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Archive for December, 2011

SNEAK PREVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The preview sketches the film’s themes and conflict without ever spelling out the plot. SPOILER ALERT! The trailer begins with a boy launching into the national anthem at a football game. It’s a flourish that signals the beginning of a high-stakes game — and a drama about the current state of the union. As “The Star Spangled Banner” plays, we hear some dialogue about replacing Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) — he’s a “war hero” in a time of peace. And in perhaps the trailer’s most loaded moment (not counting the various beats of gunplay), we see Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle — a.k.a. Catwoman — hissing a line into the ear of fat-cat playboy Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) that suggests she’s been spending time with the unhappy campers at Occupy: Gotham City. “You think this is going to last. There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” As we hear this line, we see the sacking of an opulent home, and we get a lot of ominous imagery involving Thomas Hardy’s fearsome Bane and a small army of goons laying siege to Batman’s hometown. “When Gotham is in ashes,” Bane growls to an incapacitated Bruce, “you have my permission to die.” MORE

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Monday, December 19th, 2011


[Photography by GRAHAM TOLBERT]

The War On Drugs really like Bob Dylan. They also like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and the Grateful Dead. If you’ve seen any of those acts live (personally, I’ve seen Dylan, Springsteen, and Dark Star Orchestra), then you know that can’t be a bad thing. Philly’s own W.O.D. played a 105-minute show Saturday night that lit up Union Transfer with the spirit of the aforementioned American rock originals, playing fifteen songs, mostly from their latest LP Slave Ambient and a few from the first Wagonwheel Blues. Like a jam band show, a constant, pleasant vibe resonated throughout the show, but, also like a jam show, there were too many false endings for this reviewer. They opened with “Your Love is Calling my Name,” which begins with a beat reminiscent of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” or a Petty number from the ’80s. The drum machine that drummer Steven Urgo used was a bit distracting but the song redeemed itself when Granduciel eventually turned it into a swirling, epic guitar solo. From that point on, the lead singer, whose downcast face was hidden the entire time by his shaggy, blond hair, took us on a journey through time. Kurt Vile, a former guitar player for the group who has gone on to pursue a solo career, also showed up for a few songs. Like on their most recent album, there were seamless transitions between songs. The noise steadily rose until an 8-minute long version of “Needle in Your Eye #16” from the band’s first album. It was an ear-blasting romp that should have been the climax. They played an encore performance of Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey,” instead, which sounded better than it ever has before, but tacking it on at the end felt inconsistent. At about 100 minutes, plus about 75 more including the opening acts, I wish they’d played it closer to the middle. – ALEX POTTER


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WORTH REPEATING: Being Christopher Hitchens

Monday, December 19th, 2011

SALON: This is how the average day proceeded: I’d arrive in the morning around 9-ish. The phone would soon start ringing—with calls for Hitchens. I’d tell the callers he was not yet available, and they would leave messages: “Tell him, that was a wonderful dinner last night.” Or, “Mick was so pleased to meet him.” Or, “We may all get together again this evening.” Within an hour or so, the nature of the messages would shift to cover plans for lunch that day: “Tell Christopher we’re all meeting at the Spanish place.” About this time, Hitchens would saunter in. He’d say hello, turn to the pink slips I had placed on his desk, and return the calls. Did I say this was a small office? We each could hear everything the other said on the phone. He’d first phone his compatriots from the previous evening and review what had transpired. He then would talk to his lunch-mates for the day and arrange the details. Then it would be time … to leave for lunch. While he was gone, calls would come in for him with invitations for afternoon drinks. (In those days, youngsters, late-afternoon drinks were practically obligatory in certain journalistic circles. Think of it as Manhattan teatime.) After a, shall we say, longish lunch, Hitchens would stop back in the office and return the calls regarding the pending drinks. Then it was, ta-ta, once again. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: RIP: Christopher Hitchens — Master Rhetorician, Fearless Wit And Devout Humanist — Dead At 62

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Kim Jong Il Will Not Have To Answer For His Evil In This Life; God Said To Be ‘Fixing It In Post’

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s mercurial and enigmatic leader, has died. He was 69. Kim’s death was announced Monday by state television from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but appeared relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country carefully documented by state media. The leader, reputed to have had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine, was believed to have had diabetes and heart disease. The news came as North Korea prepared for a hereditary succession. Kim Jong Il inherited power after his father, revered North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. In September 2010, Kim Jong Il unveiled his third son, the twenty-something Kim Jong Un, as his successor, putting him in high-ranking posts. MORE

RELATED: Here are the two most shattering facts about North Korea. First, when viewed by satellite photography at night, it is an area of unrelieved darkness. Barely a scintilla of light is visible even in the capital city. (See this famous photograph.) Second, a North Korean is on average six inches shorter than a South Korean. You may care to imagine how much surplus value has been wrung out of such a slave, and for how long, in order to feed and sustain the militarized crime family that completely owns both the country and its people. But this is what proves Myers right. Unlike previous racist dictatorships, the North Korean one has actually succeeded in producing a sort of new species. Starving and stunted dwarves, living in the dark, kept in perpetual ignorance and fear, brainwashed into the hatred of others, regimented and coerced and inculcated with a death cult: This horror show is in our future, and is so ghastly that our own darling leaders dare not face it and can only peep through their fingers at what is coming. MORE

Easily the best reporting on Kim Jong Il’s death.

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EGYPTO FASCISM: Your Tax Dollars Hard At Work

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

CNN: Pro-democracy demonstrators battled Egyptian police for a third straight day Sunday, their anger stoked by images of a military police officer stomping on a woman’s exposed stomach over the weekend. The latest round of street clashes has left at least 10 people dead and 500 wounded since Friday, said Dr. Hisham Sheeha, a spokesman for Egypt’s health ministry. An 11th person, a boy arrested Saturday, died in police custody from his wounds, the boy’s attorney, Ragia Omran, said Sunday. Cairo’s stock exchange plunged amid the new turmoil, while Saturday’s images of the woman’s beating appeared to draw more people to the streets. “I will go down and fight the army and retrieve the honor of this woman and those martyrs killed for the sake of Egypt’s future,” taxi driver Ahmed Fahmy told CNN. The woman and a male companion were set upon by more than 20 police officers during Saturday’s demonstrations in Cairo. She been dressed in a traditional robe and headscarf — but as police clubbed her and dragged her down the street, those items were pulled away, exposing her midriff and blue brassiere in a country known for its Islamic conservatism. Then one of the police officers aimed a foot at her upper abdomen and stamped squarely on it, while another officer jumped on the man as he lay on the pavement nearby. “The army were like vultures who found a prey,” said Mohamed Zeidan, who filmed the beating from a balcony overlooking Tahrir Square. He said after he stopped filming the beating out of fear of being discovered, “The soldiers even beat an older couple who tried to help her up.” A CNN crew that managed to escape Saturday’s chaos witnessed other beatings, with children, the elderly and people on their way to work finding themselves on the end of police truncheons. MORE

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: U.S. military aid to Egypt totals over $1.3 billion annually. In addition, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided over $28 billion in economic and development assistance to Egypt since 1975. MORE

RELATED: Egyptians in the United States protested Friday outside Combined Systems Inc., believed to be the manufacturer of the tear gas used by Egyptian security forces in Tahrir Square.As part of their protests at the Jamestown, Penn. firm, the Egyptians — joined by Occupy Wall Street activists — lay down on the ground and played dead, Egyptian news site Al-Masry Al-Youm reported. Several demonstrators also wore eye patches to show solidarity with protesters in Cairo who lost their eyes from rubber bullets.  MORE

RELATED: Almost every day pro-democracy protests still bubble up in Sitra, and even when they are completely peaceful they are crushed with a barrage of American-made tear gas. People here admire much about America and welcomed me into their homes, but there is also anger that the tear gas shells that they sweep off the streets each morning are made by a Pennsylvania company, NonLethal Technologies. It is a private company that declined to comment, but the American government grants it a license for these exports — and every shell fired undermines our image. In August, Ali joined one of the protests. A policeman fired a shell at Ali from less than 15 feet away, according to the account of the family and human-rights groups. The shell apparently hit the boy in the back of the neck, and he died almost immediately, a couple of minutes’ walk from his home. MORE

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GOLD SOUNDZ: Our Favorite Music Of Right Now

Friday, December 16th, 2011

So, I walked into a.k.a. Music, and grabbed a copy of the new two CD re-issue of Some Girls by The Rolling Stones. My first thought was of the time I bought the original release 33 years ago at Third Street Jazz, which was located just one block away from a.k.a. Secondly, I recalled that when the Stones went into the studio to make Some Girls, and how they ended up recording nearly 70 songs, the bulk of which formed the nucleus of the albums that would come after, namely Emotional Rescue in 1980 and Tattoo You in 1981. I then examined the package and took notice of the titles of the unreleased tracks on Disc Two, and I figured if these songs didn’t make it to the previous three releases, then how good could they actually be? Feeling somewhat dubious, I turned around, held up the album and asked a.k.a. owner Michael Hoffman, my friend of 40 years, “Do I need this?” Mike just smiled and said, “Yeah, I think you do.”

During the years 1976-1978, The Rolling Stones became The Rolling Sponges and soaked up a lot of the punk and disco that was spilling in the culture at back then. Some Girls absorbed those two genres, and the result was a fiercely raw and indubitably energetic record and frankly, the last great Stones album. This new re-issue brings a greater sense of clarity to the Some Girls listening experience. Kinda like when you first heard the album on compact disc after years of only knowing the sound of the record from vinyl. There’s a silkier separation between the guitar weaving of Keith Richards and Ron Wood, but not too much; they left all the grittiness in. Mick Jagger’s vocals are slightly brighter, and on “Miss You” he even has a breathier whisper. The star of this remastering job is Charlie Watts’ percussion. His snare shots seem to snap harder with crispier loudness, and his offbeat rolls just flourish throughout the entire record. I guess this is what happens when you get more bits for your bucks.

Now, as to Disc Two and these twelve unreleased tracks? It’s like jumpin’ back in a flash to 1978, and finding out the Stones just released a true companion to Some Girls. Most of these songs were either unfinished outtakes, or bits and fragments of songs. Consequently, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and producer Don Was recently went into the studio to make completed songs from the material recorded during the original sessions. The Jagger/Richards songs are heavy on blues and country like “When You’re Gone” and “No Spare Parts,” or the fiery boogie of “Claudine.” The cover tunes are straight out gems. Whether it’s the sad beauty of Keith Richards’ interpretation of Waylon Jennings’ “We Had It All,” or the Glimmer Twins and their wonderful treatment of Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” or the romp and stomp of Freddie Cannon’s “Tallahassee Lassie,” they all embellish this delightful dozen. The result is a replete extension of the original work which contains no alternate takes, no overly familiar poor quality songs first heard on bad bootlegs, but a new Rolling Stones album that is truly terrific. – COLONEL TOM SHEEHY




The debut full-length by Taiwanese-born Canadian lo-fi minimalist/one man band Alex Zhang Hungtai, slightly better known by his stage name Dirty Beaches, sounds like a speakers-blown transistor radio tuned to The Geator stuffed into the back pocket of some poor fucker whacked-and-hacked by Joe Pesci, tossed overboard and currently resting in pieces at the bottom of the sea. No wait, it sounds like prom night 1958 on angel dust right before the flying saucers land and worlds collide. Scratch that. It sounds like there’s a David Lynch movie in my pants and everyone’s invited. No, no, no. WTF does that even mean? Here you go: It sounds like Chris Isaak has fallen down a well — all fractured waxen pompadour and contused pretty boy Presley cheekbones and up to his neck in the mossy wet — singing Sun Studio b-sides while waiting for little Timmy and his dog Lassie to bring back help. Run, boy! – JONATHAN VALANIA



Take Me To Your Leader

Recently, I’ve thrown myself headfirst into MF DOOM’s universe, which contains some of the most rewarding hip-hop of recent years, but his vast amount of output will take over your life for a while. On this 2003 record, he appears not as DOOM but King Geedorah, the three-headed dragon monster from the Godzilla films, with even more sonic and lyrical left-turns than normal. The album plays as a transmission from another world, varying from smooth soul beats backing monster movie samples to rapidly shifting space-fucked rhythms left stuttered light-years ago from the trip down to Earth. – BRYAN BIERMAN


*** FALL

Ersatz GB

The Fall’s sole surviving member, irascible frontman and head boss in charge, Mark E. Smith delivers his 29th (or so) record in more than as many years. On this his latest missive against the modern life in general and Great Britain in particular, Smith continues to confound, exhilarate, mystify, engage, and even thrill the listener to dancing. Targets of his lyrical derision include various “malefactors”, among them Danish rock TV, Snow Patrol, pets, and the state of New York. Supported by a relatively stalwart line-up (they’ve lasted several records, which is rare and deserves a medal or a monument), MES’ trademark vocals are distilled into equal parts acerbic bark, menacing gurgle and enigmatic slur. Wobbly mutant rockabilly? Check. Reverently tender English pop song? Aye. Phlegm-choked heavy-metal curses and imprecations against humanity? You betcha. Long-time fans may be surprised to learn that Smith hasn’t yet drowned in the Atlantic ocean’s worth of lager he’s surely swilled over the years, nor has he lost his uncanny ability to conjure a racket that sounds refreshingly like right now. These days, sounding Fall-ish may be close enough considering their long history, but John Peel’s description of his self-avowed favorite act still holds true: Always different, always the same. – BRIAN MURRAY



Next Stop Anarctica

This debut by Australia’s The Green Mist rattles its way across the Tasmanian prairie like the devil himself.  From the album opening notes of “Black Louie’s Ambergris,” you know we ain’t in Kansas anymore. The Green Mist is one of many projects by Aussie artist, filmmaker and musician Julien Poulson. With help from Spencer P. Jones of The Beasts of Bourbon on slide guitar and the Violent Femmes’ Brian Ritchie (who now lives down-under and has a day job selling tea) on acoustic bass, Poulson creates a dusty, guttural soundscape that will drop you straight through the planet and land you firmly on the other side, where the toilets flush the wrong way.  I had never heard of Poulson before I happened upon this disc while perusing Myspace back when that still seemed like a good idea. I immediately fell in love with it, actually bought it (if you can possibly believe that in this day and age) and four years later I still find myself coming back to it time and time again. I just put it on again today as a matter of fact, while I was I was building my getaway car in the shed. Getaway car, you ask? Oh, you’ll see.  – PETER MARSHALL


*** WHO


I realize this album is about a zillion years old by now, but with the so-called “directors cut” about to be released on remastered digital and vinyl along with lots of other collector’s edition goodies, I figured it was time to give this album some love. It’s a loose concept album based around the character of Jimmy, a late-teen mod living with his parents in London, who really just lives for looking sharp, brawling with the rockers, jerking off face down, taking uppers and dancing. On paper he’s a loser. But The Who still bothered to write an album about him so he obviously has some redeeming value and here it is: He’s you and he’s me, he’s every square peg getting pounded into a round hole world with the hammer of encroaching adulthood. But when you turn it up to 11, none of that really matters. It smells like miserablist teen spirit but it feels like freedom. — JAMIE DAVIS




Danny Brown is hip-hop’s answer to Roger Rabbit. Coming fresh off of two free LPs, XXX and The Hybrid, his newest album is a collab EP with Detroit super-producer Black Milk. The mixture is fantastic, and both bring their A-game. Both Danny Brown and Black Milk are known to go apeshit at the drop of a hat, but they hold each other down on this one. Whether discussing the cunnilingual advantages of having a chipped tooth or baking cookies with Louis Vuitton oven mitts, Black and Brown contains the type of wordplay you’ll remember all your life, for better or worse. Ultra-dope, this shit gets a thumbs-up and a golden-star sticker from your boy. — MATTHEW HENGEVELD



It ain’t all about Blue Note, Verve, and Impulse, ya know. Case in point, one of the monuments of jazz history is saxophonist/composer Julius Hemphill’s 1972 debut, Dogon A.D., originally issued on the Mbira label, now reissued by International Phonograph. The album is the fruits of The Black Artist Group (BAG), a multi-disciplinary art collective from St. Louis that would soon invade New York to seed the 1970’s “Jazz Loft Scene.” Dogon A.D. gives you an idea of how flat-out shocking their talents were. The 15 minute title track is a piece of slow-loping funk, driven by Abdul Wadud’s moaning cello and Philip Wilson’s cracking snare. Baikida Carroll’s trumpet clears the way to the monstrous Mr. Hemphill; strutting, and blowing a blues-infused strings of ingenious choruses. Like Nile Rogers, Neu , Fela, or Super Bad James Brown, the tune has one of those 1970s beats that you hope never ends, and at 14 plus minutes, its feels like it never will. – DAN BUSKIRK



WRDV 103.7 FM

If you’d told me when I was a 14 year old punk rocker with an almost unhealthy Dead Kennedys obsession that I’d grow up to be a 41-year-old man who spends most of his time listening to Glenn Miller and the rest of grandma’s big band collection, I would have probably puked from laughing so hard. But that’s how it’s worked out, which is why my jam is 103.7 WRDV. It’s a tiny community radio station, with a signal from Warminster, Hatboro, and a very weak signal in South Philly. Ninety-nine percent of the playlist is big band: Betty Hutton, Glenn Miller, Louis Jordan, Dinah Washington, and buckets of Gershwin. In many ways, it’s like hopping 70 or so years back in time, and it’s not just the music. The DJs don’t talk to you like you’re a toddler. They don’t yell either. The few ads they run are from small, local businesses. And there’s very little in the way of news. It’s my secret oasis at the top of the dial…and now yours. – BRENDAN SKWIRE



Creature I Don’t Know

A spectral collection of fables and revelations, A Creature I Don’t Know hints at existential mysteries far beyond this mortal coil. Simultaneously transparent and opaque, indie Brit-folk phenom Laura Marling displays a wit and wisdom far beyond her 21 years. Her voice ranges from lilting to gravelly and straddles musical eras of past and present, channeling Fairport Convention sorceress Sandy Denny (most notably in the album-closing “All My Rage”) and the anarcho flair of Ani DiFranco (à la “I Was Just A Card”).  From the foreboding “The Beast” to the playful “Sophia”, Marling’s shape-shifting vocals and mesmerizing guitar-picking is the closest you can get to the ecstatic dream logic of schizophrenia without being prescribed Haloperidol. – MEREDITH KLEIBER



The Mosaic Project
Drummer, composer, producer and vocalist Terri Lynne Carrington has been on the scene for over 20 years, and her interpretation of jazz has always blurred the alleged boundaries of the genre. She’s a self-proclaimed jazz head who creates complexly evocative melodies and harmonies cross-bred with funk, soul, and pop elements. Her latest effort, The Mosaic Project, is an ambitious, multifaceted CD featuring a distinctive, all-star female ensemble that includes Anat Cohen, Linda Taylor, Nona Hendryx, Angela Davis, and Esperanza Spalding, among others. They each provide a myriad of pigments, shapes and textures that coalesce into a heady mosaic between your ears. The Mosaic Project is mostly comprised of originally works, but there are also some flavorful covers of classic tunes by The Beatles (“Michelle”) and Al Green (“Simply Beautiful”). For those of you who claim you don’t really like or understand jazz, this is the perfect bridge between bebop and hip-hop. Pay the toll and walk across.  – ZIVIT SHLANK


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INCOMING: Our Favorite Music Of Right Now

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Phawker contributors dish on whatever music is blowing up in their own minds right friggin’ now. Look for it later today.

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RIP: Christopher Hitchens — Master Rhetorician, Fearless Wit And Devout Humanist — Dead At 62

Friday, December 16th, 2011

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: When I described the tumor in my esophagus as a “blind, emotionless alien,” I suppose that even I couldn’t help awarding it some of the qualities of a living thing. This at least I know to be a mistake: an instance of the “pathetic fallacy” (angry cloud, proud mountain, presumptuous little Beaujolais) by which we ascribe animate qualities to inanimate phenomena. To exist, a cancer needs a living organism, but it cannot ever become a living organism. Its whole malice—there I go again—lies in the fact that the “best” it can do is to die with its host. Either that or its host will find the measures with which to extirpate and outlive it. But, as I knew before I became ill, there are some people for whom this explanation is unsatisfying. To them, a rodent carcinoma really is a dedicated, conscious agent—a slow-acting suicide-murderer—on a consecrated mission from heaven. You haven’t lived, if I can put it like this, until you have read contributions such as this on the Web sites of the faithful:

Who else feels Christopher Hitchens getting terminal throat cancer [sic] was God’s revenge for him using his voice to blaspheme him? Atheists like to ignore FACTS. They like to act like everything is a “coincidence”. Really? It’s just a “coincidence” [that] out of any part of his body, Christopher Hitchens got cancer in the one part of his body he used for blasphemy? Yea, keep believing that Atheists. He’s going to writhe in agony and pain and wither away to nothing and then die a horrible agonizing death, and THEN comes the real fun, when he’s sent to HELLFIRE forever to be tortured and set afire.

There are numerous passages in holy scripture and religious tradition that for centuries made this kind of gloating into a mainstream belief. Long before it concerned me particularly I had understood the obvious objections. First, which mere primate is so damn sure that he can know the mind of god? Second, would this anonymous author want his views to be read by my unoffending children, who are also being given a hard time in their way, and by the same god? Third, why not a thunderbolt for yours truly, or something similarly awe-inspiring? MORE

RELATED: “Thus, though I dislike to differ with such a great man, Voltaire was simply ludicrous when he said that if god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. The human invention of god is the problem to begin with.” ―Christopher Hitchens

RELATED: “During the 1992 election I concluded as early as my first visit to New Hampshire that Bill Clinton was hateful in his behavior to women, pathological as a liar, and deeply suspect when it came to money in politics. I have never had to take any of that back, whereas if you look up what most of my profession was then writing about the beefy, unscrupulous ‘New Democrat,’ you will be astonished at the quantity of sheer saccharine and drool. Anyway, I kept on about it even after most Republicans had consulted the opinion polls and decided it was a losing proposition, and if you look up the transcript of the eventual Senate trial of the president—only the second impeachment hearing in American history—you will see that the last order of business is a request (voted down) by the Senate majority leader to call Carol and me as witnesses. So I can dare to say that at least I saw it through.” ―Christopher Hitchens

RELATED: “[George W. Bush] is lucky to be governor of Texas. He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.” ― Christopher Hitchens

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OBUMMER: We Have Met The Enemy, And It Is Us

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

THE GUARDIAN: Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay. Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing. The legislation has also been strongly criticised by libertarians on the right angered at the stripping of individual rights for the duration of “a war that appears to have no end”. The law, contained in the defence authorisation bill that funds the US military, effectively extends the battlefield in the “war on terror” to the US and applies the established principle that combatants in any war are subject to military detention. The legislation’s supporters in Congress say it simply codifies existing practice, such as the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists at Guantánamo Bay. But the law’s critics describe it as a draconian piece of legislation that extends the reach of detention without trial to include US citizens arrested in their own country. MORE

PHAWKER: Today we marked INFO@OBAMA.COM — which repeatedly pesters us in Gmail for campaign contributions and had, back in 2008, served as a conduit for our generous giving to the Obama campaign —  as SPAM. Heartbreaking.

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NPR FOR THE DEAF: Exporting Totalitarianism

Thursday, December 15th, 2011 AIR

As protesters in the Middle East use social media to organize and communicate, the regimes they’re battling are using sophisticated technology to intercept their emails, text messages and cellphone calls.On Wednesday’s Fresh Air, journalist Ben Elgin talks about a Bloomberg News series, “Wired for Repression,” which details how Western companies are selling surveillance technology to regimes including Iran, Syria, Bahrain and Tunisia. Those regimes have then used the information obtained from those technologies to torture protesters and dissidents, Elgin tells Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies. “[One Iranian engineer] became caught up in the protest movements after the election of 2009 and he was arrested. He was beaten and put into prison and interrogated 14 times over 50 days,” Elgin says. “During these interrogations, not only was he presented with [his] text message transcripts; he was presented with a very sophisticated diagram of who he had called, and then who those people had called. And he was interrogated on every connection within his network of contacts.” The engineer had worked for Ericsson AB, where he had helped install the systems that would later be used in his interrogations. MORE

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VAN HUNT: Eyes Like Pearls

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

GREG KOT: Hunt is a former major-label up-and-comer who has found a new kind of freedom and confidence doing things on his own. His third album ventures across genres, touching on everything from country twang to sci-fi psychedelia. The glue is Hunt’s acuity as a songwriter; he knows how to drop hooks and turn a smart phrase, and this album brims with surprises. MORE

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JAZZER: Meet Keith DiStefano

Thursday, December 15th, 2011 ZIVIT SHLANK Bassist/Composer Keith DeStefano is uniquely quixotic.  As a musician, he’s a curious combination of manic focus and reckless composure; sort of a mad, musical scientist. Largely self-taught on guitar and bass, Keith got hooked on jazz early on by the urging of his guitar teacher. A self-proclaimed weirdo, Keith was grooving to the sounds of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme while most kids were listening to rock and pop. Performing alongside local legends (and sidemen to Max Roach) bassist Tyrone Brown and saxophonist Odean Pope opened him up to the different textural possibilities of instrumentation. Inspired by Pope’s free jazz tendencies, the composed theatrics of Charles Mingus’ eclecticism and his own desire to explore beyond the traditional, Keith formed the collective Puzzlebox in 2005.  Their second CD A Place To Be showcases Keith’s ability to compose music that is unconventionally melodic. It’s orchestral and cinematic in scope, tightly arranged but with plenty of wiggle room. Some tunes tip their hat to the traditional “head-solo-head” format, but most go above and beyond in surprisingly fresh directions. With Tritone soon closing its doors for good, this may be your last chance to see them play after a two- year-long monthly residency. They hit the stage at Tritone tonight at 9:30. PHAWKER recently engaged Keith in caffeinated conversation.

PHAWKER: When I hear a word like ‘Puzzlebox’ I think of a portrait and pieces project. Describe the picture you’re trying to create.

KEITH DESTEFANO: It kinda began when I was playing with Odean Pope’s Collective Voices Ensemble; it was essentially a sax choir set up that I was really into. Seeing Bobby Zankel’s band also inspired me to wanna go big. As a composer I’m self-taught, it was only in the last year or so that I started studying classically. I just found the traditional song formula annoying, ya know? You hear so many tunes where the band would play the beginning head, then this guy would solo and the next guy would solo, and then the band would head out. I really wanted to get away from that. I wanted to explore and play around. My music is also heavily influenced by Mingus. He would always bring in classical or flamenco style music among other things. I love classical music, I love film music, and all kinds of music, and so I definitely wanted to incorporate all that as well. I didn’t wanna do jazz standards; I wanted it to be strictly original music.

PHAWKER: Your latest CD A Place To Be has a very ambiguous title. Was that intentional?

KEITH DESTEFANO: It’s really about a place to try and find myself in artistically, to fit in somewhere. It was more a longing, really. It sounds kind of adolescent, but it really isn’t; it’s quasi-existential. It’s existentially existential.

PHAWKER: ”Hair of the Dog”, “Half Remembered Theme From A Film Noir”, “Onomonopia”, and “6:25”. When I first saw the track listing in the CD, my first thought was “these guys have a good sense of humor.” It was immediately followed by the question “did y’all come up with these titles after an all-night binger?”

KEITH DESTEFANO:  There’s also a song that didn’t make it on the CD called “Kung Fu Love Story”. There’s a story behind all the names, but it’s not particularly that interesting. Like “6:25”, I was in the kitchen making dinner. There was a guitar lying around and an idea came to me at 6:25. See? Not that interesting. Well, “Hair of the Dog” hmm…well, everyone in the band loves Jameson except for the drummer, Joe, he drinks vodka. Anyway, that sounds so romantic I should say something like “yes, we were all hungover and in recovery”, but it wasn’t like that. When I wrote it, I, you know I can’t remember. Maybe I was hungover.

PHAWKER: Well, it would certainly follow in the tradition of most musicians, the common perception that you all like to booze and smoke the “jazz” cigarettes.

KEITH DESTEFANO: Well, that’s true. Personally, I can’t play my music unless my head is clear; it’s not easy music to play. When you’re playing in 7/4 and 13/4 and all these odd times, maybe in the same song, it’s hard to keep up with. So I don’t know…I’m gonna plead the fifth on that one.

PHAWKER: That’s insane. I wonder what your bandmates thought when you first handed them the charts.

KEITH DESTEFANO: They probably think I’m psychotic because I rewrote the tracks so many times. Our drummer, Joe Falcey, kept all the old charts and said that we should have a party with a giant bonfire and burn them all. We continue to change things. I’m currently writing music for a new CD.

PHAWKER:  So for the uninitiated and the curious, what can we expect from tonight’s performance?

KEITH DESTEFANO: I’m not trying to win a popularity contest. Its challenging music that doesn’t follow traditional harmonic structures or rhythms; we take chances and try to be as honest as possible. No matter what music you like, we’re all using the same harmonic language. Yes, there’s a lot of pleasure to be gained from familiarity. When you go to a party where you don’t know anybody and see a familiar face, it feels good; you don’t feel lost anymore. If you’re open-minded and willing to explore, come on down. Give it a chance you may be surprised in a good way. I’ll put it this way: I would rather you hate my music then you be indifferent to it.


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WORTH REPEATING: Plan 9 From Outerspace

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: It’s telling that Romney, when encouraged by the debate moderators to criticize Gingrich, refrained from discussing the ethics violations, adulteries and such that form the molten core of Gingrich’s negatives. Instead, Romney went for Gingrich’s boyish fascination with the heavens. “We could start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon,” Romney said dismissively. You can see the appeal, to a determined pragmatist like Romney, of attacking Gingrich’s lunar colony; “loony” is right there in the headline. Yet Gingrich didn’t flinch. Instead, he took the opportunity to champion his idea of sending a pick-and- shovel brigade to dig iron ore way up in the sky. “I’m happy to defend the idea that America should be in space,” he said, “and should be there in an aggressive, entrepreneurial way.” Gingrich isn’t retreating from his wild ideas and wacky programs. He recognizes that there’s something unique about this election that’s put him back in contention. Gingrich balances apocalyptic visions — electromagnetic-pulse catastrophes in the upper atmosphere wreaking devastation below — with wild-eyed optimism. Build hundreds of thousands of mirrors to warm the Earth’s climate sufficiently to grow crops year round? Check. Repeal child-labor laws? Check. Gingrich treats his idea of students scrubbing their own toilets as if he’s suggested an after-school enrichment program. As a self-anointed World Historical Figure, he’s not backing down. He’s going with it. MORE

NEW YORKER:  Gingrich’s sudden rise and special appeal to the emotions of “the base,” one suspects, stem less from his vaunted “big ideas” than from his long-cultivated, unparalleled talent for contempt. In 1990, when he was not yet Speaker, he pressed a memo on Republican candidates for office, instructing them to use certain words when talking about the Democratic enemy: “betray,” “bizarre,” “decay,” “anti-flag,” “anti-family,” “pathetic,” “lie,” “cheat,” “radical,” “sick,” “traitors,” and more. His own vocabulary of contempt has grown only more poisonously flowery. President Obama’s actions cannot be understood except as an expression of “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” Liberals constitute a “secular-socialist machine” that is “as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.” There is “a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us” and “is prepared to use violence.” In this campaign, Gingrich’s performances in televised debates have been widely deemed effective. But what has won him his most visceral cheers from the audiences in the halls—audiences shaped and coarsened by years of listening to talk radio and watching Fox News—is his sneering attacks on moderators, especially those representing the hated “liberal” media. In March, at the Cornerstone Church, in San Antonio, Gingrich declared, “I am convinced that, if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America,” his grandchildren will live “in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.” Last spring, this was a kind of right-wing performance art. Now it is the language of the man leading in the Republican polls, a man who—in the real world, not the alt-world—could, not inconceivably, become President of the United States. Imagine that. MORE

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