Archive for March, 2009

Maurice Jarre (1924-2009)

blog-mauriceAdmirers of classic David Lean films like Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India and Doctor Zhivago can surely recall the powerful music that accentuated Lean’s epic images. The French composer of these films — as well as Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz, Elia Kazan’s The Last Tycoon and Peter Weir’s Witness — has passed away at the age of 84. Read the complete obituary at the Los Angeles Times.

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AIG, Green Pools and KFC Potholes

blog_colonelWith April around the corner, it’s time to reflect on a time capsule of March 2009: An executive at AIG who received a bonus worth more than $742,000 after taxes has resigned publicly, in an Op-Ed column in the New York Times (read more at AP); a proposal to send detainees at Guantanamo Bay to the suburbs of Alexandria, Virginia to stand trial at the federal courthouse is drawing mixed reviews; cities struggling to fill potholes might receive much-needed help from Colonel Sanders, so long as the patchwork is blazed with the KFC logo; and due to the increase in home foreclosures, green pools — abandoned swimming pools requiring “a chemical on [the water] which suffocates the larvae and also prevents any female mosquitoes from laying eggs” — are becoming more and more common in Arizona. One day, your kids might ask about this month…

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Out with the Old, In with the Old

blog_kidsbooksMany booksellers, librarians, and others who think teaching our nation’s children to read is a good idea have been outraged since last month, when a law passed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission went into effect and mandated that children’s books printed before 1985 be taken off shelves and pulped because their illustrations contain lead paint — some are resisting the law, and the situation may prove to be a righteous battle between protectors of cultural heritage and paranoid safety nuts terrified of peanut butter and spinach; meanwhile, Warner Bros has begun a service that allows people to order DVDs of vintage films that were previously unavailable in that format — the company will create them as they’re ordered, not unlike a pizzeria, in a novel effort to bring cultural gems of the past into the present in a financially sound manner.

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Building Up Into the Unfriendly Skies

blog-dubaiSlate warns that “zombie banks” could be building vacant “ghost towers,” and urges cities like Boston and Brooklyn (both of which are prone to erecting monolithic financial headquarters) to avoid the fate of Bangkok; meanwhile, the New York Times posted video (perhaps video evidence was needed, given the ongoing development woes) confirming that the Freedom Tower has finally climbed to 100 feet; in Dubai, the world’s tallest skyscraper continues to reach heights that aren’t even visible to the naked eye from ground level; and Chicagoans still reeling from the announcement that one of its crown jewels, the Sears Tower, will undergo a cheap name-swap can rejuvenate with a bit of civic nostalgia — the city is celebrating the centennial of architect Daniel Burnham’s “Plan of Chicago,” which can be read about in this New Yorker piece. Look skyward (and beware).

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Notes from South-Left

blog_shinpathA Mexican official told US law enforcement agencies yesterday that their efforts to counter violent drug-trafficking cartels in Mexico are largely lacking, noting, for example, that cocaine traffickers allocate annually twice the sum of Mexico’s attorney general’s salary just for bribes; the New York Times reports that, in Peru, Shining Path rebels have rekindled their fight against the government, taking a note from Columbia’s FARC and morphing their guerilla army into an illicit drug enterprise to fund their armed struggle; meanwhile, El Salvador’s presidential election last weekend ushered into power a Leftist-rebel-faction-turned-legit-political-party, the FMLN, which was “once targeted by the US government as a threat to the world as we knew it.”

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Tullio Pinelli (1908-2009)

blog-obitThe screenwriter of several beloved Federico Fellini films, including 8 1/2, Nights of Cabiria, La Strada, La Dolce Vita and I Vitelloni, passed away on Saturday in Rome. Pinelli, who was born in Turin in 1908, described his initial meeting with Fellini as a “creative lightning bolt,” and his eloquence and dexterity as a writer remains visible in these classic films; click here to read the New York Times obituary. RIP.

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The Second Pass

picture-2One negative effect of the split-second, hyperactive stream of content spewed forth by the Internet is the near-immediate rate with which one bit of information replaces the next, creating an innate element of forgetting; a new book review site, The Second Pass, launched by frequent STOP SMILING contributor John Williams, battles against this effect by not only reviewing books that are new and hot, but also revisiting older obscure and out-of-print books that are both completely relevant to contemporary literate discourse and much easier to acquire via online search tools than they once were; along with reviews of classic-but-oft-forgotten books like Eve’s Hollywood and Michael Herr’s Dispatches (as well as of new books), The Second Pass features a very smart book blog and an edited section of book suggestions from readers; the site is an example of how innovative bookworms can use the Web to counterbalance all those vanishing newspaper book sections in a way that might even improve upon the dying breed’s model.

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Moving Papers, Moving Mountains

blog_rockyAs major cities like San Francisco and Seattle face the prospect of having no major daily newspaper in circulation, we urge readers to take a look at the final posts from the Rocky Mountain News, a newspaper older than the state of Colorado itself, which folded last month and left Denver a one-newspaper town (with the Denver Post still in business) — particularly of interest is this eloquent piece, “Rocky Kept Swinging Until the Very End”; also of note is the passing of James Bellows, the former editor of the New York Herald Tribune and supporter of the New Journalism movement, who died on Friday at 86. The media landscape continues its tectonic shifts.

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Recession Fishiness

blog_bassAlthough alcohol sales are down with almost everything else these days, Absolut Vodka wants to show it’s doing everything possible to remind people to drown their sorrows responsibly during the recession — the company has launched a massive digital ad campaign that covers everything from Facebook to text messages and reminds people to “recognize the moment” when they’ve had one screwdriver too many (although experts insist the company is actually just out trolling for youthful customers); meanwhile, NPR reports that stimulus-package-related scams are on the rise, and cites instances of websites posing as government entities asking for your information and a small “underwriting fee” so they can send you your payment; and in Maryland, police have witnessed an increase in citations given for illegal fishing and attribute the trend to fisherman trying to make ends meet during hard times — most of the crimes have been classified as “striped bass-related” or “possibly striped bass-related.” -SS

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Iraq Rebuilds with Prison Pillow Mints

56808779The Iraqi government has given Abu Ghraib prison a floor-to-ceiling makeover that almost makes one forget that its floors were once covered with the blood of Saddam’s enemies and its ceilings supported the ropes that hung them, or that it acted as the setting for the most widely publicized instances of prisoner abuse by the US military during the Iraq war; its new plush carpets and colorful table dressings are so strikingly handsome that one can hardly be bothered to remember the reported 740,000 war widows in Iraq, many of whom live on the streets, a sixth of whom receive any state aid at all; and while we all know what types of nasty things happened to inmates at formerly unswank Ghraib, the CIA admitted yesterday that it destroyed 92 tapes containing record of harsh interrogations of “high-value” al-Qaeda suspects, and no one at the agency seems all that worried about it. -SS

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