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Archive for February, 2011

SIDEWALKING: Kinda Blue

Friday, February 18th, 2011

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11th and Callowhil 11:30 AM by JEFF FUSCO

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How To Look Like A Deficit Hawk By Slapping Around The Hungry & The Needy For Fun & Political Profit

Friday, February 18th, 2011

MOTHER JONES: Here’s a chart showing the trajectory of non-defense discretionary spending over the past 50 years. This is basically the spending that’s left over after you take out Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Pentagon, and interest on the national debt. MORE

THE ECONOMIST: Here’s a fun fact: non-defense discretionary spending was equal to 3.6% of GDP in 1963. It was also equal to 3.6% of GDP in 2008. It is not behind the increase in government spending as a share of the economy over that time period. It has not made government any less affordable. It is not projected to rise substantially in the future. This is not to suggest that there is no waste in this portion of the government. Without question, there is. This portion of the budget should be subject to close scrutiny, to reform, and perhaps to some cuts (though whether net cuts are justified is far from clear). To pretend that one can balance the budget with cuts focused on this portion of the budget, or that major cuts to this portion of the budget are in any way desirable, is madness. And yet this is what Republicans are doing. Mr Krugman notes that cuts so far have affected programmes that support food budgets of poor Americans. MORE

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CINEMA: Prairie Home Companionship

Friday, February 18th, 2011

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CEDAR RAPIDS (2011, directed by Miguel Arteta, 86 minutes, U.S.)

BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC

If you can’t wait for The Hangover 2, Ed Helms has returned to the screen with a solo hangover, playing a child-like insurance agent partying for the first time in Cedar Rapids. Consistently amusing, if too familiar to feel truly inspired, Cedar Rapids pushes the outrageousness, yet never catches you by surprise.

 

Cedar Rapids is directed by the Miquel Arteta, who wrote his acclaimed debut, Star Maps, in 1997. Since then, Arteta has since made character-driven comedies with others scripts, most memorably Mike White, who wrote Arteta’s Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl. Here he works with relative newcomer Phil Johnston but the film is executive produced by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, the men behind Sideways and About Schmidt. Like those films, the main character is a stunted guy who is going to learn some life lessons when fate pulls him out of his mundane routine. Arteta’s version of a Payne film feels a little like minor league baseball in comparison: the jokes a little less subtle, the performances a little broader and the story a little more predictable.

 

Ed Helms, best known for his work on the Daily Show and The Office, stars Tim Lippe (the “e” is not silent), an unworldly Iowa insurance agent who has never left his small town. When a colleague dies unexpectedly, Lippe is given a chance to fly to an insurance convention in the city of Cedar Rapids, sent to uphold the company’s good Christian values and deliver a presentation. He ends up falling in with a bad element, represented by John C. Reilly’s profane and blustery Dean Ziegler, and before you know it Lippe is downing shots, swimming in his underwear and doing lines with a sweet-natured prostitute. But will he sully the name of Brown Valley Insurance and lose his job as well?

 

Helms, who specialized in playing a smug jerk reporter with Jon Stewart, works hard to bringing some dimension to the improbable man-child role he’s been given, but neither he nor Reilly (in one of his less-effective performances) can overcome a sense of condescension that lingers over their mid-western rubes. The film does earn its laughs around the edges, particularly from Lippe’s square friend Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who goes from nerdy insurance salesman to “straight-up gangster” in order to save his neck. And Helm’s scenes with the underrated Anne Heche (as the promiscuous-but-married Joan) do the most to make this improbable naif believable.

 

Another film with its hero stuck in a suspended adolescence, Cedar Rapids is a coming-of-age story for a guy who is nearly middle aged. While Lippe may end up a little wiser than when he started, the film has little insight toshare with its audience beyond the fact that lighting one’s farts is a sure-fire laugh. And on a peripheral note: Cedar Rapids’ trailer is more guilty than most of giving away the majority of the film’s biggest laughs.

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Radiohead Moves Up Release Date Of King Of Limbs

Friday, February 18th, 2011
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Radiohead have moved up the digital release of their new album “The King Of Limbs” by 24 hours with the album now being sent to those who pre-ordered it earlier this week. It is also available for new orders through www.radiohead.com at a fixed price of $9 for MP3, $14 for WAV. With everything ready on their website, the band decided to bring forward the release rather than wait until the previously announced date of Saturday, Feb 19  to deliver the music. Orders for “The King Of Limbs” “Newspaper Album” special edition are also still being taken at www.radiohead.com . The made-to-order deluxe editions will come in a unique “newspaper” package and will contain “The King Of Limbs”  in three formats–on two clear 10″ vinyl records, CD and instantly available digital download-as well as artwork exclusive to the special edition. The “Newspaper Album” edition will ship May 9, and is available at fixed prices of $48 for the version including an MP3 download, and $53 with WAV. The general CD/vinyl U.S. release of The King Of Limbs will take place March 29 via tbd records.

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Ginned Up Wisconsin ‘Budget Crisis’ Is The Gulf Of Tonkin In The GOP’s War On The Middle Class

Friday, February 18th, 2011

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TALKING POINTS MEMO: Wisconsin’s new Republican governor has framed his assault on public worker’s collective bargaining rights as a needed measure of fiscal austerity during tough times. The reality is radically different. Unlike true austerity measures — service rollbacks, furloughs, and other temporary measures that cause pain but save money — rolling back worker’s bargaining rights by itself saves almost nothing on its own. bush_tax_cuts.jpgBut Walker’s doing it anyhow, to knock down a barrier and allow him to cut state employee benefits immediately. Furthermore, this broadside comes less than a month after the state’s fiscal bureau — the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office — concluded that Wisconsin isn’t even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office. MORE

RELATED: Walker defended his proposal at a news conference in Madison, as demonstrators watching a live feed in the Capitol chanted, “Re-call Wal-ker!” “These are bold political moves we are talking about today, but they’re modest, modest requests,” Walker said, calling for Democrats to end their “stunt” and return to work. “What we’re talking about here is ultimately about balancing our budget.” But observers said Walker’s proposals went beyond immediate cost savings. “What’s going on in Wisconsin is not simply an attempt to adjust the benefits or co-pays or health plans,” said Theda Skocpol, a political science professor at Harvard University. “It’s an attempt to bust the unions.” MORE

RELATED: Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose bill to kill collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions has caused an uproar among state employees, might not be where he is today without the Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are conservative titans of industry who have infamously used their vast wealth to undermine President Obama and fight legislation they detest, such as the cap-and-trade climate bill, the health care reform act, and the economic stimulus package. For years, the billionaires have made extensive political donations to Republican candidates across the country and have provided millions of dollars to astroturf right-wing organizations. Koch Industries’ political action committee has doled out more than $2.6 million to candidates. And one prominent beneficiary of the Koch brothers’ largess is Scott Walker. According to bush_tax_cuts.jpgWisconsin campaign finance filings, Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election. That donation was his campaign’s second-highest, behind $43,125 in contributions from housing and realtor groups in Wisconsin. The Koch’s PAC also helped Walker via a familiar and much-used politicial maneuver designed to allow donors to skirt campaign finance limits. The PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker. The RGA also spent a whopping $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker ended up beating Barrett by 5 points. The Koch money, no doubt, helped greatly. MORE

RELATED: In terms of substance, it is hard to know where to begin. Walker’s “Repair the Budget” bill is primarily a union-busting measure, many of whose provisions have no fiscal consequences at all. The bill requires public employees to make contributions to pensions and the costs of health care, but union representatives insist that they have no objections to those provisions. They insist that what they care about is the curtailing of collective bargaining rights. But maybe they should read the bill again: the entire salary grid for teachers would be thrown out, and school districts would be free to define and implement new salary systems from scratch. That’s in addition to giving the administration unprecedented authority to redefine Medicaid eligibility (but only downward), and enough other material to fill 144 pages. MORE

RELATED: Debate in the State Senate over Wisconsin’s controversial bill to cut collective bargaining rights for public workers ended, at least temporarily, on Thursday morning before it began. As the session was due to begin, Democrats failed to appear in the chamber, leaving the body without a quorum and leading the Republicans to send capitol officials in search of the Democrats. If none of the lawmakers were found in the building, the Wisconsin State Patrol would be assigned to begin searching for them elsewhere, said a Senate official. Inside the Capitol, speculation bush_tax_cuts.jpgswirled: Were the Democrats together somewhere, maybe even in another state by now? The presumed reason for their disappearance is that Democrats — and thousands of teachers, state workers and students — vigorously oppose the Republican-backed bill that would sharply curtail the collective bargaining rights and slash benefits for most public sector workers, including teachers, in the state. Republicans control the Senate by a 19-to-14 margin, but 20 senators — and thus, at least one Democrat — are needed to vote on a bill. MORE

RELATED: The caucus headed to the Clock Tower Resort, a hotel and water park just across the state line in Rockford, Ill., but they scattered from there. Hotel management said the senators left before their presence would conflict with a scheduled Chocoholic Frolic.  It was unclear whether anything would change Friday, with Democrats still in hiding, protesters saying they would stay the night at the Capitol and Republicans vowing to try again to get the measure through. MORE

RELATED: It’s worth stepping back and trying to appreciate how big the stakes have become in Wisconsin for public employees and for organized labor in general. Union officials say they’re investing a surprising amount of energy in trying to defeat the push to strip public employees of their bargaining rights because they view this as a precedent setter for a whole range of other coming battles against anti-labor proposals in other states. If labor can defeat this proposal, it will put other GOP-controlled state governments on notice that if they move forward with similarly aggressive proposals targeting public employees, they can expect to have a massive fight on their hands. At the same time, there may be bit of a potential downside in turning this into an opening skirmish in a much larger war, one that’s now unfolding in the national media spotlight as national unions send operatives into the state. If labor loses after staking so much on this battle, other state governments may feel emboldened about forging forward with their own efforts to weaken municipal unions. MORE

RELATED: Obama accused Scott Walker, the state’s new Republican governor, of unleashing an “assault” on unions in pushing emergency bush_tax_cuts.jpglegislation that would nullify collective-bargaining agreements that affect most public employees, including teachers. The president’s political machine worked in close coordination Thursday with state and national union officials to mobilize thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals. Their efforts began to spread, as thousands of labor supporters turned out for a hearing in Columbus, Ohio, to protest a measure from Gov. John Kasich (R) that would cut collective-bargaining rights. By the end of the day, Democratic Party officials were working to organize additional demonstrations in Ohio and Indiana, where an effort is underway to trim benefits for public workers. Some union activists predicted similar protests in Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. MORE

RELATED: Public workers jammed the Statehouse today as the Ohio Senate continued to hear testimony on a bill that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees and change the rights of local government employees. The workers, many wearing bright red T-shirts, filled the Statehouse atrium and rotunda while others milled about outside. They voiced their opposition loudly, sometimes echoing into the Senate hearing room and competing with the speakers testifying in support of Senate Bill 5. The State Highway Patrol estimated the crowd at 1,800. MORE

RELATED: Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers who control the 203-member state House “agree with the actions in Wisconsin,” Steve Miskin, a spokesman for Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said this afternoon. “There are a number of House Republicans who agree with the actions in Wisconsin,” Miskin said. MOREbush_tax_cuts.jpg

RELATED: The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, or the USS Maddox Incident, are the names given to two separate incidents, one disputed, involving North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The outcome of these two incidents was the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by “communist aggression”. The resolution served as Johnson’s legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam. MORE

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COMING ATTRACTION: Next Week, Get Blotto

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Next week Phawker will begin publishing installments of Lance Doily’s gonzo memoir BLOTTO: The Outrageous Misfortunes Of A Jersey Beer Truck Driver. We will run a new one every day next week to give readers a sense of what it’s all about and then a new one every Monday after that. Now, here’s Deeney with some of the backstory on Mr. Doily and how his screamingly hilarious memoir came to the attention of Phawker…

http://www.phawker.com/wp-content/uploads/deeneythumbnail.jpgBY JEFF DEENEY The first question people generally ask me about Phawker’s newest contributor/ Jersey beer truck driver Lance Doily is how the fuck do you even know a guy like that?  Most people assume that since I’m a social worker I must have run into him in the parole department, or maybe in the day center for the homeless where I used to work.  But the fact is there’s only one place you can run into a dude like Lance, a dude with a Bowery bum’s hardened liver, black as a chunk of coal, and yet a tender heart of gold: the Internet.

Many moons ago on a still burgeoning Interwebs, Lance and I crossed paths in a discussion forum for drugged-out metalheads comprised of mostly blotto_1.jpg80’s holdovers clinging to the grim last glimmers of their fading headbanger youth.  It was a motley assortment of Turnpike gas station attendants and tar-stained roofers, some of whom were prone to majestic, madcap rants about their miserable lives that left readers doubled over with laughter while simultaneously dying a little inside.  Lance was known as the board’s poet laureate, who, after a long day driving his route as a beer delivery man deep in the bowels of Jersey, liked to come home and kick back with a brown paper bag full of inhalants and write sprawling, frequently scatological missives about his journeys.

Lance and I agreed to meet in Philly to see some sludgecore bands; those unfamiliar with the genre can think of it as Black Sabbath tunes played by illiterate heroin addicted felons from the Deep South.  I knew hanging out with Lance would be wild times the moment I met him and his best friend Robo Ron, as filthy a human being as I ever met, and as stated I’ve worked professionally with the homeless. “Why do they call you Robo Ron,” I asked.  Ron proudly threw back his matted long hair and pulled open his denim jacket to reveal a rack of Robotussin bottles strapped to the inside like hand grenades on a military flak vest.

Ron was hopelessly addicted to the low rent psychedlic drug DXM and compulsively lapped at a Robo bottle day and night like a thirsty marathon runner at a finish line water fountain.  He had a specific brand he drank and would go to incredible lengths, sometimes driving across half the state, to hit a pharmacy he knew stocked it. “Guaifenesin gives you the wicked shits,” he told me, proclaiming the importance of drinking only the pure blotto_1.jpgtincture, with no added expectorants, in order to not ruin your trip.  The five bottles he had on him would last any other heavy DXM user a month but that was how much Robo Ron needed just to leave the house.

When we arrived at the venue Ron was already slipping off into a world populated with “talking lizards made from neutron fractals” which gave me and Lance a chance to get to know each other. Lance told me about the world of shit he navigated while delivering the day’s supply of swill to the one story brown brick booze holes that dot that soul-murdering cultural Siberia known as inner Jersey. He told me about the alcoholic fallen high school football heroes and barroom nickel and dime cocaine kingpins whose antics he endured to make his rent dollar.  Think of Lance’s world as a Springsteen tune left on the shelf to rot for a few decades.  Glory days, indeed.

We lost Robo Ron somewhere along the way that night and went back to my place figuring him for dead, but then there he was sitting on my stoop waiting for us when we arrived — which was weird because we never told him where I lived.  Ron had four of the five Robo bottles in him and was already dead sober three hours later — that’s the machine-like efficiency with which his body could process hallucinogens. Ron said he just wanted to kill this last bottle and get to sleep and asked if the drug store across the street stocked his brand because he was going to need a wake up chug first thing in the morning.

Once upstairs Lance and I proceeded to ingest a seizure-inducing quantity of speed while Ron sat unconscious on the couch between us. Ron was oblivious to the fact that for the next 8 hours Lance and I were screaming at each other, teeth bared like rabid monkeys only inches away from his face, trying to make ourselves heard over King Diamond’s Abigail, which blared at top volume on infinite repeat the entire time.

Ron came to with a start once the morning sun was streaming through the windows at full blast. He was freaking out because Lance and I were still blotto_1.jpgvbent over the coffee table Hoovering up crushed amphetamine pills in the exact same position we were in when he lost consciousness the night before, leaving him to conclude that he had finally Robo’d himself through a wormhole in the space time continuum and was now caught in some kind of Groundhog Day loop.

I lost contact with Lance not long after that, having been persuaded by the swiftly encroaching shadow of death to embrace the benefits of clean living. Last year I was at the First Unitarian Church to see High on Fire, a legendary drug metal act fronted by an actual hobo when a man materialized from the congregated mass of longhair scumbags and furtively laid his hand on my shoulder like a Burroughs novel dope peddler.

“I got something you need to see,” came the familiar voice of Lance Doily, Jersey beer truck driver. Not long after, Lance met with me and Phawker editor-in-chief Jonathan Valania.  He showed up at the bar late and un-apologetically shoveled a pile of papers at us that were covered with swirling scrawls in different colored ink. Clearly these journals were the work of a lunatic, if not a genius, and those of you who read Phawker regularly know we enthusiastically stand behind both. So tune in next week for the first in what we promise will be a series of wild rides, as Lance Doily puts you in the passenger seat while he documents the frequently sad, often mad, and occasionally grand lives that have intersected with his Jersey beer truck route over the years.

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INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO: How To Be A Lobbyist

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Hint: When preparing bribes gifts for public officials, always wrap them in cold, hard cash!

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PAPERBOY: Slow-Jamming The Alt-Weeklies

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!

ON THE COVER

CP: A nearly surgical dissection of the issues surrounding Mayor Nutter’s three years at the city’s helm and his potential for re-election. Whether you follow the city’s politics closely or hardly at all, there’s a great deal to be learned; the narrative of all the biggest knocks against the Mayor is easy to trace, and each is thoughtfully examined. Try this, a take on the trope that  “He’s accomplished nothing.”

Nutter has fallen short in some of his own biggest goals, so far: ethics reform and crime reduction. The mayor promised to reduce murders by CP_2011_02_17.jpg30 to 50 percent within three to five years. Last year, they were down only 22 percent. So far this year, murders are up. And while the mayor recently announced new ethics rules, he’s been unable to get other elected bodies, like Council, to do the same.

Yet the very example used by Street and Kinney to illustrate the mayor’s utter ineffectiveness — 311 — might actually make a decent case for the opposite point. A Pew study last March found Philly’s 311 service cheaper than similar programs in other cities and fairly popular: 68 percent of people who had called the hot line said they had been satisfied with the information they got. A few months ago, City Paper discovered that the city’s 311 call center had established a presence on seeclickfix.com, a website that allows residents to report concerns online and track their complaints.

“It’s far better than what we had, which was to call the streets department and get an answering machine, which is full, or address your city councilperson,” acknowledges John Boyle of the Philadelphia Bike Coalition, who holds the honor of being the site’s third-most-active user (Philly311 is the first).

It’s this kind of small, unglamorous innovation that hasn’t won the mayor much press, but that, members of his administration argue passionately, represents one of the most radical things the mayor’s trying to do: make the city’s sprawling bureaucracy more accessible to regular people and take politics out of the equation of city services.

Easily-overlooked bits of Nutter’s mayorship (mayoralty? regime? Ah, the hell with it) and little victories will go overlooked no more, I’d say.

PW: A byline I don’t recognize usually means “intern-penned.” Quick scan of the masthead: hmm, maybe not. Sometimes, an enterprising freelancer manages to find an opening — depends on your tolerance of trees and barking up them. In any case, major props to Micaela Hester, whatever she is, for this week’s cover story on the Toynbee Tiles documentary, because it’s damned good. Creativity, obsession, sacrifice, PROCESS (rare to find), and not a lick of plot summary or spoilerism: It’s got everything cinematic journalism should have.

“You go in with certain ideas and you recalibrate as you go,” says Foy ruefully of the early filmmaking process. He started out by filming Duerr at some of the Philly tile sites reading the messages into the camera, but they soon realized that this wasn’t particularly compelling. The four cover021611.jpgnewly minted filmmakers decided to hit the highway to check out tiles in other cities, trying to retrace the footsteps of the artist. Foy would film the road trip, and they figured maybe the investigation would make for a good story, even if it didn’t go anywhere.

“I assumed that … we wouldn’t make any headway in terms of actually solving any kind of mystery,” says the ever-pragmatic Smith. But he piled into the car anyway.

Their first trip took them from St. Louis to Cleveland to rural Michigan to Washington, D.C., and a bunch of places in between. Sleep and bathroom breaks were secondary to cramming in as much mileage per day as possible—lives, jobs and vacuums were waiting back in Philly.

Sometimes they’d arrive at a site to find the tile had vanished, eroded by traffic or bulldozed by new construction. But after that first trip, the film became an obsession. The four spent hours researching in libraries and online, investigating even the most obscure references. They saw potential links in a Mamet script and in crackpots on Larry King’s call-in show. When a lead showed promise, Foy got his camera and they hit the road.

They became familiar with underground art collectives and fanatic subgroups, and found themselves attending a short-wave radio convention and knocking on recluses’ doors. They even spent some quality time with a man who makes machines that he claims can talk to the dead

Eh, I guess it has one thing that journalism, cinematic or otherwise, shouldn’t have: an artless delivery of a flashback: “But let’s start with a flashback.” It’s hard to do, I know, but the fact that Hester has to resort to it shows she’s aiming high: the chronology and the sense of the time that Foy and the rest of the film’s creators sunk into this project comes through in a big way.

INSIDE THE BOOK

CP: New head of PHA may be a policy Wonka. Attention law enforcement: we’ve found the guy who “liquefied ALF and E.T. and drank up their plasma.” Cue salivation: meatballs in “more than 2,000 possible combinations.” “Build a Prison Where You Live, Mayor Nutter”: It would help him win the Southwest Philly vote, that’s for sure.

PW: “Politics and Wine. ARGGGH!!”: Amen to that. Who is Arcade Fire??!!? Forget what you know. Fighting silence to help fight child abuse. Chinese food superhero: No, it’s not Darkwing Dumpling.

WINNER: It’s an embarrassment of riches this week, with strong material all around. I think I have to give the crown to PW, because I see so few movies in the theater, and the piece made me wonder when it would come to Philly — after the Sundance victory lap, of course — and, more importantly, made me want to see it.

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Sunlight Turning Van Gogh’s Sunflowers Brown

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

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TIME: It would appear that in this instance Vincent van Gogh’s art is imitating life. Conservationists have long been interested in finding the reason why some of van Gogh’s paintings of vibrant, yellow sunflowers have been turning brown over time and they seem to have a made a breakthrough. It seems that van Gogh occasionally mixed his yellow paint with white powders in order to brighten the hues. Unfortunately, since the white powders were sulfate-based, over time, the addition had a reverse effect. As the Guardian reports, “The researchers found that sunlight kicks off a chemical reaction that ultimately turns yellow paint brown. The sunlight oxidises the oil in the paint, releasing electrons. These are then taken up by the yellow pigment – lead chromate – turning it green. The mix of green paint with oxidised oil produces a chocolate brown color.” MORE

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Jury Begins Deliberations In ‘Cash For Kids’ Case

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

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ASSOCIATED PRESS: A jury began deliberating Wednesday in the public corruption trial of a former Pennsylvania juvenile court judge accused of taking millions of dollars from the builder and owner of youth detention centers, a scandal known as “kids for cash” that resulted in the dismissal of thousands of convictions Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella, 61, faces a 39-count federal racketeering indictment that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. A prosecutor said in his closing argument Wednesday that Ciavarella violated the public trust by taking $2.8 million in kickbacks and extortion payments, using youth offenders he sent to the private lockups “as pawns in a scheme to enrich himself.” [...] The government has accused Ciavarella and another judge, Michael Conahan, of orchestrating a scheme to shut down the county-run detention center and arrange for a private facility to be built and run by cronies. Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, then stocked the private jail with young offenders whose crimes were often minor. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed five years’ worth of juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella, saying he violated the constitutional rights of the defendants. Since leaving the bench in disgrace in 2009, Ciavarella has worked a series of odd jobs to support himself and his wife of more than 30 years, painting apartments, delivering flowers and cleaning office buildings. MORE

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BOOKS: Q&A With Dan Dunn, Playboy’s The Imbiber

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

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http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5179/5409559984_a3d1d60af1_t.jpgBY LAURA WESTERMAN Hunter S. Thompson once said “there is no honest way to explain [the Edge] because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”  For Playboy “Imbiber” columnist Dan Dunn, these words are both a cautionary warning and an irresistible dare.  He’ll be in town on Thursday to promote his new book Living Loaded: Tales of Sex, Salvation, and the Pursuit of the Never-Ending Happy Hour, a heady cocktail of booze expertise and sexual misadventure. His tales of drunken hook-ups, barroom brawls in Ireland, all-day benders and Bible-driven mosh pits provide much-needed entertainment for the adult reader as Dunn [pictured below, right] comes to the realization that it’s a lot easier to “just say no” than wake up butt naked on the floor of a TV producer’s living room with a headache the size of Mount Everest.  But, he argues, where’s the fun in that?

Initially I was skeptical whether Living Loaded was just going to be a series of self-indulgent and confessional accounts of bar-hopping and celebrity name-dropping.  Whilst this is not entirely false, Dunn’s clever repartee and playful discourse speaks directly to those of us who are conflicted about our vices and have been in many a compromising drunken situation in the past.  That’s not to say that most of us have found ourselves bonding with porn icon Savanna Samson over a glass of wine (or six) or golfing with actor Seann William Scott, but Dunn enables us to relate with lines such as “we were only slightly less pickled than the sandwich menu at Jerry’s Famous Deli.”  We’ve all been there, even if not to Dunn’s extremes.Dann_Dunn.jpg

This Imbiber’s unorthodox lifestyle and the many cringe-worthy moments it invariably engenders supplies the book with shock value, which is further intensified by Dunn’s unapologetic bluntness. “I’d take the high-octane cocktail of contradictions that is my drunk self over being “normal” any day of the week,” he writes. In his eyes, normalcy is overrated and this is something that resonates throughout the book.  But Dunn also means to instruct.  The majority of the chapters contain comical lists of “what not to do in this particular situation,” there are drink recipes from some of the world’s pre-eminent mixologists and sound, if not quite AA-approved, advice (How to cure a hangover? Retox!) for which avid boozehounds will be eternally grateful.

Yet in addition to these side-splitting stories, Dunn includes more poignant sections that speak of his relationship with his parents and his unrequited loves to bring us back down to reality.  Whilst some of Dunn’s comments veer into the wrong side of crudity, which could be off-putting to some, such is the nature of the Living Loaded lifestyle and Dunn should be praised for the fearlessness for which he pursues his next buzz, often in places where angels fear to tread.  He criticizes and stereotypes, which is somewhat ironic, yet his descriptions of Europeans and Southerners are particularly astute, if not slightly long-winded. “Be careful […] not [to] stray into global-warming territory, though, because as we all know, this is a myth fabricated by East Coast liberals in France,” he writes by way of advice for striking up conversations south of the Mason Dixon line.  His sarcasm is at times rather preachy, but Dunn allows us to laugh with him.  Nevertheless, while this way of life may be extremely tempting, Dunn does recognize the flaws in his grand plan of total intoxication that makes Charles Bukowski look like a teetotaler.  All this aside, Dunn’s devastatingly comical narratives makes Living Loaded an extremely entertaining read that is sure to leave you in hysterics.

PHAWKER: What was your best buzz ever and your worst? Please itemize intoxicants and ensuing adventures/misadventures for both.

DAN DUNN: Every buzz I have is special in its right. Indeed, it would be unfair to single out just one — like designating a favorite child or Seinfeld episode. I will say that my tequila buzzes tend to be a little wilder than wine buzzes, which are pretty damn mellow, though you should see the somnambulant state I’m usually in whenever I’ve quaffed single-malt whisky. And gin? Well, don’t get me started on gin. Seriously. Don’t. Fucking trainwreck. Gin is my kryptonite.

PHAWKER: How do you do your job without becoming an alcoholic?

DAN DUNN:
As I point out in Living Loaded, no matter who you are and where your own personal relationship with alcohol has taken you, your first encounter with booze is a singular event from which there is no turning back. In that moment you are set upon a journey toward becoming one of four different types of people: 1) a person who drinks; 2) a person who doesn’t drink; 3) a person who wishes he could handle drinking yet cannot; or 4) a person who is dead. And while I’m sure there are a few teetotalers who will pick up my book in the interest of getting a peek behind the curtain, I think it’s a good bet that most of the folks reading it are, like me, firmly entrenched in the first category. It would be naïve to rule out, however, that any one of us might become a 3 or 4 down the line somewhere. We’re all 4s eventually, after all. And as far as number 3 goes, my extensive field research has revealed a cruel irony: that a given person’s unwillingness to acknowledge their category 3 potential vastly increases the possibilities of it happening. Because alcohol does funny things to your brain. Sometimes it’s the ha-ha kind and sometimes it’s the peculiar kind.

PHAWKER: What was the best piece of advice Hunter S. Thompson ever gave you? What was the worst?

DAN DUNN: Hunter once said that writing is like sex, in that it’s only fun for amateurs. That’s just spot on. The best advice he ever gave me personally was to always know what I was snorting before I snorted it. The worst advice he ever gave me had something to do with driving a motorcycle on acid. That night didn’t end particularly well for anyone involved.

PHAWKER: In the book you talk about interviewing porn stars. Finish the following sentence: Porn stars are just like you and me except…

DAN DUNN: … they get paid to pee on people in bed, while you and me just do it for fun.

PHAWKER: What is the best cure for a hangover?

DAN DUNN: A refreshing golden shower, perhaps?

Living Loaded Flyer_1.jpg

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WTF: Your Daily Dose Of ‘I Can’t Believe It’s News’

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

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Delco mom duct tapes baby to chair, takes picture (SEE left), shows police who don’t think it’s so funny

–Half of all Phils’ home games could be sold out by Friday

Scott Brown reveals to 60 minutes that he was repeatedly sexually abused by a camp counselor when he was 10

Steve Jobs screws the pooch on tablet-based publishing subscriptions

— Prison officials dispute USA Today claim that O.J. Simpson was severely beaten in prison by white supremacists for bragging about bedding white women

Justin Bieber says what no U.S. politician has the balls to say: American health care system is evil

Donald Trump still an asshole after all these years

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SUMMER FICTION: Throw Your Arms Around Me

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011


PREVIOUSLY: Gimme Fiction

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Cost of the War in Iraq
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