Archive for December, 2008

December 2008: In Memoriam

blog_freddieWe were saddened to read about the recent passing of Freddie Hubbard (pictured here), who Down Beat hailed as “arguably the most powerful and prolific trumpeter in jazz,” and we concur — Hubbard’s death comes at the close of a month that has claimed an astonishing amount of fascinating figures, among them the former associate director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Mark Felt (aka Deep Throat); pinup queen Bettie Page; director Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird); singer and civil rights activist Odetta; sculptor Robert Graham; playwright Harold Pinter; the oldest man in the United States George Francis; cult movie actress Ann Savage; and last but not least, Richard Topus, a pigeon trainer in World War II. According to the New York Times, “World War II saw the last wide-scale use of pigeons as agents of combat intelligence. Mr. Topus, just 18 when he enlisted in the Army, was among the last of the several thousand pigeoneers, as military handlers of the birds were known, who served the United States in the war.”

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Facing a Season of Bankruptcy

blog_nascarWhat happens when a logjam of logos can’t save you? NASCAR is facing such questions as corporations, hit by sticker shock, are beginning to withdraw sponsorships; the National Hockey League Board of Governors met recently to discuss the downturn in the economy, which might lead to a decline in the salary cap; America’s Team is falling into a recession of its own; and the Lovable Losers dodged the bankruptcy bullet when the Tribune Company excluded the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field from its petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Should be an interesting off-season…

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Melville House Blogs a Book

blog_lydersenWashington Post reporter Kari Lydersen has eschewed her newspaper journalist role in an imaginative undertaking to tell the story of the workers who occupied Chicago’s Republic Windows & Doors factory in a way that befits an age when online reportage is often too light and quick, yet a story cannot sit idle for long before it’s forgotten — Lydersen has partnered with Melville House Publishing to approach the story from two sides: with a book about the worker’s actions that will be scrambled into print by early next year, the creation of which readers will be able to witness via a blog on the Melville House website. In a Publisher’s Weekly article, MH publisher Dennis Johnson said the blog posts were akin to a first draft of the book, and without them the rushed process to release the book, tentatively titled Revolt on Goose Island, would have been both “too fast and too slow.”

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The Ghost of Christmas Verse

blog_angell4The New York Times offers a meditation on and an announcement of the triumphant return of the New Yorker’s usually annual holiday poem, “Greetings, Friends!” The page of cheerful verse has dropped the names of the year’s notable characters (this year includes Ben Bernake, Bristol Palin, Lebron James and Christian Bale, among many more) since 1932, when the magazine was still under the stewardship of founder HW Ross, a primer about whom appeared in the STOP SMILING Downfall of American Publishing Issue; New Yorker baseball writer and editor Roger Angell has scribed the piece since 1976, but has put the poem on hiatus since 1998 for lack of inspiration.

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The Vice Squad

“This is probably the most sinless president we’re likely to get in the foreseeable millennium, and yet he’s already got the health Nazis on his tail,” writes Slate.com’s Ron Rosenbaum, in a defense against recent assaults by Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw on Obama’s smoking habit; dependence on vices is always a dangerous game for people so prominently placed in the public eye, as Michael Chertoff, Director of Homeland Security and the nation’s top immigration official, surely feels since the Washington Post reported he’s been depending upon illegal immigrants to clean his house for years; but those outside the political realm often get off the hook much easier: A STOP SMILING interview with Chan Marshall (Cat Power) in our first 20 Interviews issue shows just how endearing a bit of addiction can make a conversation.

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The Future Looks Uninspired

Billy Bragg, who STOP SMILING interviewed for our UK Issue, once sang that since the Space Race ended, “I can’t help but feel we’re all just going nowhere” — in the current Atlantic Monthly, PJ O’Rourke joins Bragg’s lament for the coma to which our collective imagination seem to have succumbed in his polemic against Disney’s new version of Tomorrowland; meanwhile, from the people who brought us Phoenix — possibly the worst example of modern city planning in the country — comes Mesa, a sprawling city/suburb lumped onto the Arizona capital that, after decades of explosive growth, is more populous than Cleveland (yet only one story tall), and has just annexed another huge chunk of Arizona desert upon which it will attempt to build a bustling “city of the future,” we’re sure, to the delight of strip mall enthusiasts worldwide.

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Transatlantic Time-Wasting in Trouble

How to fill an afternoon in Paris and New York City? As the New York Times reported last month, French cafes (or “the parliament of the people,” as Balzac wrote) are under threat “as traditional cafes and bars suffer and even close, hit by changing attitudes, habits and now a poor economic climate”; meanwhile, the Big Apple’s controversial renovation projects are no longer relegated to the Atlantic Yards, Ground Zero or 2 Columbus Circle — add Washington Square Park to the list: the 181-year-old park that was once farmland for freed slaves and is now considered “the beating heart of Greenwich Village” is currently undergoing massive renovations, including the iconic fountain being moved “about 22 feet to the east to align it with the arch and Fifth Avenue” and becoming, in the words of one critic, a spot “where benches and trees would soon vanish, a spot where..entire communities would be washed away.” Troubling times under the arches…

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The City of Big Shoulders Slumps

The City of Chicago has been strutting tall since Obama’s victory — it was even named City of the Year by GQ (note the nod to STOP SMILING); in the past few days, however, the Chicago Tribune’s parent Tribune Company formally declared bankruptcy; a glass factory that employed 250 people unexpectedly shut its doors; and this morning Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested by the FBI on charges related to his alleged intent to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat, and for allegedly attempting to strongarm the Chicago Tribune editorial board into firing its members who were critical of the governor’s office. STOP SMILING explored some of the Windy City’s more endearing aspects in its 2006 Chicago Issue, which is available as part of our new Geographically Speaking gift pack .

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Where’s the Latin Love?

Though the hearts of Latin American literature enthusiasts have been aflutter lately in response to the heaps of excitement surrounding Roberto Bolano — and the prospect of that attention bringing about a renaissance of Spanish-language lit in the States akin to that of the 1960s — the lists of “best books of 2008″ that have begun to emerge show Bolano largely alone among mostly English texts; Bookslut editor Jessa Crispin notes in the introduction to her NPR’s “Best Foreign Books of 2008,” which includes Horacio Castellanos-Moya’s Senselessness, that Nobel Prize judge Horace Engdahl’s criticism of American publishers being uninterested in translations is difficult to refute; meanwhile, as the US scratches its head over California’s passage of Proposition 8, Mexican transvestites in Oaxaca are living fabulously with the blessings of their community.

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Viva La Satriani

One of YouTube’s many attributes are the audio mash-ups that expose the source material for sampled music (take, for example, this outing of Daft Punk samples, or this collection of Dre breaks); long before guitarist Joe Satriani filed a lawsuit against Coldplay that accuses the band of plagiarizing his song “If I Could Fly” on their hit “Viva la Vida,” someone had already posted a revealing side-by-side comparison. If Joe could rule the world…

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