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Archive for August, 2011

STRANGER THAN FICTION: The Omega Man Of Japan

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

omega0.jpgASSOCIATED PRESS: Vines creep across Tomioka’s empty streets, its prim gardens overgrown with waist-high weeds and meadow flowers. Dead cows rot where they were left to starve in their pens. Chicken coops writhe with maggots, a sickening stench hanging in the air. This once-thriving community of 16,000 people now has a population of one. In this nuclear no-man’s land poisoned by radiation from a disaster-battered power plant, rice farmer Naoto Matsumura refuses to leave despite government orders. He says he has thought about the possibility of getting cancer but prefers to stay – with a skinny dog named Aki his constant companion. Nearly six months after Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, the 53-year-old believes he is the only inhabitant left in this town sandwiched between the doomed Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station to the north and another sprawling nuclear plant to the south. “If I give up and leave, it’s all over,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s my responsibility to stay. And it is my right to be here.” MORE

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CONTEST: Win Tix To See TVOTR At The Mann

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

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[Illustration by ALEX FINE]

Raise your hand if you want to go see TV On The Radio and Broken Social Scene at The Mann next Friday? OK, put ‘em down, we can’t see you, that’s not how this blog thingee works — not yet anyway. Presumaby there were millions of you raising your hands a moment ago, and now feeling a little stupid for doing so, as you should,  but cheer up because we can help at least four of you. That’s right we have two pairs of tickets for TVOTR at The Mann Music Center on Friday September 9th for the first two Phawker readers to answer the following TVOTR trivia question: What TVOTR song does David Bowie appear on? Send our answer to FEED@PHAWKER.COM with TVOTR in the subject line and include your cellphone number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!

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BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: Lover’s Spit

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WTF: Jack White + Insane Clown Posse = For Real?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

jack and insane clown posse

This just came in over the transom from Nasty Little Man, Jack White’s publicity firm, so presumably it’s true in a truth is stranger than fiction kind of way, but…well, you decide:

In the grand tradition of peanut butter meeting Iggy’s chest or Bing Crosby getting down with David Bowie, Third Man Records is ecstatic to present the latest in a long-line of unexpected musical pairings…Insane Clown Posse and Mozart. Back in ’82, ahem, 1782, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote a piece that’s been left out of the spotlight ever since. The title of the piece is “Leck Mich Im Arsch” or literally translated to English as “Lick me in the arse.” Understandably this piece has figuratively been swept under the rug. So who better to give this piece it’s due respect than the wildly successful, much misunderstood, and divisive Southwest Detroit rappers Insane Clown Posse? With fellow Southwest Detroit-born Jack White at the production helm and musical backing by Nashville’s very own Jeff the Brotherhood, this 2011 version of “Leck Mich Im Arsch” marries Mozart’s melody (and lyrics sung in operatic German) with ICP’s poignant lyrical addition in English and Jeff the B‘s monster-riffs, letting the whole thing tie together in the most beautiful of ways.   The b-side “Mountain Girl” finds Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope telling tall tales about a shotgun wedding, meth problems and moonshine…all pretty common-fare for a twangy country song birthed in Nashville. The 7″ single and iTunes digital download of “Leck Mich Im Arsch” will be available for sale on September 13th. One-hundred Tri-color versions of the single will be available from the Third Man Rolling Record Store at the MI Fest in Brooklyn, Michigan on September 17th and another 50 Tri-colors will be randomly inserted into mail orders dispatched by Third Man Records.

RELATED: Live From The Gathering Of The Juggalos

JACK WHITE: Mother Nature’s Son

Watch the full episode. See more In Performance at The White House.

From a tribute concert to Paul McCartney held at the White House back in the spring. Yes, that’s the President and the First Family sitting rapt in the front row.

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MUST SEE: Incredible Photos From Battle Of Tripoly

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

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TIME: In Libya, the fall of a dictator came faster than anyone expected. After six months of fighting along what were often stagnated front lines, the rebels succeeded last week in overwhelming the forces of Col. Muammar Gaddafi to take control of the Libyan capital. The sudden assault sent the enigmatic 69-year-old Libyan leader and his family into hiding; his forces scattering. And throughout Tripoli, TIME contract photographer Yuri Kozyrev and I have watched over the past week as a population celebrates its victory over a tyrant. As security improves with each night, more and more families flock into the city’s iconic Green Square—now renamed Martyrs’ Square—where Gaddafi once delivered his bombastic speeches. And in a sprawling assortment of military bases, mansions, villas and farms, curious Libyans have sifted through the surprises and the horrors left behind by a 42-year-old regime. MORE

UPDATE: Moammar Gadhafi’s son al-Saadi is trying to negotiate the terms of his own surrender, the rebel commander in Tripoli told The Associated Press on Wednesday in what would be a major blow to the Libyan leader’s crumbling regime. The commander, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, said al-Saadi first called him Tuesday and asked whether his safety could be guaranteed. “We told him ‘Don’t fear for your life. We will guarantee your rights as a human being, and will deal with you humanely,’ said Belhaj, confirming a report on Al-Jazeera television. Belhaj added that al-Saadi would be turned over to Libyan legal authorities after his surrender. If the offer is confirmed – the rebels have previously claimed to have captured Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam, who later turned up free – the surrender would give the rebels a significant boost as they try to consolidate their hold over the country with the longtime dictator and several sons and aides still at large. MORE

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The History Of Global Economics In 4 Minutes

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Via The Daily Beast.

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Q&A With Rolling Stone Photographer Baron Wolman

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

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ALEX_POTTER_BYLINE.jpgBY ALEX POTTER Baron Wolman was the chief photographer for Rolling Stone magazine for the first three years of its existence. He just published a book of his iconic work for the magazine called Every Picture Tells a Story…The Rolling Stone Years. Equipped with nothing more than a Nikon and a warm demeanor that made his subjects feel unusually comfortable, Wolman got up close and personal with just about every 60’s rock god you can think of, and then some. In the words of former Rolling Stone Art Director Tony Lane, Wolman’s oeuvre “is heroic; it is a Greek God pantheon-like line-up of rock ‘n’ roll mugs in transcendent disarray.” When you see the well-known action shots of Jimi, Janis, and Pete, as well as some stirring still portraits of masters like Johnny Cash and Miles Davis, together in one volume, it’s easy to forget that most of his subjects are now gone from this earth. Mr. Wolman is just as excited about his work today as he was when he was rubbing shoulders with the immortals–and capturing the souls.

PHAWKER: It’s an honor to have the chance to talk to you. Thank you for putting this time aside for Phawker.com.

BARON WOLMAN: I’m a big fan of Philadelphia. Almost the Phillies, but I prefer the Giants. I know I have to say that. I love the Eagles. So there you have it.

PHAWKER: Where are you right now?

BARON WOLMAN: I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I moved here about ten years ago from the San Francisco Bay Area.

PHAWKER: Cool. I was a Rolling Stone subscriber for many years. I’ve always been a big fan of yours even though, to be honest, I never put a face to a Zappa_68172_9_for_Scott.jpgname, so I was really excited for this interview.

BARON WOLMAN: When did you start subscribing?

PHAWKER: Well, I’m 28, and started subscribing when I was 13, I think.

BARON WOLMAN: So, well after I left the magazine, obviously.

PHAWKER: Well…yeah. But they frequently had retrospective issues featuring the work of past photographers, and so many of your pictures are part of their permanent repertoire. They’ll always be indebted to you. My first question is about the Frank Zappa shoot. Was that your idea or was that his idea? Was it supposed to be funny or serious?

BARON WOLMAN: That’s a good question. When I got there, it wasn’t supposed to be anything. I had no idea what I was gonna find when I went up there. I went up there with a writer, Jerry Hopkins, who was doing the cover story, and he says, “Come on up, we’re gonna do Frank,” and I said, “Well, I’ve seen all these strange pictures of Frank on all of his album covers. I wonder what we’re gonna do.” I was wide open for whatever happened. The fact that this abandoned road-grading equipment that was up there behind his house was kind of an unexpected bonus. I had no idea it was there, nor did I know about that cave that was behind his house. So he just started goofing and having a good time on his own, and if I saw a moment that looked good…I couldn’t give him any direction. There was nothing I could say, like, “Hold it Frank! Hold that pose!” He was just having a great time on his own. It was wonderful. It was kind of like a gift to me as a photographer because sometimes you gotta go up there and talk people into having their picture taken, tell them what to do. That wasn’t the case at all with this guy. He really got into it.

PHAWKER: Well, you can tell. It turned out pretty well.

BARON WOLMAN: Oh, I was ecstatic! Are you kidding me?

PHAWKER: I can’t imagine what it must have been like being around all those legendary musicians. Can you tell me about the Jerry Garcia shoot?

Baron_Wolman_Jerry_Garcia.jpgBARON WOLMAN: Here’s the deal. I talked about this a little bit in the book. For a really long time, we figured—Jann [Wenner, co-founder of RS magazine] made all the decisions—Rolling Stone should do a feature cover story on the Grateful Dead because, basically, that was the band in the Bay Area that everybody identified with the Bay Area. I mean, Big Brother and the Holding Company, yes, Jefferson Airplane, yes, but there was something about the Grateful Dead that just seemed magnetic all around the country…that was just San Francisco’s band, you know? It took quite a while after we started publishing for Jann to get around to finally doing a cover story on the band. So he gave me the assignment and said, “How do you want to shoot these guys? It’s up to you. Do whatever you want to do.” I had always been a fan of the legendary photographers in New York like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn and how wonderfully they would take a blank seamless [backdrop] with some women in front of it and just get a picture of their souls if they could, you know what I mean? And that’s what I decided to do with these guys one by one. Unfortunately, Phil Lesh was sick that day. I got pictures of him later but not in front of the seamless like the other guys. So I just brought them in. They lived nearby, and basically walked right over, because they were only a couple blocks away from my house. I had my studio in my house in Haight-Ashbury and they were living in Haight-Ashbury. When it came around to Jerry, he was just totally relaxed. I explained what I wanted to do and they all got really into it. And then when Jerry appeared he made all kinds of gestures. He was making muscles and goofing around. Suddenly he looked at me and raised his hand as if to say, “Well, here we go.” He’d never shown anybody that clearly the missing part of his finger. I didn’t know that’s what he was doing. I thought he was flashing me some sort of gang sign. I thought he bent his finger down. It turned out he lost part of his finger when he was a kid.

PHAWKER: And you didn’t know that until two years later, right?

BARON WOLMAN: Exactly. Nobody at the magazine told me about it. So I started asking a bunch of Deadheads and they said, “His finger’s missin’, man didn’t you know that?”

PHAWKER: Can you tell me a little bit about shooting Jimi Hendrix? It seems like he would be the perfect subject because he’s so dramatic and so passionate. I think you’ve said, “You can’t take a bad picture of Jimi Hendrix.”

BARON WOLMAN: Look at him. He was just fascinating to look at. He was also a sartorial expert. He knew how to dress for maximum attention. I don’t know if he did it for attention, but it looked so good that you couldn’t help photographing him and because he looked good, you immediately got a great shot. This is the very important thing: he was more than a musician. That’s the way I would have to say it. He was an extraordinary musician, very creative, but the creativity of his music carried over into the creativity of his actual performance—he was an entertainer. It was one wonderfully photogenic moment after another. You’re always looking for soundbytes, right? I’m always looking for photobytes. There’s just no way you couldn’t get a good picture of Jimi, trust me.

PHAWKER: If there’s one musician who’s passed on I wish I could have seen perform, it would be him. I’ve seen the Woodstock videos, but I know it’s not the same.

BARON WOLMAN: I agree. And I can tell you, if you went to a Grateful Dead concert, the music is mesmerizing, but it’s more of a head-trip. It’s not a JanisJoplinLive_wolman.jpgstage performance. The guys are just standing around playing music. I saw a video of Jerry Garcia playing one day. It was of him standing at the microphone and kinda swaying about six inches either way, back and forth. I was like, “Get with the picture, Jerry, come on, do something!”

PHAWKER: How about the Janis Joplin shoot? I was telling my friends about this because it’s such a cool story. It started as a contrived lip-sync and then it developed into a full-on personal concert for you.

BARON WOLMAN: It was more about Janis than about me. Janis was so exuberant. I needed a simulated stage shot. I tried to make it easy on her. I said, “Just fake it.” Remember Milli Vanilli? Like that. [I told her to] just lip sync it and everybody will think it’s real because it’s a still shot. But that wasn’t who she was, so she kept building and building and I think she thought, “What the fuck? Let’s just go for it.” Maybe she was just doing a rehearsal, I don’t know. It was mind-blowing, to say the least. This was an old Victorian house in San Francisco built of wood and it was just resonating with the sound of her voice. It was wonderful. Perfect acoustics.

PHAWKER: Looking at the pictures, you could have fooled me. You can clearly tell she’s into it.

BARON WOLMAN: Well, you get it. I get it. Everyone gets it because she was into it.

PHAWKER: You’ve mentioned before that the film Blow Up by Michelangelo Antonioni made an impression on you. How so?

BARON WOLMAN: It wasn’t that. Basically what I meant was, if you’ve see the film…

PHAWKER: I have…

BARON WOLMAN: It was about a photographer in the 60s and the life that he was leading. I would say, except for the Bentley convertible that he had and the murder that drove the plot of the film, how he was living was how I was living. I had a studio. The girls would come over, and they’d take their clothes off whether I wanted them to or not. I would go photograph a band, go out in the streets and do riots and demonstrations… I would do everything he did with the exception of the car and the murder. I had a dark room where I used to hang [the exposures] up, look at them, study them. What it did was it inspired me, man. It inspired me to keep on track, because even though I wasn’t making a lot of money in the beginning, I could see this life was going to be phenomenal.

PHAWKER: I think the movie is just as much about the main character’s lifestyle as it is about the murder plot, maybe more so. That’s what I remember, anyway.

BARON WOLMAN: For one brief moment, that’s how it was in the 60s. I got a taste of it. I didn’t get it all but I got a nice taste of it.

PHAWKER: Can you tell me about Woodstock? Were you able to enjoy yourself, or was it more like work?

Miles_Davis.jpgBARON WOLMAN: No, I had a great fuckin’ time. On my website is my slogan: “Mixing Business with Pleasure since 1965.” My work for the most part has been so pleasurable. I just love it. I was blown away by Woodstock. I’d never seen so many people. So many amazing things were going on. Between the people and the weather and the music it was a magic moment. I said in my book, “It was a disaster waiting to happen…and it didn’t happen.” It was peace, love and music being fulfilled in front of my eyes, in front of the eyes of 300,000 people, in front of the eyes of the media. The media started out by saying, “Disaster in Bethel! People are dying! It’s chaos!” There was no chaos. There were some births, and there were some unfortunate deaths, but everyone who went there will confirm they had a good time no matter that it rained and no matter that it was humid and no matter that it was muddy. Between the music, and the brotherhood, and that sense of togetherness, and that sense of being with people of your own kind, it trumps any downside that you might have found. I had a great time just walking around. I could go anywhere, and I did.

PHAWKER: I was just looking at the photo of some of the people on that scaffolding, and it looks like there’s a guy who’s buck-naked…

BARON WOLMAN: The story about that is, after Woodstock, there used to be a publication called Encyclopedia Britannica, and every year they would put out a wrap-up of that year’s activities, and 1969 was a big deal. One of the biggest things that happened was Woodstock, of course, so they called me for some photos. In those days, you didn’t transmit photos digitally. You had to send prints. Literally, prints. So I sent a bunch, and they decided to use one, and they returned them to me, and the photo they decided to use was that one with the guy on the scaffolding. However, when they sent the print back, they had airbrushed underpants on the guy. In the issue of E.B., the guy’s wearing underpants.

PHAWKER: So, throughout your career—I apologize if I’m getting away from the book—but you’ve done several different types of photography, some sports, and nature as well, but is music your favorite?

BARON WOLMAN: That’s a good question. The music is what people know me for, but in terms of the amount of time I’ve spent on all the various subjects I’ve photographed, I didn’t spend the most time on music, interestingly enough. One of the things I took away from Rolling Stone was the joy of coming up with an idea and turning that dream into a reality. I really enjoyed it, but I was getting tired of shooting the same picture over and over again. It was, for the most part, the same picture, just different faces. I wanted a bigger challenge. I knew there was more going on in the world that I wanted to discover. So then these two women came to me and said they were working Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. They saw what we were doing at RS and they said, “We think there’s a place for a magazine similar to RS but on the subject of fashion and clothes.” “The true story of fashion is not being told,” they said, “but we can do it.” Long story short, I agreed to hook up with them and we started this magazine Rags. It was funny because, at that time, RS moved into a new office in San Francisco, and I took over the original one, and hired away some of the staff of RS that was getting somewhat disaffected for whatever reason. So we put up Rags, which was really cool. It was printed at the same presses RS was printed on.

PHAWKER: When shooting musicians, do you have a preference as to the size of the venue or the level of intimacy involved? Do you prefer studio or candid shots?

BARON WOLMAN: I don’t have a preference. I’ll shoot anything and I’ll shoot it as well as I can. As far as enjoying a concert, I enjoy a smaller venue because you’re closer to the musician. For me that was important. It was never a problem for me because I had an all-access pass all the time. I watched the way the people would respond. You used to go to a concert, go backstage and get autographs from the musicians…you can’t do that now. In terms of picture possibilities, every concert really offered something new and exciting.

PHAWKER: What do you think about the direction in which photography is going? About photographers like David LaChapelle?

BARON WOLMAN: Most music photography is pretty boring now because nobody gets the access they need to get the good pictures. David LaChapelle johnny_cash_1040_080310.jpghas a big name. People want to get photographed by him, so they’ll go the extra mile. He doesn’t have to beg for a photo pass or anything like that. He creates these things, musicians come to the studio to be part of a really interesting photo session, but that’s really rare. There aren’t many David LaChapelles who can shoot like that. People come to me and say, “I want to shoot for RS, what can I do?” I say, “Who doesn’t? Get in line.” The music business makes it really difficult for photographers to practice their craft anymore. Photography is disrespected. So many images look alike, but it’s not because photographers aren’t capable of doing a better job, they’re just not given the opportunities. They’re given so many restrictions by the musicians and their management. The favorite word of the managers and the PR people around the musicians is ‘No.’ They really know how to say ‘No.’ They say ‘No’ to everything. Everything you ask, ‘No’. I’m like, ‘I’m not here to take something away from you guys, I’m here to help out. What’s the problem?’ But they see photographers as necessary annoyances.

PHAWKER: What was Johnny cash like? That picture with June Carter Cash in the background is haunting. It captures what looks like might have been his natural mood at the time. Do you think he was uncomfortable? Every other artist you photograph seems to be perfectly at ease.

BARON WOLMAN: I don’t know. To answer that, you’d have to get in his mind. Johnny cash was a very complex individual. In retrospect, maybe that was the state he would go into to get ready for a concert. I’m just hypothesizing. I don’t know. I shot for the NFL, and before a game, they would get really weird and crazy, and like Johnny, they would go into some kind of altered state. Maybe that’s what he had to do in order to get up and perform well. I don’t know.

PHAWKER: It looks like Miles Davis liked the camera. Was he fun to photograph?

BARON WOLMAN: Did he like the camera? I don’t know. He—we certainly had a good time. I got along with everybody, man. Surprisingly, I got along with him. I guess he knew I wouldn’t bug him. Look at him yourself. What do you think?

PHAWKER: He always came off to me as a mysterious individual, and he still does—like many artists do, but it looks like he really broke free of that when you were taking pictures of him.

Baron_Wolman_Jimi.jpgBARON WOLMAN: We got along. Not many people got along with him, apparently, but we did that day. I’m happy about that. I was there for him. I was there to honor him. I got him talking about his world and self, his painting. Most people like to talk about themselves, and if you’re genuinely interested in what they’re saying, they’ll talk to you and give you stuff that you might not have known. He realized I was having a good time with him, and that I admired him. That was that.

PHAWKER: Was there much of a difference between taking pictures of rock musicians, jazz musicians and blues musicians?

BARON WOLMAN: Most of the blues musicians were very appreciative of the attention. The rock ‘n’ rollers were used to getting the attention. For them it was less of a big deal. But the blues musicians were so hospitable. They were so pleasant to be with. They hadn’t copped an attitude. I don’t think they ever have, actually, for the most part. I always really enjoyed my time with them.

PHAWKER: I believe you said Grace Slick was the sexiest and most sensual of female musicians.

BARON WOLMAN: She was gorgeous in those days. She really was. What can you say, she just was? Getting those close-ups, looking at her through the viewfinder…it’s pretty intimate when you’re using a close-up lens and getting the whole face in the viewfinder. It’s like, ‘Whoa baby, yes!’ That’s how it was with her. She was extraordinarily good-looking. I enjoyed it a lot. She was very attractive, very erotic, very sexual. I don’t know if she felt that way about herself, but she sure felt that way to me.

PHAWKER: You sure caught her essence I’ll tell you that.

BARON WOLMAN: Thank you, man.

PHAKWER: Thank you. It’s been an honor and a privelege.

BARON WOLMAN: My pleasure.

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WILLIE NELSON: The Scientist

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

YUMSUGAR: Chipotle’s furthering its quest to create a more sustainable fast food system. Today the quickservice chain unveiled its new nonprofit organization, the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, to help support sustainable food practices. It’s also debuted a short animated film, which will air prior to feature films in theaters nationwide. The spot, titled “Back to the Start,” is about a fictional farmer’s venture into industrial farming practices and his eventual return to a more sustainable way of life. For the short, Chipotle commissioned Willie Nelson to sing Coldplay’s “The Scientist.” The cover song is available for download on iTunes, with proceeds going to the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: FREE WILLIE: Busting Willie Nelson For Possessing Pot Is Like Busting Firemen For Wearing Helmets

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THE LONG GOODBYE: What’s $400K Spent On Spin When You’re Getting Paid $1 Million To Quit?

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Arlene_Ackerman_Ilustration_CROPPED.jpgCITY PAPER: Two knowledgeable sources tell City Paper that former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman ran a School District communications team dedicated to promoting and defending her personally, and which coordinated and assisted public rallies in her favor, communicated regularly with private supporters, and spent taxpayer time and money on various kinds of “propaganda,” including protest signs and a farewell tribute video. Since Ackerman’s departure after negotiating a nearly $1 million buy-out of her contract, one source says the same team continues to manage Ackerman’s antagonistic public relations campaign against Mayor Michael Nutter and others. The three Communications staffers who allegedly orchestrated a personal public relations campaign for Ackerman — former Director Jamilah Fraser, and staffers Shana Kemp and Elizabeth Childs — resigned last Monday, the same day that Ackerman’s buyout was announced. According to one source, the three were told they would be fired if they did not resign because they had gone rogue, spending the majority of their time working for the Superintendent even as she was headed for the door. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: The Hagiography Of Dr. Arlene Ackerman.

RELATED: TWIT STORM: DN And Philadelphia School District Going Mano-A-Mano On Twitter Over Today’s Cover

PREVIOUSLY: QUEEN IS DEAD: Ackerman Paid $1 Million To GTFO

Arlene_Ackerman_Ilustration_CROPPED.jpgRELATED: One part of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s buyout agreement that we found particularly fascinating — one of many — is the requirement that the School District tap her on the shoulder every time someone asks for a copy of that agreement. Under the buyout, the School District released the buyout agreement to the media immediately following its ratification last week. But now, the District can only hand it over in response to official Open Records Law requests. Plus, Ackerman and her lawyer must be told who is asking for it. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Do NOT F*ck With Queen Arlene

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

PREVIOUSLY: Ex-Inquirer Editor-In-Chief Bill Marimow Debuts New Investigative Reporting Role With Damning Piece On School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman

RELATED: WEASELS IN THE HENHOUSE: Head Of School Reform Bringing Same Old Crony Capitalist Bullshit?

PREVIOUSLY: This is why Philadelphia schools suck so bad, this is why every hard-working couple of child-bearing age have plotted an escape to the suburbs by the third trimester, this is why a quarter of adults in Philly can’t read and almost half of all students don’t graduate, because before they even start kindergarten, before pencil ever touches paper, before chalk ever touches blackboard, every kid knows deep down on some Arlene_Ackerman_Ilustration_CROPPED.jpgsub-verbal level of intuition, the way dogs detect the approach of storms long before their masters do, that it ain’t about them. It’s not about reading and writing and arithmetic, it’s not about learning or enlightenment, it’s not about acquiring skills for survival in the modern adult world, it’s not about teachers or students, it’s about the money, how it gets divided and who gets how much. And, on behalf of the children, fuck you all for that.

RELATED: “No more messiahs, no more reform: There’s a popular notion that somewhere out there is a mythological superintendent who, if we pay enough money and stay out of the way, will fix our schools. These district leaders are an “army of one,” according to Rethinking Schools writer Leigh Dingerson, and they push dramatic reform agendas that too often disregard existing efforts. Philadelphia schools don’t need more drama; this system needs stabilization after a decade of massive charter expansion and turnaround. The next superintendent must build and effectively manage a team-oriented approach that assesses what’s working and that oversees operations, including the difficult task of closing schools.” MORE

[Illustration by EVAN LOPEZ]

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THE DECEMBERISTS: The Calamity Song

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011


NEW YORK TIMES: The video, which made its online debut on Monday, depicts the playing of Eschaton, a game invented by Wallace that he describes about 325 pages into “Infinite Jest.” Adolescents from a New England tennis academy are seen ritualistically serving balls on a court onto which a map of the world has been superimposed. The balls, which represent five-megaton nuclear warheads, are aimed at objects labeled as military targets — power plants, missile installations — while a lone child oversees the game from a nearby computer terminal. All in all, it ain’t exactly Battleship. Wallace himself wrote that the athletic skills required by Eschaton separated it “from rotisserie-league holocaust games played with protractors and PCs around kitchen tables.” Colin Meloy, the Decemberists’ frontman, said he was not thinking specifically of “Infinite Jest” when he wrote the brightly apocalyptic “Calamity Song” for the band’s recent album “The King Is Dead,” though a lyric about “the year of the chewable Ambien tab” is a nod to the book. Mr. Meloy, who finished reading “Infinite Jest” a couple of summers ago after a few failed attempts, was drawn to the Eschaton sequence as he thought of a video concept. Yet when he pitched the idea to his management, executives at Capitol Records and prospective directors, Mr. Meloy said, “A lot of people were like, ‘I have no idea how you could possibly turn this into a music video.’ ” Enter Mr. Schur, 35, who had never directed a music video before, but who attended Harvard with the brother of Mr. Meloy’s band’s manager and had more than a little familiarity with the author (who hanged himself three years ago at 46). MORE

PREVIOUSLY: INFINITE MESS: David Foster Wallace’s Archive

RELATED: Celebrating The Life And Work Of David Foster Wallace

PREVIOUSLY: Let’s All Make Love In Jest

PREVIOUSLY: David Foster Wallace Kills Self

decemb11_09c_1_1.jpgRELATED: Amongst people who like that sort of thing, Colin Meloy — ringleader of the Portland-based folk-pop collective The Decemberists –  is the most satisfyingly literary songwriter to emerge from the most recent crop of indie-rock luminaries. Others find his tune-smithing to be cloying and contrived, like an English class apple-shiner who always makes sure his essay question answers always incorporate alliteration and onomatopoeia, and at least three examples of simile and metaphor, just because he can. A bookish, blocky man with an owlish countenance and the physique of chatroom habitue, Meloy writes songs that could best be described as historic pulp-fiction, a faux-remembrance of all things past, usually set in some exotic milieu, an ante-bellum romance here, a sepia-toned Dickensian character study there. The Decemberists are like the kids from Western Civ. class who, when we break off into discussion groups, stage a hootenanny of historically-accurate sea chanteys and cheerful murder ballads. Conventional wisdom asserts that bands like the Decemberists are too clever for primetime by at least half, but in fact they are one of the most popular bands of the Pitchfork/New Media indie-rock era. They sold out the Electric Factory Wednesday night, and the crowd sang along with every exquisitely-penned quatrain.

The Decemberists take their name from a group of 19th-century Russian revolutionaries, but Wednesday night they looked like they couldn’t overthrow a lemonade stand. Performing beneath glowing-orange paper lanterns and a wall-sized backdrop depicting a mountainside monastery in ancient China, Meloy and his merry band ran down the bulk of the Decemberist’s extant full-lengths, the most-excellent Her Majesty and Picaresque and the new and not necessarily improved The Crane’s Wife. The problem with the new album is that it trades the band’s immaculate folk-pop for ill-advised forays into prog and funkiness — never a wise move for whiter-shade-of-pale types like Meloy. Still, you have to give Meloy and co. credit for going their own way. And besides, on the eve of the election, in this desperate, hopeful moment, who better to lead a roomful of twentysomethings through a sing-along of “we will arise from the bunkers…hear the bombs fade away” than an earnest young man armed with nothing more than a smile and a lute. – JONATHAN VALANIA [November, 2006]

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CIVICS: How Social Security Is SO Not A Ponzi Scheme

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

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CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Texas Gov. Rick Perry is at it again, expressing himself pungently on a hot-button issue. This past weekend, it was Social Security. The front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination called the retirement program for seniors a “monstrous lie” and “a Ponzi scheme for … young people.” Add that to Governor Perry’s comments on man-made global warming: “a scientific theory that has not been proven.” On evolution: “just a theory” with “gaps.” And on the Federal Reserve’s practice of printing more money to boost the economy: doing so again would be “almost treasonous.” Many conservatives applaud Perry, even as liberals and the mainstream media express alarm. The long-term politics of these assertions is tricky. If Perry wins the nomination, the remarks – all on tape – could come back to haunt him. In the general election, he would have to appeal to moderates and independents, and these sorts of comments could give such voters pause. Short term, though, his play to the Republican base appears to be spot on. Perry has shot into the lead in the two latest polls of Iowa Republican voters, who will kick off nomination season early next year. MORE

EZRA KLEIN: So many Republican politicians call Social Security a Ponzi scheme that I’ve basically stopped taking notice of it. But Rick Perry’s recitation of the talking point has attracted a fresh round of ire from hardier souls than me. Jonathan Bernstein, for instance, writes that “anyone who says that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme either misunderstands Social Security, misunderstands Ponzi schemes, is deliberately lying, or some combination of those.”  As he explains, a Ponzi scheme is a fraud that relies on new investors being unaware of the program’s financing mechanism. Social Security is a fully transparent system of age-based redistribution that releases regular actuarial reports explaining, in great detail, how it is financed now, and what it will need to be fully financed into the future. Or, as Russell Long (apparently) put it, “Social Security is nothing more than a promise to a group of people that their children will be taxed for that group’s benefit.” You may like that structure or you may hate it, but it’s not a Ponzi scheme. And in case you forget, Nick Baumann went ahead and made a Venn diagram explaining the situation. MORE

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SIDEWALKING: Goodnight Irene

Monday, August 29th, 2011

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Lancaster, 9:01 AM Sunday by JEFF FUSCO

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Phawker Editor Kills Cowbell With A Single Stephen Malkmus Cover Story; Magnet Back From Dead

Monday, August 29th, 2011

cow_cover_15_2011.08_200px.jpgThat’s a joke, but the truth of the matter is the Cowbell issue with the Stephen Malkmus cover story, penned by yours truly, will be its penultimate, and the forthcoming issue with Beirut will be it’s last. Just heard from Cowbell editor Brian Howard that the magazine will discontinue service in favor of a new partnership with Eric T. Miller to revive Magnet as a print property. Miller will helm the new project and Howard is, reportedly, moving on to whatever comes next. Stay tuned.

BRIAN HOWARD: Cowbell, the gritty little indie mag we’ve all come to love so well over these last 17 issues, has had a great run, thanks in no small part to the hard work and considerable talent of all those who are receiving this. But the issue that hits stores and newsstands in the next few weeks — the one with Beirut’s Zach Condon on the cover — will be the last, but this is not the end of indie music magazinedom for Red Flag Media. Red Flag will be resurrecting as a print publication Philadelphia’s legendary Magnet Magazine. Eric T. Miller, who founded Magnet in 1993, will be coming on board to run the new/old publication. This is, of course, exciting for many reasons, one of the biggest being that Magnet — which was printed quarterly during its heyday and has, in recent years, been a web-only outlet — will be published on a monthly schedule for the first time since 1994, meaning more Magnet, more often, more awesome.Magnet is a magazine I always loved and respected, one I contributed to regularly for many years. Even though this development means my chapter at Red Flag Media will be coming to a close, I am very excited that Magnet a Philadelphia treasure, and one of the things that always made me extra proud to be from this town — is making a triumphant return. I’m honored to be part of this story.

RELATED: Being Stephen Malkmus, Again

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URBANISM: A Park Grows In The Reading Viaduct?

Monday, August 29th, 2011

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DAILY NEWS: High above the shadowy streets of Callowhill and Chinatown North, a lush green wilderness of weeds, thick grasses and purple flowering bushes thrives amid the rusted railroad tracks of the old Reading Viaduct. From atop the viaduct, the city’s modern skyline of towering glass and steel shimmers to the south, but one can also get a close-up glimpse into the city’s industrial past: the area’s brick former factory buildings that once made textiles or bicycles or held printing presses. “We have all these beautiful urban views, and yet you feel like you’re in a country meadow,” said Hamilton Street resident Sarah McEneaney, 55, who has been lobbying, along with John Struble, for nearly a decade to transform the viaduct into an elevated public park with spectacular, panoramic skyline views. “It immediately transports you from a bustling urban environment to one much more quiet with a lot of birds and a lot of plants.” Now, after eight years of prodding, McEneaney, a painter, and Struble, a furniture maker, have succeeded in getting city officials and other prominent Philadelphians on board with the viaduct park idea. MORE

RELATED: The Reading Viaduct Project

RELATED: The High Line

WIKIPEDIA: The High Line is a 1-mile (1.6 km)[1] New York City park built on a 1.45-mile (2.33 km)[2] section of the former elevated freight railroad spur called the West Side Line, which runs along the lower west side of Manhattan; it has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway. The High Line Park currently runs from Gansevoort Street, one block below West 12th Street, in the Meatpacking District, up to 30th Street, through the neighborhood of Chelsea to the West Side Yard, near the Javits Convention Center. The recycling of the railway into an urban park has spurred real estate development in the neighborhoods which lie along the line. MORE

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