Archive for November, 2008

LA Retains Crown of Weirdness

As wildfires are now smoldering across Richard Nixon’s California hometown, further north, in the city of Los Angeles, a few courthouse oddities are drawing heat: the Los Angeles Times continues to report on the man who stormed a Hollywood Scientology center brandishing a sword; the Phil Spector murder retrial continues to mystify (and now includes a cameo from Joan Rivers‘ bodyguard); this headline says it all: “Swedish hip-hop artist to be charged in fatal road-rage incident in Hollywood”; and Axl Rose’s legal team has filed for malpractice against Dr Pepper. To quote the company’s slogan, “Dr Pepper, so misunderstood.”

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China’s Censors Get One Right?

Never renowned for its tolerance or sense of humor, the Chinese government has ostensibly banned Guns N’ Roses‘ new album, Chinese Democracy, calling it a “venomous attack” via the Communist Party’s media mouthpiece, the Global Times; in an essay about Chinese censorship in the Expatriate Issue of STOP SMILING, Panthea Lee writes that “anything that may jeopardize President Hu Jintao’s vision of a ‘harmonious society’ is off-limits,” which would explain the Party’s rationale for the ban; the effect of this development on Axl Rose’s notoriously unique psyche is yet to be known.

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To Give and to Take

During this recession holiday season, it’s widely understood that creativity and heartfelt sentiment might have to compensate for monetary value when it comes to giving gifts — we might bake our children their favorite cookies instead of dropping iPhones into their stockings; we might cut costs by making cards from cutouts of old magazine covers. For the journalists who used to work for those magazines, Typepad parent company Six Apart is offering laid-off journalists the gift of a free professional blog account (worth $150 annually) to help get them back on their feet; meanwhile, although his campaign promised increased funding for an array of national arts programs — including health care for American artists — the recession will likely prompt Obama to save up for next year and give for now what he gives best: high hopes; finally, In These Times features an excerpt from a new book that shows how some companies have been padding their Christmas-present accounts: by stealing from their workers.

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Radio is a Sound Salvation

As print publications bite the dust left and right in the Internet age, radio remains largely unscathed, and seems to actually be flourishing. In today’s Washington Post, Kathleen Parker reminds us that for the cost of six Apache helicopters the US can continue to fund Radio Free Europe, which acts as an information lifeline in censorship-friendly places like Iran and desolate countries like Afghanistan; STOP SMILING has done a fair share of profiles on prominent radio personalities like Ira Glass, Studs Terkel, Garrison Keillor and Spalding Gray; and many of the events STOP SMILING puts on are recorded for WBEZ Chicago, 91.5 FM, and are available on its website — these include readings by Nathaniel Rich and Alexander Hemon, and musical performances by Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake and Plastic Crimewave. STOP SMILING plans to launch its own podcast early next year, the first shows of which will feature David Sedaris (pictured here), Kurt Vonnegut, Lewis Lapham and more.

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The Moscow Trot

Christopher Hitchens was momentarily agog on a recent visit to Cuba, where he learned of ailing former president Fidel Castro’s desire to build a Russian Orthodox Church in Havana, even though no one in Cuba practices Russian Orthodoxy — until he remembered (aha!) that Fidel has never been one to walk too far from the Moscow party line (which has become increasingly influenced by said church in the era of Vladimir Putin); meanwhile, STOP SMILING contributor Jon Fasman is traveling the US on a book tour in support of his new novel, The Unpossessed City, in which the protagonist has his own unnerving traipse through Moscow.

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The Faces We Wear in Private

Director John Cassavettes, who was profiled in STOP SMILING’s Jazz Issue, explored throughout his career “the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the face we wear in private and the face we present to the world,” writes theater critic Hilton Als, alerting New Yorkers of the new stage adaptation of Cassavettes’ “Opening Night,” which will run from Dec 2nd to Dec 6th at the Brooklyn Museum of Art; meanwhile, in Baghdad, Iraqi interpreters for the US military have no choice but to show their private faces in public as commanders have banned them from wearing ski masks while working with detainees, even though about 300 interpreters have been singled out and killed by extremists for their collaboration with the enemy, the Washington Post reports. Read the complete article here.

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Further Destruction of Our Oceans

Despite overwhelming evidence of harm, humanity continues to push our oceans to the brink. The latest injustices: The Supreme Court decided to lift two restrictions on the Navy’s use of sonar in training exercises off the California coast, despite the fact that “the noise is earsplitting — as loud as 2,000 jet engines, according to environmental groups — to acoustically sensitive whales and other marine mammals”; Mark Bittman writes in the New York Times that “if current fishing practices continue, the world’s major commercial stocks will collapse by 2048“; and for more on the overfishing of our oceans, check out our DC Issue, where STOP SMILING contributor and seafood sustainability advocate Barton Seaver writes about the affects of our rabid consumption on the Chesapeake Bay and beyond. The depths to which we sink…

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Rewriting Sporting World Myths

While rumors have circulated for years that a mutual fund CEO beat Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one during a corporate retreat, the Wall Street Journal has now provided video proof; Babe Ruth, baseball’s most cherished mythical figure, had his “House That Ruth Built” status stripped this week when his monument was removed from the outfield of Yankee Stadium and relocated to the House of Skyboxes next door; and Jemele Hill, a writer for ESPN, recently reflected on some of the most iconic and politically active sports figures of the past (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali) while praising a new wave of black athletes who, “in the name of Obama, decided to break free from the conventional notion that politics should be kept out of sports.” She adds, “If the Obama effect means more black athletes will feel compelled to become more politically active, then we should see it as an overwhelming, overdue positive. It doesn’t matter whether you voted for John McCain or Obama; nobody should want a society that values staying loyal to the bottom line over standing up for your beliefs. Athletes are in a special position to be heard, and we owe it to them to listen.”

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William Eggleston’s World

It’s well documented that photographer William Eggleston’s first solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976 was widely derided by an art world entrenched in fondness for photos in black and white: “It didn’t bother me at all,” Eggleston told STOP SMILING in a 2006 interview, “I didn’t really care; I just kept doing my work; I had friends and supporters.” The triumphant result of Eggleston’s indifference to criticism — 30 years of stunning color pictures that have created an American iconography that is unique, dark and dazzling all at once — is now on display at the Whitney Museum in New York. “Democratic Camera,” Eggleston’s second-ever solo show, includes his famous and more obscure color photographs, his early black-and-white work that served as its precursor and Stranded in Canton, a baffling video portrait of the Seventies American South. Photographer and STOP SMILING editor-at-large Dan Winters interviewed and photographed Eggleston for our Photography Issue, released in 2007.

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The Beats Who Keep On Giving

As two new stories suggest — the New York Times on Jack Kerouac’s role in the transformation of his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, and the Guardian’s look at a previously unreleased collaboration between Kerouac and William Burroughs — the Beats remain the evergreens of postwar American lit, which prompted us to look back at two pieces by our editors-at-large about the echoes of the Beat generation: Anthony Frewin on the whitewashing of Kerouac biographer Gerry Nicosia, as well as Nile Southern on the literary legacies of Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. The beat marches on.

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