Archive for December, 2007

Trouble on the Home Front

While many rejoice in the creature comforts of home during the holiday season, the situation isn’t quite as placid for some neighbors. The former home of the late poet Robert Frost (pictured here) was ransacked last week, with vandals “destroying dozens of items and setting fire to furniture in what police say was an underage drinking party.” William Saletan of Slate recaps the top privacy threats of 2007, many involving domestic nuisances, in the piece “Personal Space Invaders.” As if the hotel market in Manhattan wasn’t cutthroat enough, the Village Voice investigates landlords who are booting long-time residents out of their apartments — illegally, perhaps — and “converting the newly vacant apartments into extended-stay hotel rooms, replacing cherished neighbors with oblivious short-timers.” On the opposite end of the Dickensian spectrum, the LA Times salutes the “city-sanctioned Safe Parking program, which allows people to live — sometimes for years — in cars or RVs in about a dozen parking lots that belong to the city, the county, churches, nonprofits and a few businesses in industrial areas.” … And far out of left field comes news that director Oliver Stone has joined a delegation in Venezuela that hopes to return three hostages home after they’ve been held for years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia… Take the Midnight Express!

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The Season for Strange Goodbyes

Though some fascinating individuals have passed away in recent days — from jazz pianist Oscar Peterson to the oldest WWI veteran to Laura Huxley, wife and biographer of Aldous Huxley — it’s also been a time for bizarre send-offs of all varieties. Jay-Z said Monday that he will leave his post as president of Def Jam Records after his contract expires this year, just days after Sacha Baron Cohen announced that he’d retired his Borat and Ali G characters. Chicago sports fans, take note: Bulls head coach Scott Skiles was handed the pink slip on Christmas Eve, and there’s plenty to say farewell to — from Super Bowl hopes to the passing of Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz — in the Chicago Sun-TimesBig Ten moments of the year in sports. The staff of ABC News in Chicago bids farewell to their studio wall. The neediest of New Orleans are dealt another blow, as demolition crews prepare to level 218 public housing buildings amid protests. Back in the sporting world, Jack Shafer of Slate writes about the migration of sports reporters to ESPN. The Washington Post asks if it’s time to put Cubism behind us. Salon wonders if the gadget of the year, the iPhone, is already past its prime. How soon we forget… But perhaps the strangest way to say goodbye comes from an Oregon man who continues to send holiday cards from the afterlife. And AP reports that Fidel Castro, never one for goodbyes, “remains on the mend, gaining weight, exercising twice a day and continuing to help make the Cuban government’s top decisions, his brother Raul Castro says.”

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Remembering Rich Cason (1945-2007)

Here’s an excerpt from the mid-Eighties Breakmixer series, this one by Chris “The Glove” Taylor. (See “Rainbow Sprinkles.”) It’s three tracks produced by LA electro legend Rich Cason, who passed away on March 20th, 2007. Cason can be traced to virtually every LA old school hip-hop record. (This bio tells Cason’s story.) The first track, “Radioactivity Rapp,” had been ripped up by Mac Mall, Dre and E-40 a couple years ago for “Dredio.” I wouldn’t mind a copy of “Magic Mike Theme” while we’re at it. It was released on Rappers Rapp Disco Co., a label whose name had a built-in Echoplex.

– Post by Dave Tompkins

Audio: Rich Cason - Breakmixer

Ed Note: For more on LA electro, check out Dave Tompkins’ interview with Egyptian Lover from the Hip-Hop Nuggets issue

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The Best Podcasts of 2007

To soothe holiday jitters, take refuge under the headphones and sample our picks for the best podcasts of the year, including Stones Throw’s tribute to the late J Dilla (pictured here), Studs Terkel in conversation at the Stop Smiling HQ in Chicago, This American Life on a jailhouse Hamlet, sports commentary from Frank Deford, a toast to Kurt Vonnegut and more.

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If Looks Could Kill

Have we seen these people in compromising positions before? Yes. Are they low-hanging fruit that the paparazzi can’t resist plucking again and again? Of course. But seriously, what’s going on with this batch of images, beginning with Michael Jackson’s recent spotting at a bookstore in Las Vegas? A subliminal glowing cross in the latest presidential ad for Mike Huckabee has secularists crying foul. Rush Limbaugh also drew fire for his recent attacks on the physical appearance of Hillary Clinton, tarring her with the rhetorical question: “Does Our Looks-Obsessed Culture Want to Stare at an Aging Woman?” And ’tis the season for yuletide photo-ops, though in this forced perspective image, George and Laura Bush appear as if they’ve stepped into the world of Diane Arbus. (For more on Arbus, this piece in today’s New York Times details developments with the Arbus Archives. Also at the Times, Errol Morris maintains the blog Zoom, and “uncovers the hidden truth of photos.”)

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Peculiar Misdeeds in Canada

While keeping an eye on the Canadian news, it’s hard to escape recent reports of unusual misbehavior, from white-collar crime to the surreal: Reuters reports that Canada’s post office and police are searching for a “rogue elf” delivering nasty letters to boys and girls in Ottawa. AP reports that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will curb their Taser use “in response to a watchdog agency report that officers were firing them too often.” The Globe and Mail has blanket coverage of the “disgraced tycoon” Conrad Black (pictured here), who has been sentenced to 6 1/2 years for “pocketing millions of dollars prosecutors said belonged to shareholders.” The Globe also recently ran a headline straight out of The Simpsons: “Atomic Energy of Canada head resigns in wake of isotope fiasco.” And a must-see public service announcement straight out of a David Cronenberg nightmare will have kids screaming at their TV sets. (And defying categorization is news that Celine Dion has taken her final bow in Las Vegas.)

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Witnesses to History

As another year draws to a close, and assessments of the lives of recently passed luminaries like Norman Mailer and Ike Turner continue to pour in, it’s time to take a second look at the lives of ordinary Americans whose lives were shaped by extraordinary events. In November, the Reverend John Cross Jr., who was pastor of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama “when four girls at his church were killed in a bombing that became a turning point in the civil rights movement,” died at 82; also in November, John Noble, “an American who never knew why the Soviets imprisoned him in their notorious gulag” (and survived his imprisonment), died at 84 and Milo Radulovich (pictured here), “who became a searing symbol of the excesses of anti-Communism in the 1950s when Edward R. Murrow broadcast an account of his firing as an Air Force reserve officer because of his relatives’ associations,” died in California at 81; in May, Lillian Gertrud Asplund, the last American survivor of the Titanic, passed away at 99. And earlier in the month, surrounding the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, John Finn, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions during World War II, was celebrated in Hawaii.

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Words To the Wise

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has selected their word of the year. The winner: w00t, a word popular with online gamers “expressing joy, possibly after a triumph or for no reason at all.” The list of runner-ups is available here. (I guess Islamofascism will have to wait until next year.) Also from the downside of techno-jargon, AP reports that, alarmingly, “Nearly 95 percent of e-mail is junk.” For the best lexicography has to offer, William Safire (pictured here) recently singled out some favorite entries in 2007’s new fleet of dictionaries and compiled them in his venerable “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine. After dipping into the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Safire writes: “It was good to see the verb smoosh finally made it.”

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The Best in Books: 2007

As December reaches the midway point, recommended reading lists are continuing to mount up, right alongside the stacks of unread books on the bedside table. In all, it was a strong year for the printed word, as reflected in the choices by the editors of the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Village Voice and Financial Times (with separate posts for fiction and nonfiction). For more recommendations, check the winners of this year’s National Book Award, including Tim Weiner (pictured here), the author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. Weiner is interviewed in the current issue of STOP SMILING (20 Interviews), along with authors A.M. Homes, Ed McClanahan, Miranda July and Jimmy Breslin.

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Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007)

One of the most influential experimental composers of the 20th century, Karlheinz Stockhausen, has died at 79 at his home in Germany. “Endlessly prolific, whether in fashion or out of it,” wrote the Guardian, “he composed 362 works, including the world’s longest opera, Licht, a sequence of seven pieces — one for every day of the week. The whole piece lasts 29 hours.” A fascinating obituary by the Guardian is available here. Click here to read a 1989 interview with Stockhausen in The Wire magazine. More from the BBC, Berliner Morgenpost and Stockhausen’s own site.

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