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Archive for March, 2011

THE DONALD: Those Who Cynically Demagogue By The Birth Certificate Die By The Birth Certificate

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011


SMOKING GUN: What is Donald Trump hiding? The multimillionaire developer has, overnight, become a leading voice of the “birther” movement, members of which doubt that President Barack Obama was born in the United States (and, thus, is unable to produce an authentic U.S. birth certificate). “It’s inconceivable that, after four years of questioning, the president still hasn’t produced his birth certificate,” Trump told Newsmax. “I’m just asking President Obama to show the public his birth certificate. Why’s he making an issue out of this?” To prove how easy it was for a household employee to find his birth certificate, Trump, 64, crowed, “It took me one hour to get my birth certificate.” As seen above, he provided the conservative web site with what he purports to be his birth certificate. Except the document is not an official New York City birth certificate. MORE

CBS NEWS:  “It took me one hour to get my birth certificate. It’s inconceivable that after four years of questioning, the president still hasn’t produced his birth certificate,” he said. As it turns out, however, the document released by Trump was not actually an official New York birth certificate, but rather a document generated by the hospital where Trump’s mother gave birth. The situation prompted commentators to sarcastically offer birther-style questions about whether Trump was born in the United States. “Trump’s mother, it should be noted, was born in Scotland, which is not part of the United States,” wrote Politico’s Ben Smith. “His plane is registered in the Bahamas, also a foreign country. This fact pattern — along with thebirther_country_back.jpg wave of new questions surrounding what he claims is a birth certificate — raises serious doubts about his eligibility to serve as President of the United States.” MORE

RELATED: The Birther controversy has been dismissed as a groundless partisan witchhunt by every major media outlet and debunked by every credible non-partisan truth squad —, Politifact, Snopes and McClatchy News have all looked into the Birther controversy and determined it to be nothing more than a far-right fantasia. MORE

POLITIFACT: If this document is forged, a U.S. senator and his presidential campaign have perpetrated a vast, long-term fraud. They have done it with conspiring officials at the Hawaii Department of Health, the Cook County (Ill.) Bureau of Vital Statistics, the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois and many other government agencies. Sounds like a Vince Flynn novel. […] There is not one shred of evidence to disprove PolitiFact’s conclusion that the candidate’s name is Barack Hussein Obama, or to support allegations that the birth certificate he released isn’t authentic. MORE

RELATED: Welcome to the bizarro nation, where everything we hold true is in fact a lie, magical thinking trumps scientific analysis, hysterical partisan operatics drown out the low hum of objective connect-the-facts narrative, and a recent survey indicates that nearly 60 percent of registered Republicans openly question whether or not the President of the United States is a natural born citizen. The one prominent Republican naysayer is, shockingly enough, Anne Coulter who publicly called people who question the president’s citizenship “cranks.” Truly, when Ann Coulter is the voice of reason, we are through the looking glass, people. 

RELATED: Meet Phil Berg, Alpha Birther Of The Bizarro Nation

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OP-ED: Time For Queen Arlene To Vacate The Throne

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011


meAVATAR2.jpg BY JONATHAN VALANIA EDITOR-IN-CHIEF This week the Philadelphia Inquirer is running an amazing seven part story called ASSAULT ON LEARNING detailing how lawless and out of control Philadelphia schools are these days, how they have become thuggish battle zones where violence and brutality — against both teachers and students alike — have become the new normal:

By June, the district’s total of violent incidents had grown to 4,541. That means on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes. That doesn’t even include thousands more who are extorted, threatened, or bullied in a school year. And those are just the incidents that are reported; teachers, students, and administrators interviewed by The Inquirer during a yearlong investigation say many are not. During the 2009-10 school year alone, 183 cases came to the district’s attention only after the city police made arrests.

Meanwhile School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who presides over this Lord Of The Flies re-enactment we call a school district, seems unable or unwilling to stop to the madness. And yet, she recently sicked the police on a reporter who had the unmitigated gall to call her at home, according to an op-ed that appeared in Monday’s Inquirer entitled HOW I LEARNED NOT TO CALL ARLENE ACKERMAN AT HOME. The reporter, Dwight Ott, dialed up Ackerman at home to vet a rumor that her car and house had been vandalized. She declined to respond and told him he could arlene_ackerman.jpginterview her in person the following day. A few minutes after hanging up with Ackerman, the police called and wanted to know if he had threatened Ackerman’s life.

He told them there must have been a misunderstanding and explained the situation. The next day, two plainclothes detectives from the Philadelphia Police Department came to his house in South Jersey and interviewed him about the incident for the better part of an hour. They even asked to check his computer’s hard drive. All because he called the School Superintendent at home to ask a question.

That sounds more like a monarch than a public employee. In another time it would be OFF WITH HIS HEAD. And isn’t it interesting that Ackerman lashed out at this reporter because she felt he had violated the sanctity her personal space and yet she presides over a school system where no student or teacher is guaranteed a personal space, that at any given moment a fellow student could get in their face and beat, rob or rape them. As happens an average of 25 times every day — 4,541 times a year — in the Philadelphia school system. Something is wrong here. Terribly wrong.

Now, a superintendent of schools can’t be expected to get every student into Harvard, or even get 100% of them to graduate, but the one non-negotiable job requirement for the person holding the School Superintendent position is providing a safe and secure environment for learning for all those who want to avail themselves of it. And if Arlene Ackerman can’t or won’t do that job, she should step aside and make way for someone who will.

[Photoshop courtesy of BAD LUCK CITY]

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SIDEWALKING: The Day The Earth Stood Still

Monday, March 28th, 2011


[Photo by JEFF FUSCO]

Residents Holding Vigil To Mark The 32nd Anniversary Of The Nuclear Reactor Core Meltdown At Three Mile Island Vigil, Middletown, PA 3:50 AM Today

PREVIOUSLY: Thirty years ago, half the core of a reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear complex melted down, but government officials and the utility running the place didn’t know that. And they wouldn’t know for six more years. In fact, as the crisis extended from its start on March 28, 1979, the amount of information available about the nature of the accident remained slim. Key pieces of data were missing. Nobody knew exactly what was happening inside the containment vessel and, more importantly, what was coming out of it. The sensors designed to measure radioactive release were overwhelmed. “It was a bit of an engineering nightmare because they didn’t understand how the plant was functioning at that time,” Sullivan said. At first, utility and government officials contended that only 180 or maybe 360 of the 36,000 containment rods had hazmat.thumbnail.jpgmelted. Those numbers were up to 9,000 rods shortly after the accident, but the cooler heads prevailed a little too well in this case. For a while in the early 1980s, nuclear power industry officials maintained that no melting had occurred — and that was a major reason for claiming the coverage of the affair was overblown.“Little, if any, fuel melting occurred, even though the reactor core was uncovered. The safety systems functioned reliably,” said D.B. Trauger, a nuclear engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, at an engineering conference eight months after the accident. “Based on the conservative licensing analyses, the core was subjected to conditions that would have produced a total melt…. This accident has revealed that reactors are orders of magnitude safer than previously assumed.” In fact, it took excavation of the containment vessel in the mid-’80s to glimpse the true extent of the damage. What workers found was shocking. The Washington Post’s Three Mile Island timeline summarized the new severity estimates, “Core temperatures reached 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit; as much as 50 percent of the fuel melted.” Today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recognizes that half the core melted. MORE


RELATED: But the official story that there were no health impacts from the disaster doesn’t jibe with the experiences of people living near TMI. On the contrary, their stories suggest that area residents actually suffered exposure to levels of radiation high enough to cause acute effects—far more than the industry and the hazmat.thumbnail.jpggovernment has acknowledged. Some of their disturbing experiences were collected in the book Three Mile Island: The People’s Testament, which is based on interviews with 250 area residents done between 1979 and 1988 by Katagiri Mitsuru and Aileen M. Smith.

It includes the story of Jean Trimmer, a farmer who lived in Lisburn, Pa., about 10 miles west of TMI. On the evening of March 30, 1979, Trimmer stepped outside on her front porch to fetch her cat when she was hit with a blast of heat and rain. Soon after, her skin became red and itchy as if badly sunburned, a condition known as erythema. About three weeks later, her hair turned white and began falling out. Not long after, she reported, her left kidney “just dried up and disappeared”—an occurrence so strange that her case was presented to a symposium of doctors at the nearby Hershey Medical Center. All of those symptoms are consistent with high-dose radiation exposure.

There was also Bill Peters, an auto-body shop owner and a former justice of the peace who lived just a few miles west of the plant in Etters, Pa. The day after the disaster, he and his son, who like most area residents were unaware of what was unfolding nearby, were working in their garage with the doors open when they hazmat.thumbnail.jpgdeveloped what they first thought was a bad sunburn. They also experienced burning in their throats and tasted what seemed to be metal in the air. That same metallic taste was reported by many local residents and is another symptom of radiation exposure, commonly reported in cancer patients receiving radiation therapy.

Peters soon developed diarrhea and nausea, blisters on his lips and inside his nose, and a burning feeling in his chest. Not long after, he had surgery for a damaged heart valve. When his family evacuated the area a few days later, they left their 4-year-old German shepherd in their garage with 200 pounds of dog chow, 50 gallons of water and a mattress. When they returned a week later, they found the dog dead on the mattress, his eyes burnt completely white. His food was untouched, and he had vomited water all over the garage. They also found four of their five cats dead—their eyes also burnt white—and one alive but blinded. Peters later found scores of wild bird carcasses scattered over their property. MORE


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WORTH REPEATING: Do NOT F*ck With Queen Arlene

Monday, March 28th, 2011

arlene_ackerman.jpgDWIGHT OTT: “I see you called the superintendent at home,” she said. I told her that I had no other option. Then she asked, “What’s this I hear about threats on the superintendent’s life?” I said, “No, no. She must have misunderstood. I asked her about vandalism of her car and tried to verify the story with her.” I shook my head and went back to tinkering with my notes. The phone rang again. It was the Philadelphia Police Department. They wanted to know whether and why I had called the superintendent at home. I explained. Then they wanted to know if I had made threats on the superintendent’s life. I sensed that this was going in the wrong direction. Bright and early the next morning, I called Ackerman’s office hoping it was only a misunderstanding and that the superintendent was still planning to talk with me. I spoke to one of the flacks, who acted as if nothing had happened and said she would check with the superintendent. Shortly thereafter, two plainclothes Philadelphia police detectives showed up at the door of my house in South Jersey. I let them in, confident that I had nothing to hide (though my wife was horrified). My ensuing chat with the police took about an hour, over the course of which they questioned me extensively and asked to use my computer – which, having nothing to hide, I also allowed them to do. MORE

RELATED:Arlene Ackerman, our schools CEO, is small and sturdy, with large, soft, maternal eyes and a short bobbed haircut that is at once modern and fit for a 62-year-old grandmother. She is dressed today in a wide-shouldered jacket with gold epaulets, lending her a kind of military bearing, and whether she is sitting here, in a boardroom with her executive cabinet, or in a public hearing, she seems sure of herself and altogether less interested in others’ approval than their acquiescence. MORE

[Photoshop courtesy of BAD LUCK CITY]

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Monday, March 28th, 2011

[click map to, ahem, enlarge]

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SWINDLE: There Is A Class War On And We Are Losing

Monday, March 28th, 2011


BOB HERBERT: As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion. Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn’t be, and didn’t used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now. The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent. […] A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year. […] G.E. is the nation’s largest corporation. Its chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, is the leader of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You can understand how ordinary workers might look at this cozy corporate-government arrangement and conclude that it is not fully committed to the best interests of working people. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: It’s The Wealth Inequality, Stupid!

PREVIOUSLY: Rich Getting Richer, Middle Class Getting Goner

INSIDE JOB: Every American Should Watch This Movie

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TONITE: Dead Men DO Tell Tales

Monday, March 28th, 2011


Phawker Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Valania will be on News Radio 77WABC in NYC tonight from 9 PM — 11 PM to discuss his Duffy’s Cut PW cover story with host John Batchelor.

UPDATE: The interview was recorded moments ago, but will not air until Friday, some time between 9 PM  — 11 PM. We will add a download link to this post as soon as it becomes available.

THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH: Exhuming The Old-Timey Mass Murder Mystery At Duffy’s Cut

“The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”
—William Faulkner

meAVATAR2.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY There is an old saying: Under every mile of railroad track is a dead Irishman. Locally speaking, this is almost literally true. Back in the 19th century, the Main Line, not to mention large stretches of the railroads in this part of the country, were built on the blood, sweat and tears of Irish Catholic immigrants, who back then commanded about as much respect as Mexican immigrant workers command today. Out near Malvern, under mile 59 of what was then the Pennsylvania Railroad and is today SEPTA’s R-5 line, lies the bodies of 57 Irish railroad workers. What killed them remains a mystery—one that, some 178 years later, appears to be on the verge of being solved. The official record says the men died of cholera, but a team of academic researchers known as the Duffy’s Cut Project suspects foul play—that some, if not all, of the men were murdered to stem the spread of a cholera epidemic, then raging in Philadelphia and Chester County. And the researchers may well have discovered the forensic evidence to prove it.

After eight years of digging, the Duffy’s Cut Project has uncovered more than 2,000 artifacts—pipe stems, broken whiskey bottles, forks, buttons, shoe buckles—and four sets of remains. Two weeks ago, they found two more. These were the most complete set of remains yet. Most striking, the skulls had perimortem wounds, meaning caused at the time of death, according to Dr. Janet Monge, a professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania who has been examining the remains. In layman’s terms, the men’s skulls were split open right before they died, just like the two skulls on the skeletons they found the previous summer.

“We know the wounds are perimortem because living bones break differently than dead bones,” says Monge. “At this point, we are not 100 percent certain that this was the cause of death, but when there is more than one set of remains with the same trauma in the same place it is more likely causative.”

In June of 1832, the 57 Irish migrant workers arrived at the docks of Philadelphia. Their job was to lance a flat path for the track through steep, hilly terrain. In railroad parlance, this is known as a ‘cut’ and thereafter that stretch of track would be known as Duffy’s Cut. Six weeks later, they would all be dead. History would blame cholera for their deaths, but history is always written by the winners, and the winners—in this case the railroad company and the landed gentry of Chester County—would be best served by such an explanation. But in fact there is a lot about the historical record that doesn’t add up. MORE


RELATED: This past spring, the Chester County Paranormal Research Society asked for permission to investigate the valley at Duffy’s Cut. The CCPRS team brought with them an array of sophisticated ghost-busting equipment, including cameras equipped with motion sensors and night-vision capabilities, and several electromagnetic field meters. But the device that yielded the most startling results was something called a Frank’s Box, a device that scans the AM radio band and acts like a ouija board, purportedly enabling a two-way conversation between the living and the dead. Duffy’s Cut Project team members Earl Schandelmeier and Robert Frank accompanied the investigators from CCPRS and both men agreed to ask questions out loud that only the 57 Irishmen could answer during sessions with the Frank’s Box. These attempts to communicate with the dead took place in three half-hour segments over the course of several hours. At first, there was not much response, but as the night wore on, things got interesting:

Question: Do you know Duffy?

Answer: Yeah, the devil.

Question: What about those homes up there?

Answer: Cursed.

Question: Are you with God?

Answer: No … no … abyss.

Listen for yourself. These purported exchanges with the dead at Duffy’s Cut are captured on sound files posted at

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GOING ROGUE: The Thrill Kill Cult Of Bravo Company

Monday, March 28th, 2011


ROLLING STONE:  The poppy plants were still low to the ground at that time of year. The two soldiers, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock and Pfc. Andrew Holmes, saw a young farmer who was working by himself among the spiky shoots. Off in the distance, a few other soldiers stood sentry. But the farmer was the only Afghan in sight. With no one around to witness, the timing was right. And just like that, they picked him for execution. He was a smooth-faced kid, about 15 years old. Not much younger than they were: Morlock was 21, Holmes was 19. His name, they would later learn, was Gul Mudin, a common name in Afghanistan. He was wearing a little cap and a Western-style green jacket. He held nothing in his hand that could be interpreted as a weapon, not even a shovel. The expression on his face was welcoming. “He was not a threat,” Morlock later confessed. Morlock and Holmes called to him in Pashto as he walked toward them, ordering him to stop. The boy did as he was told. He stood still. The soldiers knelt down behind a mud-brick wall. Then Morlock tossed a grenade toward Mudin, using the wall as cover. As the grenade exploded, he and Holmes opened fire, shooting the boy repeatedly at close range with an M4 carbine and a machine gun. Mudin buckled, went down face first onto the ground. His cap toppled off. A pool of blood congealed by his head. MORE

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REVIEW: Reks’ Rhythmic Eternal King Supreme

Monday, March 28th, 2011


Hengeveld.jpgBY MATTHEW HENGEVELD Nas’ Illmatic established the original archetype for blockbuster hip-hop success. The process— simply create a short album (no more than 15 tracks) and grab beats from an onslaught of top-notch producers for a hootenany-style album that features a focused variety of hip-hop’s soundscapes. Hey, it worked once for Nas and the formula did its job creating rappers like Jay-Z, 50 Cent and other household names. However, the formula became trite and got dropped in favor for single-producer albums in the mid-‘00s. Thanks Kanye!

Massachusetts-based boom-bapper Reks borrows Nas’ formula with his newest effort, Rhythmic Eternal King Supreme, which features a plethora of talented producers. Kudos goes to legends DJ Premier and Pete Rock whose beats boost Reks to a quasi-stardom that he wouldn’t have otherwise reached. DJ Premier’s “25th Hour” is a hypnotic loop and sounds more akin to his Gangstarr roots than anything he’s produced in years. Pete Rock’s “Thin Line” is a tad sleepy, but nevertheless a quintessential Pete Rock beat. Hi-Tek’s “The Wonder Years” uses strange deep-brassy synthesizers, like the “tuba” preset sound on an old Casio keyboard. This is probably Hi-Tek’s best beat in a while and really displays his versatility. Statik Selektah’s “This or That” features upper tempo funk-sampling with a slick breakbeat. Fizzy Womack (Lil’ Fame’s alter-ego) provides the most impressive beat of the bunch with “Cigarettes.” You can’t get more ‘90s-era than that one.

Fans have been lauding Reks for a long, long time but I just don’t see it. Compared to rappers like Skyzoo, Access Immortal, Saigon and Termanology, there’s nothing particularly unique about him. Rhythmic Eternal King Supreme is not the rebirth of Illmatic. The lyrics are mundane, sloppy, flow-less and best described as the musical reincarnation of your freshman dorm room. Some tracks go down like an amaretto cappuccino; others like Nestle instant coffee with cold milk. Guest appearances from Freeway, Lil’ Fame and Styles P break the monotony, but ultimately serve as fleeting blips of greatness weaved into Reks’ mess. I wish he brought more charisma to the table this time. After hearing his summer mixtape In Betweeen The Lines Vol. 2, I had a short ray of hope for Reks. Unfortunately, this album would have been much better with someone else in the driver’s seat.

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Sunday, March 27th, 2011


Pelle.jpgBY PELLE GUNTHER An ocean away from our dear Lady Gaga and “T-Swift” another pop storm is brewing in the form of England’s Ellie Goulding. She’s a killer combination of cute, charming, and unbelievably talented. Small wonder she won the BBC’s “Breakthrough Act” award as well as “Critics Choice” at the BRIT Awards (a feat only achieved once before — by Adele in 2008.) With two releases to date, Lights and Bright Lights, she has already had several songs in the UK top 40, and just embarked on her first American tour. Upon listening to her albums the pretentious hipster in us all might say Ellie’s songs are overproduced and cheesy…but isn’t that the point? Its dance pop, after all.

Unfortunately our night at the World Café started off with the band Knocks, whose 40-minute set consisted of them playing famous songs by other people and laying down dance beats over them. It’s like mashing only lazier — much, much lazier. To make things worse they continually attempted to hype the crowd into dancing by prancing around the stage yelling the classic “Lets get some dancing up in here” and “Come on with me!!!” Thankfully, Knocks’ set was mercifully brief and next up was lady we all came to see.

Ellie’s band hit the stage and laid down an intro before the blonde songstress appeared in her skimpy Sgt. Pepper-inspired jacket to rock out on a tom and cymbal arranged by her mic. It was hard to take your eyes off her, and judging from the vocal response of some of women around me it’s safe to say they all had at least a brief moment of bi-curiousness — or jealousy, as their husbands went slack-jawed and gawked stupidly at the pretty little songstress.

Her band was ridiculously well put together, smooth and refined. Even though they were playing simplified versions of her songs, they sounded incredible, if not altogether better than the overproduced radio bullshit of the recordings. Mid set the band left the stage and Ellie sang the beautiful cover of Elton John’s “Your Song,” which has been pwning the English charts and is hands down her biggest hit she’s had to date. She’s one of those artists whose recordings don’t really connect with me,  and yet, in a concert setting, every one of her songs capture your attention and you invariably find yourself completely entranced by her vocals. Her set and stage show we’re very lackluster, Ellie dancing her one pop move while everyone else tinkered around on keyboards samplers and drums. However, the music itself was energetic and creative enough to make up for any lack of visual excitement. And, after a full night of dancing, we all left with a full heart and a crush on a beautiful blonde Brit. What more could a man ask for?

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LIFE LESSIONS: With Your Life Coach, AP Ticker

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

A.P. confesses to some of the humiliating and degrading things he’s had to do to put food on the table for his family. Not for the easily offended or people who don’t like to laugh.

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RIP: Gerladine Ferraro, First Woman To Break The Glass Ceiling Of Presidential Politics, Dead At 75

Saturday, March 26th, 2011


NEW YORK TIMES:  “If we can do this, we can do anything,” Ms. Ferraro declared on a July evening to a cheering Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. And for a moment, for the Democratic Party and for an untold number of American women, anything seemed possible: a woman occupying the second-highest office in the land, a derailing of the Republican juggernaut led by President Ronald Reagan, a President Walter F. Mondale. It did not turn out that way — not by a long shot. After the roars in the Moscone Center had subsided and a fitful general election campaign had run its course, hopes for Mr. Mondale and his plain-speaking, barrier-breaking running mate were buried in a Reagan landslide. But Ms. Ferraro’s supporters proclaimed a victory of sorts nonetheless: 64 years after women won the right to vote, a woman had removed the “men only” sign from the White House door. MORE

DAVID STAMPONE: Not just a ground-breaker; a fine, underrated legislator/pol (check the record). Went to cheer/ hear her on ’84 campaign trail – gave a fiery speech San Diego University’s Open Air Theater before a 75% hostile crowd: Young Republican frat-rats & sorority-skanks waving derisive “Wally & The Beaver” signs & worse. She Fought the Good Fight, Amen.

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RAWK TAWK: Q&A With Smithereens Drum Major & Pop Historian Extraordinaire Dennis Diken

Friday, March 25th, 2011


MEtweakedCROPPED.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA For going on 35 years, Dennis Diken has been pounding the skins for The Smithereens, arguably one of the finest bar bands to crawl out of the teenage jungleland of nowhere New Jersey. All the Smithereens’ best songs carried a hint of desperation: the unspoken understanding that these Jersey sons were always one bar gig away from the factory grind that claimed the hope of their fathers. They were literally playing rock ‘n’ roll as if their lives depended on it. The new Smithereens 2011 finds the band in fine form all these years later, still bashing out the kind of brawny, impeccably-crafted power-pop that made them the toast of college radio back in the 80s. Aside from his beat-keeping duties in The Smithereens, Diken is a de facto pop historian/cultural anthropologist with a deep well of knowledge about the canon of late 20th Century pop and rock. You can literally hear all that knowledge, along with an abiding love and respect, in every track of Late Music, his masterly 2009 solo-album-cum-homage to the bygone golden age of rock and the pop narcotic. No wonder he has served as producer/liner notes writer for indispensable reissues of touchstone albums by the Beach Boys, the Lovin’Spoonful, the Four Seasons, Louis Prima, Del Shannon, Smithereens_2011.jpgHenry Mancini, Joe Meek, and the Four Freshmen. In advance of his speaking engagement at tomorrow’s Beach Boys-centric installment of Secret Cinema, Dennis Diken waxes ecstatic about Brian Wilson, Smile, Sunshine Pop, and why the Duophonic version of Beach Boys Today is far superior to the mono or stereophonic versions.

PHAWKER: For the sake of those who may not know, please explain ‘Sunshine Pop’ — the hallmarks of its sound, the key players, touchstone recordings, context in pop history and relevance to now.

DENNIS DIKEN: I never heard the term ‘Sunshine Pop’ until the 90s, I think, but it aptly describes a certain type of record that I dug as a kid and still enjoy. Largely, they were light, airy, harmony-drenched cuts with hooks that stuck like glue. During the mid-late 60s, a period when rock music was becoming freakier and message- or protest-driven, these songs celebrated love, kites, lazy days, and balloons that soared as high as the melodies that gave the tunes wing. The production on much of these gems varied from spartan settings that gave room for the breadth of the vocals to ornate, harpsichord and string-laden. But the singing is almost always center stage. When I think of this style of music, I flash on these cuts (to name a few):

5th Dimension: “Up, Up And Away” and “Carpet Man” — both are Jimmy Webb masterpieces.

Beach Boys: “California Girls” — maybe this one started it all? Sunshine Pop is largely associated with the west coast and the “California Sound.”

Cowsills: “We Can Fly,” “The Rain, The Park And Other Things” — these were both probably recorded in New York, FYI.

Sagittarius: “My World Fell Down” — concocted by Gary Usher, who co-authored early Beach Boys hits with Brian Wilson and produced The Byrds, among others.

Bell_Sound.jpgFree Design: “Kites Are Fun” — about as airy and light as they come.

Spanky & Our Gang – “Sunday Will Never Be The Same,” “Lazy Day” — progenitors of the “ba ba bas,” a vocalese staple of many Sunshine Pop cuts.

Mamas & Papas: “I Saw Her Again” — breezy with melodic adventure that always leads to a happy place.

The Association: “Windy” — one of the theme songs of Sunshine Pop.

Harper’s Bizarre: “Come To The Sunshine” — self explanatory and the theme of Andrew Sandoval, the real expert on this subject.

The reason all of these stand as such durable goods is the quality of the musicianship. The stalwart studio rhythm section consisting of drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Joe Osborne played on many of the LA sessions for much of this music and their deft grooves and conversational fills make for virtual musical hooks that give the listener a lift – often without them realizing where it’s coming from, which is of course the highest compliment you can pay an ensemble player. And after all is said and done, the records burst with brightness and a good feeling, the writing and arrangements are largely quite sophisticated and, to my ears, make for a long shelf life.

PHAWKER: Again, for the sake of those who may not know, please explain the significance of The Beach Boys/Brian Wilson and why they still matter.

DENNIS DIKEN: Brian Wilson is one of the most gifted musicians/composers of the ages and I am grateful that he found a way to brian_wilson_1350.jpgexpress his genius in a pop framework and that he did it all in our lifetime. Brian’s initial inspirations are well-documented. He has said many times that he was musically awakened at a very young age when he heard Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, and that “something magic happened inside my head” when he heard his first Four Freshmen record. The Freshmen were a wildly popular singing group in the 50s and their modern harmonies were based on the sounds and voicings of bandleader Stan Kenton’s horn section and his innovative arrangements. And Wilson dug the seminal rock’n’roll he grew up with in the 50s. What a great mix, what fabulous grounding! So when his kid brother Dennis suggested Brian write a song about the surfing craze that was sweeping the West Coast, he went to task. Brian’s talents as a composer/arranger/producer flourished as the 60s progressed. The car/surf/teenage fun in the sun themes gave way to introspective and more heady and artful works. Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations are probably the most noted of these. Though for my money, a lot of the early material stands right up against much of the later releases.

Given Brian’s immense gift, one would guess he would have found greatness as a modern symphonic but we’ll never know. The fact is, he was very lucky to have The Beach Boys at the ready. Brother Dennis Wilson provided the spirit, driving beat and sex appeal for the group. Younger brother Carl was a very devoted guitarist/sounding board for Brian and later, very probably, the needed glue for the organization. Cousin Mike Love was a fine early collaborator with Brian (together they penned some of the most enduring and successful songs for the band) and infused certain tunes with a Chuck Berry-style lyricism and heavy doses of doo-wop (the latter can be traced from the very beginnings of the group through Pet Sounds and all the way to Kokomo in the late 80s). And he was a great front man. Original guitarist David Marks (he left the fold in 1963) was an underrated component of the early workings, providing a signature guitar sound that helped put the group on the map. Al Jardine, a high school classmate of Brian’s, was a kindred musical spirit who fit in perfectly with the others and added the needed rhythm guitar support and vocal textures and brought a folk influence to the band. Bruce Johnston joined later and although he was in and out of the group at times, he was an integral part of their vocal sound and live performances. Each member (with the exception of Marks) emerged as a strong vocalist. And they all eventually would write, produce and make important contributions to the Beach Boys canon.

Together they created the mythical California, as we know it. The Beach Boys’ music will be around for a long, long time because it’s good, really good. It’s very catchy and folks can identify with the themes.. The luscious harmonies wash over you like a warm wave of sunshine. The production and arrangements are rife with imagination and invention that makes for highly musical ear candy. It’s all rather deceptively sophisticated. The best music strikes a chord in the listener and makes them feel a certain way and much of The Beach Boys music makes you feel glad to be alive. And some of it lets you “put your head on (its) shoulder,” providing good company during the more melancholy moods one feels at times. I can’t imagine that this is something that the world will ever tire of.

Smile_Frontal.jpgPHAWKER: Could you explain the mystique/back story of Smile and I am curious what you made of the 2004 version of the album, and how that compares to the outtakes/bootlegs from the original sessions.

DENNIS DIKEN: I think it’s nothing short of a miracle that Brian, Darian Sahanaja, Jeff Foskett and the rest of the musicians in Brian’s band pulled off the recreation of Smile so magnificently. I never thought we would hear a completed Smile. But I’m glad for the world and for Brian that it’s out there and I look forward to revisiting the original elements of Brian’s 60s sessions in preparation for the Secret Cinema screening. I hear EMI is planning on a box set of these recordings to be released later this year. I love the textures of the Beach Boys vocals on the 60s recordings. In my humble opinion, I prefer the originally-released Capitol/Brother versions of “Good Vibrations,” “Heroes & Villains” “Wind Chimes” and “Vegetables.”

Lastly, you wake up in the middle of the night to find out your house is on fire and you only have time to grab one album, which one would it be and why? Please try and provide some back story on how and why you came to love this album and why it continues to be so important to you.

DENNIS DIKEN: I’m glad that you brought this up so I can pull a few albums together on my shelf to grab if I ever needed to. Top of my head: With The Beatles, Beach Boys Today!, Best of The Staples Singers (the VeeJay recordings), Four Seasons’ Jersey Beat box and maybe a Gene Pitney comp – I dunno, come on, this is impossible!!

But if it had to be one album, I guess I’d grab Beach Boys Today! It’s probably my favorite Beach Boys LP. I got it in March ’65 when it first Beach_Boys_Today.jpgcame out. I love all the cuts (although I prefer the single version of “Help Me Rhonda”). Side one (the uptempo side) is loaded with boss sounds like “Good To My Baby,” “Do You Wanna Dance,” “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “When I grow Up (To Be A Man)” (maybe my fave Beach Boys cut of all time) and side two offers Brian’s first foray into his new, introspective style of writing and arranging (following his departure from touring in late ’64), which I totally dig. When I first heard “In The Back Of My Mind” I liked it, but at the same time it kind of sounded like “grownup music.” Yet, the lushness and sophistication of this one (and others, like “Kiss Me, Baby”) and Dennis’ soulful vocal got under my skin and turned my head a bit at the tender age of 8. I think it planted some seeds for musical growth in my listening experience and for me as a musician. “Please Let Me Wonder” and “She Knows Me Too Well” are gorgeous and straight from Brian’s heart to the vinyl. And “Bull Session With The Big Daddy” clued us all in as to what the guys personalities were like. All the more reason to be a full time fan. Also, in the event of a fire, I would take my Duophonic copy of this masterpiece (that’s Capitol Records fake stereo reprocessing, replete with a millisecond delay effect).

Dennis Diken co-hosts Secret Cinema’s A WALK ON THE SOFT SIDE: FILMS OF THE BEACH BOYS AND FRIENDS Saturday, March 26 at 8:00 pm at Moore College of Art & Design, 20th & Race Streets, Philadelphia (215) 965-4099. Admission: $8.00

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