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Archive for May, 2009

WICHITA LINEMAN: You Can’t Fight City Hall, But You Sure As Heck Can F*ck It Up With Your Car

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009
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KWCH: The surveillance video shows a Lincoln Towncar crashing through the East-facing doors of Wichita’s City Hall, barreling through the hall in an almost perfectly straight line.  The car exits through the west side of the building, destroying security equipment and a revolving door, before stopping in the attached parking garage. MORE

KWCH: A man who pleaded no contest to driving his car through Wichita City Hall has been sentenced to just over ten years in prison. No one was hurt in the crash. The crash in January of 2008 caused at least $200,000 in damage to city hall. MORE

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SCIENCE: The End Of Baldness?

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

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TELEGRAPH: A cure for baldness has come a step closer after scientists identified a gene that is connected to hair loss. The breakthrough should help scientists develop new treatments as well as help pinpoint early in life which men are likely to lose their hair. The Sox21 gene has in the past been shown to be linked to the formation of nerve cells, but the new study is the first to indicate its function in ensuring hair retention.  Researchers made the finding during experiments on mice which, like humans, carry the gene. The scientists blocked the activity of the gene in mice and found that the rodents started losing hair on their heads about 15 days after birth and became completely naked a week later. “It is entirely possible that the gene is also a cause of thinning hair among humans”, said Professor Yumiko Saga at the National Institute of Genetics in Tokyo. Hairs have a long growing phase – two years or more – followed by a short resting phase of two or three months. But as some men age this pattern gradually reverses until eventually the resting period is so long that there’s no new hair coming through to replace the 100 to 150 hairs we lose daily through natural shedding.  MORE

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THIS JUST IN: All Men Not Created Equal

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

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LOS ANGELES TIMES: The California Supreme Court today upheld Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage but also ruled that gay couples who wed before the election will continue to be married under state law. The decision virtually ensures another fight at the ballot box over marriage rights for gays. Gay rights activists say they may ask voters to repeal the marriage ban as early as next year, and opponents have pledged to fight any such effort. Proposition 8 passed with 52% of the vote. Although the court split 6-1 on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the justices were unanimous in deciding to keep intact the marriages of as many as 18,000 gay couples who exchanged vows before the election. The marriages began last June, after a 4-3 state high court ruling striking down the marriage ban last May. MORE

scotus-pick.thumbnail.pngALSO: Sonia Sotomayor, the career jurist nominated by President Obama, would be the first Hispanic justice — and only the third woman justice — in the history of the nation’s highest court. Those distinctions make Sotomayor’s confirmation by the Democratic-majority Senate virtually certain, analysts say. They also note that Republican President George H.W. Bush first nominated Sotomayor as a federal judge, indicating broad political appeal. A senior White House official told CNN that Sotomayor was “nominated by George [H.W.] Bush — then Bill Clinton — [and has] more judicial experience than anyone sitting on the court had at the time they were nominated.” MORE

obama_shep_print_final2.thumbnail.jpgPOTUS: First and foremost is a rigorous intellect — a mastery of the law, an ability to hone in on the key issues and provide clear answers to complex legal questions.  Second is a recognition of the limits of the judicial role, an understanding that a judge’s job is to interpret, not make, law; to approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda, but rather a commitment to impartial justice; a respect for precedent and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand. These two qualities are essential, I believe, for anyone who would sit on our nation’s highest court.  And yet, these qualities alone are insufficient.  We need something more.  For as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.”  Experience being tested by obstacles and barriers, by hardship and misfortune; experience insisting, persisting, and ultimately overcoming those barriers.  It is experience that can give a person a common touch and a sense of compassion; an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live.  And that is why it is a necessary ingredient in the kind of justice we need on the Supreme Court.

Senior Military Interrogator Calls Bullshit On Darth Cheney

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not-torture.thumbnail.jpgHUFFPO: A former top interrogator is responding forcefully to the case Dick Cheney made on Thursday in favor of torture (what the former VP and his allies refer to as “enhanced interrogation methods.”) Brave New Films released a short video Tuesday of Matthew Alexander taking apart Cheney’s argument piece by piece. Alexander, who uses a pseudonym for security reasons, was a 14-year military interrogator who oversaw more than a thousand interrogations and conducted more than 300 in Iraq himself. He led the interrogation team that scored one of the United States’ most high-profile captures, that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and he did it using traditional methods. MORE

not-torture.thumbnail.jpgWORTH REPEATING: I love how, to some of these posters, supporting torture is simply a reasonable right-wing “position” like any other, like being for tax breaks. Why not offer a column to a neo-nazi on how the holocaust was a good thing? I mean that was a German policy position right? Decades from now, Republicans are going to look back and wonder what conservatives were thinking when they embraced and defended torture, drowning out the conservatives of principle like Andrew Sullivan who have loudly denounced it. The irony is that the tactics they defend were used by the Communist Chinese to extract false confessions. They were also used by Pol Pot as he committed genocide in Cambodia. They are indisputably illegal under American law. They are war crimes. MORE

not-torture.thumbnail.jpgHUFFPO: General David Petraeus said this past weekend that President Obama’s decision to close down Gitmo and end harsh interrogation techniques would benefit the United States in the broader war on terror. In an appearance on Radio Free Europe on Sunday, the man hailed by conservatives as the preeminent military figure of his generation left little room for doubt about where he stands on some of Obama’s most contentious policies. MORE

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gunfiring.gifASSOCIATED PRESS: A trial is under way for 12 activists arrested in demonstrations at a Philadelphia gun store. The defendants say Colosimo’s Gun Center’s owner won’t sign a pledge to follow ethical gun-sale rules. The defendants are part of an interfaith group concerned about gun violence and include several ministers. The group, called Heeding God’s Call, has continued to hold demonstrations outside the shop since the arrests in January. Defendant Sam Caldwell, a 61-year-old grandfather from Media, says he sees evidence of racism in the nation’s alleged tolerance of gun violence because many victims are black. MORE

INQUIRER EDITORIAL: If there’s any justice in a courtroom in Philadelphia today, a judge will find 12 faith-based activists not guilty of trespassing charges. The defendants are surely guilty. They are guilty of trying to stem the bloody tide of gun violence in the city. They were arrested in January at Colosimo’s Gun Center on Spring Garden Street, where they attempted to get owner James Colosimo to sign a code of conduct to reduce “straw purchases” of handguns. Colosimo has refused. MORE

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NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

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BRIAN TIERNEY, Publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News senior writer WILL BUNCH discuss the issues around hiring John Yoo as a commentator for the Philadelphia Inquirer. 11:00 a.m. Call in number is 1-888-477-9499 

IT’S OUR CITY: Will Bunch is the Philadelphia Daily News staff writer and blogger who raised hell when he found out that torture memo author John Yoo was now a monthly columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Seeking more information about all of this, I emailed the Inquirer’s editorial page editor, Harold Jackson, johnyoo.thumbnail.jpgthis afternoon. What exactly was Yoo’s arrangement with the Inquirer, how much is he paid, and how much weight — if any — did the editors give to the notion they were awarding a regular column who’s been accused of unethical lawyering by some, and war crimes by others?

Both papers are owned by the same company, Philadelphia Media Holdings Inc. The Publisher of both papers is Brian Tierney who defends the paper’s hiring of John Yoo. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: HECKUVA JOB TIERNEY: Why Is THIS Man Bloviating About Supreme Court Replacements In The Inquirer?

PREVIOIUSLY: Spanish Prosecutors To Bring Bush 6 Up On Chargesflamingyoo.jpg

PREVIOUSLY: A New Low In The History Of Lame Excuses

PREVIOUSLY: YOO HOOEY: Inky’s Harold Jackson And Daily News’ Will Bunch Trade Blows Over ‘Torture Guy’ Editorialist

PREVIOUSLY: HOT DOC: Disbarment Complaint Against John Yoo

PREVIOUSLY: SATIRE: Inky Names Michael Vick Pet Care Columnist

PREVIOUSLY: Look Ma, Stephen Colbert On Inky/Yoo Controversey
RELATED: WHERE’S THE BEEF: Inquirer Puff Piece On Glenn Beck Long On Froth, Short On Questioning All The Hateful Moronic Things He Has Said Over The Years

RELATED: In April 2004, when the Harman and Graner photographs were leaked to the press, they shocked the world’s conscience. They also performed a great public service. They told us something about ourselves that we might have suspected but did not fully know — that the Bush administration had decided to fight terror with terror, and torture with torture.

We did not fully know this before the photographs came out, because our leaders hid it from us, and when it was revealed they denied it. “We do not torture,” Mr. Bush kept saying, even as a stream of official documents leaked to the press contradicted him.

yeswecantorture17x221_1.jpgHad a journalist taken the photos, there would have been prizes. Instead, the photographs were used by the administration and the military to frame the soldiers who took and appeared in them as rogues acting out of their own individual perversity. In this way, the exposé became the cover-up: the soldiers who revealed our corruption to us were made scapegoats and thrown in prison.

Five years later, America is again caught up in a debate about the release of photographs that show our soldiers using Bush administration “interrogation techniques” at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Barack Obama, whose first act as president was to re-criminalize torture, initially favored making the pictures public. Then Mr. Obama changed his mind. His critics (civil libertarians, human rights advocates and press commentators) are saying that this makes him no different from his predecessor. MORE

NEW YORK TIMES: Despite opening six investigations, the Pentagon made no further accounting to the public or to Congress. Indeed, a horrifying report commissioned by the Army was classified “secret,” although Mr. Rumsfeld had to admit yesterday that he did not know why. Mr. Rumsfeld also said, unbelievably, that he had not yet finished reading the report on the Abu Ghraib prison. At another point he seemed to shrug off the brutal treatment of the prisoners as the sort of thing that can happen in a system that is not “perfect”; a distressing echo of his costly dismissal of the rumsfeld.giflooting in Baghdad last year as the “untidiness” of freedom. With the administration’s familiar disdain for public disclosure, the Pentagon did not share the report with Congress until it was forced to do so this week, after the report was described in a New Yorker article. There are still many unanswered questions, about issues like the military’s failure to train prison guards properly and the role of military intelligence and private contractors in the abuses. MORE

RELATED: The Strange Art Of Donald Rumsfeld’s Holy War

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RIP: Jay Bennett, Ex-Wilco, Dead At 45

Monday, May 25th, 2009

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LOS ANGELES TIMES: Multi-instrumentalist and former member of Wilco Jay Bennett died this weekend, according to a post on the website for Undertow Music Collective. He was 45. A cause of death was unknown. “We are profoundly saddened to report that our friend died in his sleep last night. Jay was a beautiful human being who will be missed,” read the update on Undertow. The company released his 2002 solo album, “Palace at 4 am (Part I).”

Representatives from the label and management firm had not responded to requests for comment as of Sunday wilco_being_there.jpgevening, but the Chicago Sun-Times reached Bennett’s friend and collaborator Edward Burch. “Early this morning, Jay died in his sleep and an autopsy is being performed,” Burch told Jim DeRogatis.

In the late ‘80s, Bennett founded the rock band Titanic Love Affair in Urbana, Ill., which lasted into the mid-‘90s. He was best known for his seven years in adventurous rock act Wilco. Bennett split from the Chicago-based group in 2001, and since his departure had been pursuing a solo career, as well as operating Pieholden Suite Sound – named after a song on Wilco’s 1999 album “Summerteeth” — in Champaign , Ill.

Bennett released the solo effort “Whatever Happened I Apologize” via the Web late last year, and reported at that time that he was pursuing “another” master’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Yet it was Bennett’s time in Wilco that won him the most acclaim.

He had a not-so-amicable split from the band in 2001, which was documented in the 2002 film “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and Greg Kot’s book “Wilco: Learning How to Die.” He did, however, play a major role in the band as a writer, producer and musician. The orchestrated pop of “Summerteeth” further stripped Wilco of its country-rock roots, and 2002’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” saw the band move into more atmospheric territory.

Bennett was asked to leave the group before “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” was released, and his relationship with Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy remained strained. In early May of this year, Bennett filed suit against his former band mate for breach of contract stemming from his participation in “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” Bennett was seeking damages in excess of $50,000, according to court papers. MORE

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JEFF TWEEDY: We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will miss Jay as we remember him — as a truly unique and gifted human being and one who made welcome and significant contributions to the band’s songs and evolution.

wilco_summerteeth.jpgPHAWKER: We are shocked and saddened but not entirely surprised.

MAGNET: Bennett further ruffled feathers by enumerating his contributions to Wilco in the press. “Jay was very concerned about getting credit for what he did,” says Stirratt. “At the same time, in a lot of ways, Summerteeth was very much a Jay Bennett record.”

MAGNET: Then there were the drugs. There was a time when pills—mostly painkillers like Percocet and Vicodin—had a role in Wilco; this is a rock band after all. The pills made you feel warm and fuzzy and helped slow down the velocity of life on the road. They made you feel good onstage. It’s no accident Summerteeth sounds so druggy. At some point, according to sources in the Wilco camp, everybody stopped but Bennett—and that turned into a problem.

For the record, Bennett denies all of this. His explanation for his departure from the band is simple: He made a YankeeHotelCoverSamJones_1_1.jpgpower grab and lost. “I tried to force an agenda,” he says. “I wanted to make a record that had more of the uptempo pop songs that got cut off the record. But [Tweedy] is the lyricist, and he was trying to make a statement. And I had a hard time seeing that because I was seeing things through my lens, which was, ‘You don’t leave uptempo pop songs off a record.’ I guess, in a way, I saw things the same way that Reprise did.” MORE

RELATED: But seriously, one of the hard lessons learned from all of this: Never write an unflinching, dirty-laundry-and-all, behind-the-scenes cover story about Bennett getting kicked out of Wilco when the guy sleeps on your girlfriend’s floor every time he and his new sidekick, Edward Burch, play in Philadelphia—which was, like, five times since that story was published. Trust me, it can make for some uncomfortable moments around the breakfast table. MORE

bennett_1.jpgJAY BENNETT: I’ve been close to bedridden since I last “saw” y’all. After burying my proverbial head in the proverbial sand since last summer, I finally decided it was time I “face the music,” and find out what was causing the severe pain and immobility in my right leg. I have had a torn A.C.L. in that knee for many years (caused by a “daring,” well, uh, really just ill-planned, and poorly executed, stage jump at Seventh Street Entry in Minneapolis, with Titanic Love Affair), and suspected that time had most likely further worn down, or even torn loose some more cartilage, most likely causing premature arthritis. So, after much prompting from friends and loved ones (“Jay that limp is NOT getting any better”), bright and early one Monday morning I decided to simply open up the Yellow Pages, and find the first Orthopedic Medicine Clinic with an immediate opening and find out what a large part of me did not want to find out. MORE

GLORIOUS NOISE: Chicagoist ran a short article about Bennett’s new label’s efforts to raise enough money to press his recent album. Rock Proper’s approach had a number of contribution levels with varying returns on the jaybennett1_1.jpginvestment. Anything from your name in the credits to private studio time with the man who made one of the best albums of this now not-so-new century. As of the posting of that article, they’d raised just $107. The title of the album is Whatever Happened I Apologize. MORE

KICKSTARTER: In November 2008, Jay Bennett (ex-Wilco, Titanic Love Affair), released his new album “Whatever Happened I Apologize”, for free, under a Creative Commons license on our netlabel Rock Proper. You are encouraged to download it, share it, remix it, etc. Free download. Recorded at Pieholden Suite Sounds, the album is quiet, intimate and sounds amazing. And upon release we received a mess of emails asking whether these lovely tunes would end up on vinyl. As a small emerging netlabel, we simply didn’t have the means to do so. Until we stumbled on Kickstarter. So this project is simply seeking funds to manufacture Jay Bennett’s “Whatever Happened I Apologize” on a 12″ 180 gram vinyl record. MORE

JAY BENNETT: Whatever Happened I Apologize

RELATED: Wilco The Album Now Playing On Phawker Radio

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CONCERT REVIEW: mewithoutYou + Danielson

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

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dianca-potts-avatar.thumbnail.jpgBY DIANCA POTTS mewithoutYou’s super sold out CD release show started off with Greensboro hip-hoppers Urban Sophisticates. Currently signed to Right Hook Records, the classy stylistics of MC Benton James rocked the Troc to the back beat of the act’s rock-funk jam band sound. A surprising opener for Tooth and Nail’s mwY, Urban Sophisticates’ squeaky clean but catchy “Head Nod Head Rock” got hands in the air and ample applause by the song and set’s end. Quickly thanking the crowd and the evening’s headliner, the southern sextet turned the stage over to New Jersey’s Danielson.

Dressed alike in uniforms like WWII cadets or the Andrews Sisters, Danielson faced their crowd with smiles, lined out across the stage. Taking a more low key approach than the evening’s openers, their set was unfortunately coupled with noise pollution compliments of their chatty crowd. Polite, wide eyed and quirky, Secretly Canadian’s God-friendly troubadours churned out a coupling of tracks plucked from their back catalog bringing to mind less low-fi Daniel Johnston and a more melodic Minutemen. Including upbeat numbers like “Animal In Every Corner” and “Two Sitting Ducks,” Danielson’s set finally gave way to mewithoutYou.

Starting things off with Catch For Us the Foxes’ “Torches Together,” Aaron Weiss’ frenzied vocals meshed fittingly danielson_1.jpgbeside Michael Weiss’ cultivated reverb and riffs. Dressed much like Moz, Marr, Joyce, and Rourke, each band member rocked out while sporting dress shirts, slacks and ties. Ditching his glasses and tweed suit jacket, mwY’s prolific front man flailed his arms and swayed recklessly across the stage, shouting out all the lines fans were hungry to hear. Picking up a well-worn guitar, Weiss without hesitation strummed out the fast paced acoustic intro to “Bullet to Binary (Pt. 2)” while spitting into the microphone the almost iconic throwback to [A B] Life’s, “let us die.” Poetically enthralling and nearly theatrical, “Bullet to Binary (Pt. 2),” featured on It’s all crazy! It’s all false! It’s all a dream! It’s alright! picks up where Pt. 1 left off, adding in celibate sentiments shared by Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Song Against Sex.” The mellower “Messes Of Men” rendered Weiss into a sweaty shouting charismatic, discarding his tweed jacket before “Goodbye, I!” began. Pastoral like George Eliot, the song’s narrative proved vivid and emotive, urging listeners that “there’s a movement in our stillness” and they’re “bound to stand completely still.” Followed by “The Angel of Death Came to David’s Room,” Brother, Sister’s “A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains” intro’s oscillation led to Weiss’ shouts of “what new mystery is this” enhanced by Rickie Mazzotta’s percussive genius and Greg Jehanian’s driving bass.

“Cattail Down” was followed by the instant crowd pleaser and favorite “January 1979,” causing friendly moshing to commence across the Troc. “Tie me up! Untie me!” inspired applause mid song at Weiss’ nonchalant confession and lyrical change stating, “I haven’t even thought about killing myself in almost five years.” It’s all crazy! It’s all false! It’s all a dream! It’s alright’s “The Fox, the Crow, and the Cookie,” premised “O, Porcupine!” during which Urban Sophisticates’ MC took the stage once again to lay down some rhymes during the song’s latter half. The orchestral “the King Beetle On A Coconut Estate,” composed by Joshua Stomper included a classy collection of strings, brass, and woodwinds. Ending with “Allah, Allah, Allah,” mwY’s freegan frontman thanked his band’s friends, family, and fans before a brief exit and a subsequent encore. After “Timothy Hay” and “A Sweater Poorly Knit,” mwY vacated the stage to chants of “one more song.”

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[mwY setlist after the jump]

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CONCERT REVIEW: St. Vincent’s Holy Soul Jellyroll

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

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meAVATAR2_1.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Saint Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419), was a missionary and logician. Annie Clark (1982- ), the American singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist who goes by the name St. Vincent, brings a missionary zeal to her current status as indie’s ambassador of goodwill from The Other Side. Likewise, despite all its head-spinning detours and U-turns, her music follows the pristine logic of a flowchart. Such was the case Thursday night when St. Vincent stunned a near-capacity crowd in the sweaty basement of the First Unitarian Church with a flawless recreation of selections from Actor, her just-released and deservedly hyped sophomore collection of otherworldly, asymmetrical pop.

Clark plays all the instruments on Actor, but Thursday night she was backed by a crack four-piece band – a flutist/saxophonist, a violinist, a bassist, and a drummer – that expertly replicated the album’s jigsaw arrangements and dreamy vistas. Clark handled guitar and vocal duties, and proved extraordinarily adept at both. Her guitar playing sounded like some unholy union of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and the Butthole Surfers’ Paul Leary; her singing evoked the dream-pop enchantment of the Cocteau Twins, Elizabeth Fraser, and the whisper-to-a-scream inscrutability of Bjork and Kate Bush. The whole ensemble was strikingly lit like a David Lynch dream sequence, with washes of bordello red and cerulean blue flickering in time with the music’s shape-shifting permutations.

Like the album, the concert opened with the aptly titled “The Strangers” and the quiet desperation of “Save Me From What I Want,” and closed with the climactic coda of “Black Rainbow” and the buzz-bomb disco strut of “Marrow.” In between came the menacing lullaby of “Bed” and the Abba-meets-Elastica “Actor Out Of Work” —  and everything mirrored the dizzying bipolarity at the center of St. Vincent’s music, dramatic and altogether compelling living proof that the shortest distance between the ethereal and the visceral is not a straight line, but a pleasingly crooked one.

The performance concluded with “Your Lips Are Red,” from 2007’s Marry Me, a show-stopping meditation on 9/11. The song began as a sepulchral march, only to split open and reveal what sounded like the world’s most ornery klezmer band, which proceeded to erupt into a sonic approximation of sheer terror not heard since the shower scene in Psycho. Like just about everything St. Vincent touches, it was a potent reminder that the border between dreams and nightmares remains disturbingly porous.

PREVIOUSLY: RECORD REVIEW: St. Vincent’s Actor

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SPECIAL EDITION: The Good News Flower Hour

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

This week we examine the strange art of Donald Rumsfeld’s holy war. Enjoy.

RELATED: This Sunday, GQ magazine is posted on its Web tortureflag.jpegsite an article adding new details to the ample dossier on how Donald Rumsfeld’s corrupt and incompetent Defense Department cost American lives and compromised national security. The piece is not the work of a partisan but the Texan journalist Robert Draper, author of “Dead Certain,” the 2007 Bush biography that had the blessing (and cooperation) of the former president and his top brass. It draws on interviews with more than a dozen high-level Bush loyalists.

Draper reports that Rumsfeld’s monomaniacal determination to protect his Pentagon turf led him to hobble and antagonize America’s most willing allies in Iraq, Britain and Australia, and even to undermine his own soldiers. But Draper’s biggest find is a collection of daily cover sheets that Rumsfeld approved for the Secretary of Defense Worldwide Intelligence Update, a highly classified digest prepared for a tiny audience, including the president, and often delivered by hand to the White House by the defense secretary himself. These cover sheets greeted Bush each day with triumphal color photos of the war headlined by biblical quotations. GQ is posting 11 of them, and they are seriously creepy. MORE

GQ: The Bizarre Holy War Art Of Donald Rumsfeld

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CINEMA: Triple Play

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

terminator_salvation.jpgTERMINATOR: SALVATION (2009, directed by McG, 130 minutes, U.S.)

ADORATION (2008, directed by Olivier Assayas, 100 minutes, Canada)

SUMMER HOURS (2008, directed by Olivier Assayas,  103 minutes, France)

BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC

Now we know why Christian Bale was so on edge. Terminator: Salvation has a-risen and it is just as joyless and relentless as Bale’s on-set demeanor.  We’ve finally arrived at the apocalyptic desert war briefly viewed in the original Terminator twenty-five years ago and now we understand James Cameron’s wisdom in making this scenario a peripheral aside instead of the main course.

Here is another blockbuster series reboot, trying to restart the series in the very future Sarah Connor was trying to save us from.  Front and center is the grim savior John Connor, played by the absurdly dour Mr. Bale he is a man who speaks solely in growls and barks.  Connor’s fight against the Transformer-like machines of the evil Skynet is paralleled by the story of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a convict on death row who looks suspiciously like a young Schwarzenegger and is undergoing some very fishy experiments conceived by a scientist played by the sadly wasted Helena Bonham Carter.

Aren’t sequels supposed to deliver more of what audiences responded to originally?  The first film grabbed terminator_salvation_poster.jpgaudiences in 1984 with a machine like efficiency, powered by Cameron’s unrelenting direction and the primal thrill an unstoppable robot killer sent from the future on a mission to kill.  Without the irreplaceable Cameron and with Arnold absent (except for a cameo by his pasted-on CGI head) the latest entry is lacking the core elements of the series, missing out on the fun of killer robots from the future and instead spending an entire film mulling over events the original was able to sum up in a single flash-forward.

With the Charlie’s Angels films, director McG specialized in a certain tongue-in-cheek flash; it seems almost cruel to point out that he lacks the depth for the sort of sci-fi myth-making called for by a script that ponders over the humanity of androids and religious deliverance brought about by mankind’s savior John Connor.  To go much further into this noisy and overly-familiar blockbuster misfire seems as fruitless as trying to divine the meaning beneath a demolition derby.  T4 is such a soulless exercise we can only conclude that the robots of Hollywood have won this time around.

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Of course a director doesn’t need a hundred million dollars and a army of CGI programmers to go horribly off the mark; one-time critical favorite Atom Egoyan (maker of moody dramas like The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica) is equally as misguided with a tenth of the budget in his latest film, the preposterous Adoration.

adoration_1.jpgDevon Bostick is Simon, an orphaned teenager who lives with his grumpy tow-tuck driving uncle (Scott Speedman, once of Felicity).  When Simon writes a fictional monologue about his father attempting to use his pregnant mother as an unwitting suicide bomber, Simon’s drama teacher demands that he pretend the story is true to heighten the impact of the assignment.  Although this exercise is not meant to get beyond the classroom, his classmates are abuzz on the Internet about the tale, forcing Simon to search for the truth in his parent’s death.

The script’s machinations are beyond credulity from the outset but what is so irksome is Egoyan’s insistence in presenting the story in the same way he’s framed so many of his films: by introducing a group of seemingly unconnected characters then slowly untangling their alliances and motivations.  After twenty years of telling stories in the same format, Egoyan telegraphs all the story’s punches.  If you’ve seen a few of his films you’ll know exactly where the “shocking” revelations are going to fall, leaving the script’s sheer ludicrousness standing naked.  Such filmmaking comes off as lazy and habitual, a fatal flaw for a filmmaker whom seems to pride himself on his own braininess.  Again mulling over family secrets and video screen confessions,Egoyan has delivered the art house version of sitcom predictability.

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Olivier Assayas doesn’t stray far from familiar ground with his latest either, although  to much different effect.  summer_hours_poster_1.jpgSummer Hours brings together three siblings as they decide what to do with their recently departed mother’s estate.  Their mother was a collector of fine art, particularly the work of their esteemed Uncle, considered one of the major French artists of the last century.  Will the siblings hold on to the art and the family’s beautiful summer home, or will they sell it all, dispose of their pasts and move on with their lives?

If you’re expecting family fireworks you’ve come to the wrong film.  It’s an odd thrill yet captivating none the less to see how this family responds with understanding and maturity at their differing perspectives on their mothers estate, and Assayas transforms the situation into a meditation on the power assigned to objects and the fate of France’s cultural legacy.  The characters, notably JulietteBinoche as the modernist sister and Charles Berling as the traditionalist brother, gives the sort of lived in performances that make these figures linger in the memory as actual acquaintances and not just actors in a film.

Looking at their mother’s gorgeously ornate desk in her library one can’t help but marvel at its beauty; seeing it end up in a museum, with distracted patrons buzzing around it with cell phones in their ears captures the sadness of seeing a majestic lion go from the jungle to the zoo.  Awash with telling details and casually insightful asides, Summer Hours captures human beings in all their subtleties where the aforementioned films struggle to capture the pulse of life, even in its broad strokes.

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How I Left My Heart On The Market-Frankford Line

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

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BY PHILLYGRRL Perhaps it’s best to start at the beginning. When I was a girl of three, I lived with my parents and my older brother in the first floor of a row house on South Farragut Street in West Philadelphia. Occasionally, septagirl_520_2.jpgwhen my father was using the family’s orange VW Beetle or when my mom didn’t feel like driving, she would take me and my older brother on the Girard Avenue Trolley (Route 15). She’d say she needed to finish errands, but more than likely she just wanted to get out of the house – stuck as she was with two young children and a husband who worked night shifts and needed quiet.

My brother and I would pretend we were on a train ride, one we always hoped would never end. My mother tells me I would cry when our stop came. I hated getting off. Even after our family moved to New Jersey, I never forgot those rides. I would beg my father to take us back to Philadelphia so I could ride the ‘train.’

Five years and two more siblings later, I got that ride. I was eight. Our house in New Jersey, something of a gentlemen’s farm with its chickens, one-acre garden and goat – had just burned down. Everything in the room I had shared with siblings was ruined. My dolls were smeared with a thick coating of soot. The books I had collected – The Boxcar Children, The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys – were gone. We were devastated. And to make things even more unsettling, instead of re-building, my parents decided to move to North Philadelphia, to a house they already owned.

A week after the fire, my parents came up with a plan to cheer us up: The long-promised ‘train’ ride. My father, carrying a box of Dunkin’ Donuts in his hands, proudly led us to the Spring Garden stop of the Market-Frankford line. We rode the El to Northeast Philadelphia and back, coating the blue felt of our seats with powdered sugar. And once again, when our stop finally came, I got off the ‘train’ reluctantly.

PREVIOUSLY: Meet SEPTA GIRL

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HIP PICKS: What To Do  & Who To Do It To

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BEING THERE: The Good News Flower Hour

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

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A special edition, look for it later today.

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ALLEGED: Jersey Devil Caught — 100 Years Ago

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

jersey_devil.jpgINQUIRER: One hundred years ago, thousands of people believed. “WHAT-IS-IT VISITS ALL SOUTH JERSEY” declared the front page of The Inquirer on Jan. 21, 1909 – above a photograph of “actual proof-prints of the strange creature.” “Hooflike tracks” could be seen in the snow “in practically every block in Burlington city” – including rooftops – throwing “this section into a state bordering on panic.” Even dogs were scared. “Hounds put on the trail refused to follow the tracks, and, with bristling hair and the picture of terror, ran home,” the article stated. Armed with shotguns, a party of young farmers near Jacksonville in Springfield Township followed the tracks for almost four miles – when they “mysteriously disappeared.” The tracks, not the farmers. A Gloucester man said the creature had wings two-and-a-half-feet long, four legs, a neck like a crane, a head like a collie and a horse’s face. Two Maple Shade men agreed with the doglike head, but said it had long black hair and feet and hands like a monkey. Some folks called the creature “the Flying Death.” Not that any people died. Though some chickens and pets reportedly did. Then, on Jan. 22, men with nets bagged the “docile” creature not in South Jersey, but in “the wilds of Fairmount Park,” according to a Jan. 23 Inquirer story. MORE

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HACK AXED: Judges Shitcan BRT Board Member

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

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INQUIRER: The city’s judges fired Joseph A. Russo from the Board of Revision of Taxes today, after a scathing report from the city inspector general said he had manipulated property assessments, abused his power, and committed perjury. The sudden firing of Russo, a longtime ally of former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, appeared to be unprecedented in the 155-year history of the BRT, the agency that sets tax values for all properties in Philadelphia.

“He did not uphold the standards expected of appointees,” President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe said. She saidfumo_final.thumbnail.jpg the vote was unanimous and the firing effective immediately. The findings, many of which were detailed as part of a three-part series in The Inquirer early this month, focus mainly on Russo’s role in the 2000 reassessment of an old convent and Catholic school on Moyamensing Avenue in South Philadelphia.

Russo has extensive ties to Fumo. He was president of Citizens’ Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, the charity Fumo controlled, and the IG report identified payments and reimbursements to Russo from Fumo’s campaign committee. The report, by Inspector General Amy Kurland, also claims that Fumo later secured Russo his seat on the BRT board. “Russo’s actions clearly destroyed the public’s trust and confidence in the operations of the BRT and in his ability to be a fair, efficient, and impartial city employee,” reads the confidential report, which The Inquirer obtained. MORE

RELATED: The firing of Joseph A. Russo from the Philadelphia Board of Revision of Taxes is a good start toward fumo_final.thumbnail.jpgfixing the agency, but it’s only a start. The city’s judges dismissed Russo after receiving a scathing report from Inspector General Amy Kurland. The report said Russo, a pal of recently convicted former state Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, manipulated property assessments, abused his power, and committed perjury. Credit goes to Mayor Nutter for demanding the dismissal of Russo and the rest of the board. BRT members are appointed by the judges, based on referrals for the patronage mill from party bosses.Russo’s attorney complained that the judges acted in haste Thursday, without hearing Russo’s side of the story. While there should be a clear policy for dismissals, Russo did have an opportunity to talk – to the inspector general. He refused. That silence told the judges what they needed to know. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: NUTTER VS. BRT: Showdown At The Party Hack Corral

PREVIOUSLY: The BRT Must Die!

PREVIOUSLY: HOUSE CLEANING: Mayor To Reform BRT…Very, Very Slowly

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