Archive for April, 2009

Fight State Mottos Like You Mean It

blog_coyneLast week, New York Times columnist Gail Collins devoted a column to the awkward flap surrounding Wisconsinites’ displeasure with their state’s new slogan, “Live Life Like You Mean It” (which, Collins points out, was so unoriginal that it was once the catchphrase for a Bacardi Rum campaign); now comes news that Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, pictured here, is fighting back against the “small-minded religious wackos” who have prevented his song “Do You Realize” from becoming the official state song of his band’s homestate of Oklahoma (click here to read more from AP); and for more on Flaming Lips, be sure to check out Jim DeRogatis‘ definitive piece on the formation of the band, published in 2005 by STOP SMILING.

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Semantics Continue in Torture Debate

blog_cheneyWhile President Obama and the Democratic congress have made it clear that “they would block for now any effort to establish an independent commission to investigate the Bush administration’s approval of harsh interrogation techniques,” the announcement comes at a time when the debate is as frenzied as ever (Mark Benjamin of Salon posted a solid briefing of last week’s revelations) and supporters and enablers of the policy are as brazen as ever (Elizabeth Cheney, for one, declared she was “very proud” of this program); there are rays of optimism that transparency will triumph (Obama will, for example, “release more photos of Bush era prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan to satisfy demands from an ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request”); few writers have focused as much attention on this topic as Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, whom STOP SMILING spoke with in the recent issue of the magazine (the complete interview is available here).

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Pulitzer Prizes, Pound for Pound

blog_pulitzerThe Pulitzer winners were announced today, with the New York Times shelving the most medals (5): There were some usual suspects (another book about Sally Hemings wins an award?), some pleasant surprises (Steve Reich for music, Damon Winter’s Usher-esque photograph of Obama in Pennsylvania) and some oddities (two of the winners for were recent layoff victims) — a minority report by Jack Shafer at Slate fills in the rest of the blanks. View the complete list of winners here.

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JG Ballard (1930-2009)

blog_ballardThe Guardian is leading the way with a number of tributes to the British novelist JG Ballard, who passed away this weekend from complications with cancer; Ballard chronicled his childhood experiences living in a Shanghai prison during World War II in the celebrated novel Empire of the Sun (1984), after reaching international audiences with his controversial novel Crash (1973), which was adapted for the screen by the filmmaker David Cronenberg. The Guardian Books section offers extensive coverage on this subpage devoted entirely to Ballard.

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Judith F. Krug (1940-2009)

blog_krugThe former librarian and founder of Banned Books Week, a nationwide event held each September that both celebrates and flaunts the freedom to read opinionated and controversial books, passed away last week in Evanston, Illinois (read more about Banned Books Week here); Judith Krug, a native of Pittsburgh, devoted her life to the promotion of reading, as well as the fight against censorship of books — from the founding, in 1967, of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, which promotes intellectual freedom in libraries, to recent challenges to the USA Patriot Act.

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Changes On the Airwaves

blog_maddenEarlier in the week we paid respects to Harry Kalas, voice of NFL Films — yesterday, the NFL lost another signature voice, when former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden, pictured here, announced he is retiring from the broadcast booth; loyal listeners of NPR are still tuning in, despite the recent cancellation of the programs Day to Day and News and Notes; in February, WGN radio icon and “one of the nation’s most familiar voices” Paul Harvey (”Hello, Americans!”) passed away at the age of 90; also in Chicago, resentment is still simmering over Clear Channel’s decision to yank Tom Joyner’s syndicated radio show from V103 in place of Steve Harvey; and Sirius XM, the satellite radio company, continues to face the prospect of filing for bankruptcy. Stay tuned.

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Harry Kalas (1936-2009)

blog_harryThe man known around the world as the voice of NFL Films (click here for a sample of his robust narration) and celebrated as a national treasure in Philadelphia, where he was the long-time broadcaster for the Philadelphia Phillies, has died at 73 — tributes are pouring in throughout the sporting world and his hometown press, including ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Mr. Kalas was found dead in the broadcast booth before a game between the Phillies and the Washington Nationals on Monday.

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Learning to Reprint the Bomb

blog_corsoThe cover of this week’s print edition of The Economist, which imagines a world free from nuclear weapons, pays homage to Gregory Corso’s poem Bomb, published by City Lights Books in 1958, in which the type is arranged in the shape of a mushroom cloud (view an online reproduction of Corso’s poem here): Annie Nocenti, a regular contributor to STOP SMILING and guest editor of The Gambling Issue in 2008, wrote an eloquent remembrance of Corso, the beat poet who passed away in 2001, in the Downfall of American Publishing issue, which also features a tribute to City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. Click here to view a YouTube clip of Corso reading his work.

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You Did Agree to Be Here, Right?

billy-blogHaving published a fair amount of interviews — 60 of which are compiled in these three 20 Interviews issues — we understand the complexities of navigating a recorded conversation, particularly when the subjects are musicians forced to discuss the abstract nature of their art: So our condolences go out to the host of the Canadian talk show Q, who became the latest victim to receive intentionally antagonistic replies to the softest of softball questions (”When did the band form?”) when speaking live on air to Billy Bob Thornton, who was promoting his “cosmic cowboy music”; this clip immediately joins the ranks of recent cringe-worthy Q&As with rapper Joaquin Phoenix (view here) and the laconic Icelanders Sigur Ros (view here). Oh dear…

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A Pugilist’s Pardon, Once Unforgivable

blog-johnson1It’s Jack Johnson, 1 — Scooter Libby, zero. Senator John McCain delivers some straight talk we can believe in with the announcement this week that he is seeking a presidential pardon for the late Jack Johnson, the nation’s first black heavyweight boxing champion, who he “feels was wronged by a 1913 conviction of violating the Mann Act by having a consensual relationship with a white woman” (read more about the story at AP); STOP SMILING featured Johnson on the cover of our Boxing Issue back in 2005, timing with the release of Ken Burn’s extraordinary documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. The final bell will be rung by President Obama.

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