year; the Guardian gathers 1,000 records to hear before you die, and asks a range of authors to spotlight their favorite books of 2007; ESPN revisits the “horrible moments” in sports while awarding the 2007 Turkey of the Year (including the unbeatable Bill Belichick, pictured here); and the Onion AV Club compiles Twenty Good Books Made Into Not-So-Good Movies.

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Black Sox Redux, Hawks Rising


The Chicago Tribune is reporting that “a mysterious box of letters, memos and legal documents pertaining to the Chicago White Sox team accused of throwing the 1919 World Series is bound for the auction block this week after being uncovered by two Chicago-area collectors.” The identity of the sellers is not being disclosed, but “the box includes papers apparently from the 1921 criminal trial against the White Sox players accused of throwing the World Series and a 1924 suit in which some of those players sued the team for back pay. The new trove of documents probably came from a lawyer’s file related to the 1924 back pay trial.” Historians and archivists are hoping they will have access to the files. The papers go up for auction Monday, Dec. 13th. In other Chicago-related sports news: In this Sunday’s Tribune, Melissa Isaacson profiles Rocky Wirtz, who succeeded his infamous father, Bill Wirtz, as the new chairman of the Blackhawks NHL team after his death last September. “In two short months,” she writes, “he has charted a dramatic new course.” It started with the reassignment of long-time Hawks vice president Bob Pulford, then the creation of an “unprecedented” television package for home games, and finally came to a head last week when Wirtz lured John McDonough from the Cubs to serve as the Hawks’ new president.

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Your Catastrophe or Mine?

It seems the level of catastrophe is in the eye of the beholder. After invoking everything from 9/11, Pearl Harbor, alcoholism and the crucifixion to justify his team’s embarrassing loss over the weekend, Alabama football coach Nick Saban (pictured here) is becoming the latest poster-child for the apocalypse (read Saban’s rantings here at ESPN). Saban takes the baton from George W. Bush, who recently contemplated World War III if Iran acquires the “knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” Let’s not forget the posturing of Bill O’Reilly, who slapped director Brian De Palma with accusations of murder over his recent anti-war film, Redacted (click here to read our post on this topic). And it took an analogy about Winston Churchill and “going through hell” for Paul McCartney to explain his divorce to Heather Mills, who claimed she gets “worse press than a pedophile or a murderer.”

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What’s In a Book?


Apparently more than once thought. Despite the Oprah Book Club and Harry Potter mania, young Americans “appear to be reading less for fun, and as that happens, their reading test scores are declining,” the New York Times reported this week. “At the same time, performance in other academic disciplines like math and science is dipping for students whose access to books is limited.” All of this staggering data is part of a new report released this week by the National Endowment for the Arts. The study points to the “proliferation of digital diversions on the internet and other gadgets,” as well as the failure of schools and colleges to develop a culture of daily reading habits. Strangely enough, this was also the week that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the company’s new digital reading tool called Kindle, which condenses books onto a small, hand-held device that Bezos hopes will revolutionize the way print media is absorbed. And, as if bookstore patrons weren’t distracted enough, Borders Books announced this week that they’re installing 37-inch flat screen TVs to show original programming, ads, news and weather in all of their retail stores. At the same time, authors and publishers are “tipping their hats to the power of eight to 12 women sitting around a dinner room table, dissecting their particular book of the month, then spreading the word to their friends,” in makeshift book clubs across the country.

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A Drop In the Ocean

More startling news about the catastrophic effects of the way we consume vital resources. The latest victim of humanity’s selfish, insatiable appetite: the 800-pound bluefin tuna. In a New York Times op-ed titled “The Bluefin Slaughter,” a startling statistic surfaced: “The worldwide bluefin population has plunged more than 90 percent in the last 30 years.” Likewise, in the Washington Post (which also reported last weekend that the population of Maryland crabs has dropped by one-third since 1993), the ecological impact of overfishing the oceans for the beloved bluefin was reeled in, with a finger pointed at overstocked sushi restaurants: “Without a sizable slab of rich red flesh on prominent display, a sushi restaurant in this country loses face — and customers.” As if this wasn’t enough to make consumers think twice about guzzling down tuna rolls, this observation from a Times review of Trevor Corson’s book The Story of Sushi should give pause: “In 19th-century Tokyo, tuna was regarded as an inferior fish; the Japanese craving for the red flesh of bluefin … didn’t really develop until after the war.” More daunting, however, is Corson in his own words. Here he is in an interview with Slate earlier this year: “It’s entirely possible that we may be living in an unusual historical moment that might not last. … You’ve got some scientists saying that we’re basically going to run out of fish by the year 2050 and squid may be the only thing left.”

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Coleman Told Me

Hip-hop has had its share of writers, from the insiders to the intellectuals, tackle various aspects of its history. Brian Coleman has been writing about hip-hop for the past decade, and when he self-published his book, Rakim Told Me, in 2005, it was immediately added to the list of essential hip-hop reading. Coleman explored seminal hip-hop recordings and the artists who created them and compiled what he termed “invisible liner notes”: the stories behind each of these albums, including a track-by-track breakdown of each recording. (STOP SMILING excerpted his account of The D.O.C.’s 1989 masterpiece No One Can Do It Better in our Hip-Hop Nuggets issue.) The expanded version of Coleman’s book, Check The Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies, has over 75 interviews with some of hip-hop’s best, brightest, most interesting and infamous figures. This one is definitely at the top of our year-end reading lists, a necessary tome for even the most casual music fan.

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