Archive for May, 2009

Updates on the City and the Country

blog_urbanThis May marked the two-year anniversary of the point at which scientists estimated that the world’s population became more urban than rural for the first time in history: Fittingly, the current issue of Triple Canopy* is dedicated entirely to the examination of cities — from Portland, Maine, to Caracas — and how we interact with and in them, particularly after economic collapse; today’s New York Times takes a look at how the recession has crippled the organic milk industry as shoppers turn to cheaper groceries, thus threatening to snuff out yet another rural American industry; meanwhile, CounterPunch offers some down-home wisdom (and hilarity) as it collects opinions from the “redneck” South regarding the first urban American president. (*STOP SMILING editor-at-large Alexander Provan is a founding editor of Triple Canopy.)

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Chorus Grows for Closing Gitmo

blog_generalIn an interview this weekend, the commander of US Central Command, General David Petraeus, restated his position that closing Guantanamo in a responsible manner “sends an important message to the world” that the US must observe the Geneva Conventions; similar statements have recently been issued by former Secretary of State Colin Powell; chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen; and Defense Secretary Robert Gates — the Senate has, of course, blocked funding to close Gitmo, and this morning’s New York Times piece on majority leader Harry Reid speculates that it is his bid for re-election in 2010 that may be the reason for such displays of “self-preservation,” as when he “broke with the administration in leading his caucus against providing the money that the president had sought to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”

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Imperfections on the Baseball Diamond

blog-mrmetNot to pick on the New York Mets (our beloved White Sox, for example, are hot off a bungled blockbuster trade and record-tying worst loss in team history), but something is awry at Citi Field in Queens: First, the story the NY Post has dubbed the “tooth in toilet ordeal,” in which a woman attending a Mets game “tried to make a diving catch when her gold tooth fell into a Citi Field toilet — and got her arm stuck in the commode”; this week it was announced that a fan who accepted a dare from his boss to streak naked across the field during a Mets game will face “up to a year in jail and civil penalties of up to $5,000″; prompted by a costly error that deprived the Mets of a run when right-fielder Ryan Church failed to touch third base, the NY Times paid tribute to the Mets’ “lineage of bumbling” in a nostalgic rundown of major errors in team history; and to close, a quagmire in Cleveland, in which the Indians were forced to recall a racially insensitive commemorative cap that slapped the Stars and Stripes over Chief Wahoo. You’re out!

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Revisiting the Village Vanguard

blog_vvAn obituary in Monday’s New York Times got us thinking again about the venerable New York jazz nightclub, the Village Vanguard (whose owner, Lorraine Gordon, was profiled in the Jazz Issue in 2008 — click here to read the piece): Philip Stein, who painted the famous mural that lines the back wall of the Vanguard, passed away in his Manhattan home last month at the age of 90; for more on the Vanguard, visit these STOP SMILING interviews with bassist Ron Carter and photographer William Christenberry, both of whom stress the significance of frequenting the club during their formative years. RIP Philip Stein.

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Tamil Tigers Concede Defeat

blog_tigerThe Tamil Tiger rebel army, which has been fighting the Sri Lankan government in order to establish an independent state for 25 years, grudgingly acknowledged yesterday that “the battle has reached its bitter end;” Tamil rapper MIA, who spent her childhood in Sri Lanka (and who was featured in Issue 22 of STOP SMILING), is among the Tamil diaspora who continue to support resistance in their homeland, arguing that under the rule of the ethnic majority, Tamils will always be oppressed — MIA was widely criticized as recently as February for “supporting terrorism” as a result of her pro-Tiger stance. -SS

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Literary Chicago’s Spring Bloom

blog_pegasusChicago’s lit world emerges from a long winter with two notable events next week: The Poetry Foundation will present its 2009 Pegasus Awards on May 19th to Fanny Howe, who will receive the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (along with $100,000), and to Ange Mlinko, winner of the Randall Jarrell Award in Poetry Criticism (Mlinko’s contributed to the first-annual 20 Interviews issue of STOP SMILING); meanwhile, the second-annual Pilcrow Lit Fest will host readings, panels and gatherings focused on small press publishing May 17th-23rd throughout the city.

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Kids Say the Darndest Things

blog_kids1Sometimes the most striking commentary about the world’s most dire concerns comes from the young: An NPR reporter reflects upon the term “richless,” coined by his eight-year-old daughter, and explains why it’s a more apt term than “poor” for Americans to use during the recession; meanwhile, a baffling story in today’s New York Times about a branch of the Boy Scouts of America that aims to train youth to become future fighters of terrorism and illegal immigration is full of gems from prepubescent participants; finally, a child star of Slumdog Millionaire stays on message when talking to reporters after Mumbai officials bulldozed his family’s house: “We are homeless,” he said, “we have nowhere to go.” -SS

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Headlines Head Skyward for Sears Tower

blog_searsNorth America’s tallest building continues to stir up more waves of publicity this year, and not all of the news is positive: Recently there was the eye-catching (and, for acrophobics, stomach-churning) announcement that a Skydeck, which will allow visitors to step into “glass enclosures that extend 4.3 feet beyond the building,” will open in June (read more at the Sun-Times); this week five Miami men were convicted of “plotting to start an anti-government insurrection by destroying Chicago’s Sears Tower and bombing FBI offices” (read more at AP); and Chicagoans still stung by the building’s impending name change, courtesy of the London-based insurance brokerage the Willis Group (wouldn’t the Wesley Willis Tower be more appropriate?) are now reeling over word that the company is seeking a nearly $4 million tax subsidy to cover the expenses of relocating their offices to the Sears.

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Postage Hikes and the Independent Press

blog-uspsFor the third straight May, the United States Postal Service has raised the price of first-class postage (today a stamp climbed to 44 cents), but according to new statistics, some of which were compiled in last week’s issue of The Economist, there are larger problems for the postal industry — 2008 saw “the biggest decline in mail since the Depression,” with volume falling by 4.5 percent, “or about 9 billion pieces.” For years independent publishers, including STOP SMILING, have expressed dismay over postal increases — for an intelligent overview of what postage hikes can do to a small press, read Robert McChesney’s plea, “Postal Rates = Free Press,” published by In These Times in 2007.

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Sun Ra’s Spaceship Lullaby in Philly

blog-sunraAn exhibit curated by STOP SMILING contributor John Corbett that explores the furthest reaches of Sun Ra‘ s universe has landed not on the White House lawn, but at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia (read about the show in the weekend New York Times); our site carries an array of Sun Ra coverage, from notes on his poetry to coverage of past exhibits chronicling his eclectic body of visual galaxy-hopping, as well as contributions from Corbett and his Chicago-based Corbett vs Dempsey gallery, including slideshows of artist Isobel Steele MacKinnon and jazz photographer Fred Burkhart. The choice of Philadelphia a host city for the current exhibit is a wise one, as Philly is one of the spots Sun Ra, who passed away in 1993, called home, along with Birmingham, Chicago and Saturn.

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