Archive for October, 2008

Voter Irregularities the New Regular

While the record turnout for early voting is an encouraging sign of a healthy democracy, endless allegations of voter fraud and suppression are stirring anxiety: the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on the 666,000 (yes, that is the number) new or revised voter registrations in Ohio that the GOP claims are fraudulent; the New York Times opines on the dangers of voter purges and urges early voting because “any voter who finds that their name has disappeared from the rolls will then have time to challenge mistakes”; the Las Vegas Sun comments on the election fatigue in the battleground state of Nevada, where many voters “see the voting booth as an escape hatch from the ever-present election”; and for a blast from the past, take a look at this Floridian who has collected so many of the flawed voting machines from the 2000 election that he still finds chads in his cat’s fur. More political catnip.

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William Claxton (1927-2008)

One of the great West Coast photographers and chroniclers of American jazz has passed away in his hometown of Los Angeles at the age of 80. We were honored to have run an extensive interview with William Claxton, along with a pictorial of his work, in our Jazz Issue, released in February; Taschen, publisher of Claxton’s extraordinary collection Jazz Life (as well as collections of his photographs of Steve McQueen and vibrant city life in 1960s New Orleans), recently issued this personal reflection on Claxton; and the Los Angeles Times has published a comprehensive obituary.

We were proud to have met and worked with Clax. In this portion of our interview, conducted at his home on Mulholland Drive on October 10th, 2007, he commented on his nickname and its connection to Miles Davis: “Miles, when he was young, loved the camera, loved being photographed, loved being a handsome playboy, which he was,” Claxton said. “He really was a playboy. He had women all over the place who dressed beautifully. In the Fifties, he wore the best of Brooks Brothers: white shirt, Oxford grey suit, narrow black tie. He always had a couple of gorgeous fashion models on his arms. He was great fun. He had that raspy, funny voice: ‘Hiya, Clax.’ Allen Eager introduced me to him on the street in New York one night after the theater — you know how the theaters break and the streets are just full of people in the West 40s? We were walking and coming toward us was Miles Davis with a beautiful fashion model on each arm and Eager, a tenor saxophone player — a bebopper — said, ‘Here comes Miles Davis. You wanna meet him?’ We walked up to him and said, ‘Hi, hi, hi.’ Allen called me Clax and Miles said, ‘Clax? Man, it sounds like a household cleanser.’ [Laughs] Clax your sink, Clax your toilet, Clax your car. Later on Miles wasn’t much fun.”

Claxton was also an accomplished fashion photographer. In the fall, the New York Times posted this extraordinary oddity — a short film titled “Basic Black” made with his wife, model Peggy Moffitt Claxton. The clip is viewable on Page 4 of this page devoted to “The Originals.”

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Mocking the Animal Kingdom

Pity the poor beasts. High-school high jinks are alive and well in the New York Jets locker room, where it was revealed that the “overpowering stench of death” emanating from linebacker Eric Barton’s locker was a bag filled with the “blood and guts” of a wild turkey that quarterback Brett Favre had stashed as a prank (hey, what a guy); last week the Wall Street Journal coined a new phrase — “mackerel economics” — to explain the cans of mackerel used as currency by inmates in federal prisons in California; last month the Humane Society endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time, citing their opposition to Sarah Palin’s support of aerial wolf hunting as the primary factor; and tiger-hunting Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin received a special birthday gift — a tiger cub. Kipling would weep.

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Nobel Controversy Hits Crescendo

Just a moment — I have to put down the latest page-turner by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio before I can finish this post (you’re doing the same, right?). The latest winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature was announced today after a firestorm: Last week Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Nobel prize jury, announced that no American writers would win the award because the US is “too isolated, too insular” and its novelists “don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature — that ignorance is restraining,” which prompted a one-word rebuttal from the Guardian and one from Charles McGrath of the New York Times, who wrote: “Critics are always pointing out that the list of writers who never won, which includes Tolstoy, Proust, Borges, Joyce, Nabokov and Auden, is far more impressive than the roster of those who did.” Which roster would you choose? Search the complete list here.

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HAL 9000 by 2009?

A few recent breakthroughs in the study of artificial intelligence might have HAL 9000 reaching for a stress pill: First off, meet Repliee R-1, a five-year-old Japanese girl “built to help pensioners and disabled people move better”; the Observer reports that “next Sunday, six computer programs — ‘artificial conversational entities’ — will answer questions posed by human volunteers at the University of Reading in a bid to become the first recognized ‘thinking’ machine; and last Monday, scientists at MIT in Cambridge announced that they have “moved closer to creating ‘artificial noses,’ after finding a way to mass-produce smell receptors in a laboratory.
Artificial noses could one day replace dogs that sniff out drugs and explosives, and could have numerous medical applications including identifying diseases that have distinct odor.”

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Pardon the Interracial Interruption

Amid the backlash from all the bungling this week on Capitol Hill, one interesting item slipped through the cracks: Last Friday, the House of Representatives recommended that Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, “should be granted a presidential pardon for a racially motivated conviction 75 years ago that blemished his reputation and hurt his boxing career” (read more at ESPN); Johnson, who was convicted of violating the Mann Act, which outlawed the transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes, was the cover story of our Boxing Issue, released in 2005 (click here to read an excerpt of our interview with Ken Burns in support of his film about Johnson, Unforgivable Blackness). Now forgivable!

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