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BOOK REVIEW: The Girl With The Most Cake

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

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JONATHAN VALANIA FOR PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: In comedy circles, Amy Schumer is the girl with the most cake these days. Given her hard-won red carpet ubiquity  — between Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, her big-hit sketch comedy show now on apparent hiatus after four seasons, Trainwreck, the 2015 hit comedy film she wrote and starred in, and her Chris Rock-directed HBO comedy special Live At The Apollo, and all the attendant rounds of transcontinental interviews and talking head commentary, social media hand-wringing and blogospheric pearl-clutching that accompany such affairs — there’s no real need to explain who Amy Schumer is to anyone who hasn’t been chilling oblivious in a cryogenic chamber for the last three years.

Having achieved stardom on stage and screen and cable TV, it was only a matter of time until she set her sites on publishing. The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo, her new book. In the time-honored tradition of the celebrity tell-all — or more accurately, tell-some —  The Girl With The Lower Back is one part semi-gritty memoir, one part origin myth, one part brand force multiplier, part gold rush, for which she was reportedly paid a jaw-dropping $9 million advance. […]

She was born Long-Island-summer-home rich, then plummeted into near-poverty when the bottom falls out of her father’s high-end baby furniture business, and then proceeded to claw her way back to rich using nothing more than her wits and her wit, climbing to the top of the show biz heap on a magic beanstalk of third wave feminista observational sex humor. These days, Schumer makes enough money to fly chartered private, underwrite her MS-riddled father’s experimental stem cell treatment and play angel investor for less-fortunate friends, family and sundry wait staff. […]

All told, The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo is a fun read, sometimes even LOL-funny, full of pre-millennial pathos, tragi-comic coming of age anecdotes, like/hate listicles, teenage diary entries, a detailed rider for her funeral (don’t bring flowers, bring a pasta dish) and enough fearless oversharing to shock the chattering class on social media into stunned, if momentary, silence. But is it worth $9 million frickin’ dollars? Hardly. Any book that nabs a $9 million advance better have the cure for cancer somewhere in all that wine-mad TMI.

The reality is that Simon and Schuster didn’t pay $9 million for the contents of this book, they were paying for all the marketing and advertising and press junket dollars and Twitter/Facebook/Instagram buzz that TV networks, film studios and glossy magazines have poured into the omnipresent awareness of brand Amy. Schumer would be the first one to acknowledge this. The big takeaway from The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo is that she never had any doubt that a gifted comedienne as whip-smart, hard-working and media-savvy as Amy Schumer would have the last laugh. MORE

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Man Freed After Serving 25 Years For Crime He Did Not Committ Was Framed By Philly Police & DA

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: A wrongly convicted Philadelphia man walked free Tuesday night after 25 years behind bars for the rape and murder of a 77-year-old woman. Anthony Wright received a life sentence without parole in the slaying of the woman, found nude and stabbed 10 times with a kitchen knife in October 1991. Yet DNA tests from 2014 showed none of his DNA on clothing prosecutors said he wore during the murder or in the sperm found in the victim’s body. Wright became the 344th person in America exonerated by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project, which led his defense. The tests showed a onetime Philadelphia-area crack addict who died in prison in South Carolina had violated the victim, Louise Talley.

Wright, who was 20 at the time of the slaying of his North Philadelphia neighbor, confessed to the crime but later recanted. He said interrogating detectives had threatened him physical harm unless he signed the confession they wrote for him. “We are extremely relieved that this very long nightmare is finally over for Mr. Wright and his family,” Innocence Project co-director Peter Neufeld said in a statement. “DNA testing proved not only that Mr. Wright is absolutely innocent but also that law enforcement fabricated evidence against him. But it’s outrageous that he has been forced to endure a retrial to gain his freedom after DNA testing already proved his innocence.”

Three witnesses for the prosecution have since recanted their testimony. “The jury made a finding and the District Attorney’s Office respects their hard work,” said spokesman Cameron Kline said in a statement to the newspaper. “The District Attorney’s Office stands by its decision to retry Anthony Wright, based on the totality of the evidence. The verdict only shows that the jury did not find that his guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” MORE

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EXPLAINER: Why Chris Christie Never Stood A Snowball’s Chance In Hell Of Being Trump’s Veep

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

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ESQUIRE: Over the past year, Jared Kushner’s profile has risen alongside the mind-bending trajectory of his father-in-law’s presidential bid. Though Jared has no previous experience in electoral politics, he has become one of Donald Trump’s chief advisors, and much of the attention he’s received has focused on the many ways in which he’s been useful to the campaign. It was Jared who helped prepare Trump for an appearance before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March, and Jared who helped broker a truce with Fox News when Trump fought with Megyn Kelly, the network’s star anchor.

After Trump fired Corey Lewandowski, his campaign manager, in June, it was reported that Ivanka had Jared Kushner Esquire copydemanded Lewandowski’s dismissal for trying to marginalize Jared’s influence. A month later, after Trump tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton and a Star of David set against a backdrop of dollar bills, Jared took to the Observer to defend his father-in-law against charges of anti-Semitism. Most recently, Jared was on hand to help Trump choose Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate—over and above, it did not go unnoticed, the great nemesis of the Kushner family, Chris Christie. […]

Under the leadership of [Trump son-in-law] Jared’s father, Charles, the Kushner Companies had made hundreds of millions of dollars building and buying properties in New Jersey. But in 2004, future Trump surrogate Chris Christie, who was at the time the U. S. Attorney for New Jersey, indicted Charles in federal court on charges that included tax evasion, making false statements about campaign contributions, and hiring a prostitute to retaliate against his brother-in-law. After Charles pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison, Jared, who was just twenty-four, took over the family business. MORE

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CINEMA: Being Werner Twertzog

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

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WIRED: One great irony of the German director’s newfound interest in technology is that, while Herzog may have mixed feelings about the Internet, the Internet has long had a special place in its heart for Herzog. William Pannapacker, an English professor at Hope College in Michigan, once spent a year watching Herzog’s entire oeuvre. “I started, almost beyond my control, doing imitations of things Herzog would say, in my daily life, in the voice, out loud,” he says. “I started thinking in Herzogian ways, and I felt like I needed an outlet for that.” Pannapacker set up a Twitter account, @WernerTwertzog, where he now publishes to his more than 37,000 followers such faux Wernerisms as “Death is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” and “Camping is important for remembering that nature is disgusting and wants to kill us.” On September 5, he will celebrate Herzog’s birthday by hosting the third annual Tweet Like Werner Herzog Day. Last year, hundreds participated, marking their contributions with the hashtag #twertzog. (A representative sample: “I do not plan my tweets. Very often they come at me with a great vehemence. They are remorseless, like beasts of the jungle.”)

Pannapacker is merely the most dedicated online Herzog mimic. The Werner Herzog Valentines website adapts Werner Herzog The Collectionsome of the director’s bleakest musings for romantic purposes. (“The birds do not sing to you, my valentine, they just screech in pain.”) The Werner Herzog Inspirationals Tumblr account places Herzog quotes in ersatz motivational posters. (Example: a photo of a well-appointed living room, with the caption “Outside there is a storm and inside there are mice.”) The comedian Paul F. Tompkins routinely imitates Herzog on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast. “Do you know what I like about high school girls?” he recently asked host Scott Aukerman, in a nod to the classic line from Dazed and Confused. “I keep getting older but they do not realize the futility of existence yet.” Herzog may be an art-house film director, but he is a blockbuster meme.

Despite Herzog’s repeated claims that he lacks a “sensory organ for irony,” he clearly has a sense of humor about himself. In recent years, he has shown up in an unpredictable series of cameos, most of them poking fun at his severe persona. Mike Schur, cocreator of Parks and Recreation, wrote a guest role for Herzog as a madman trying to sell a haunted house to a young couple and was shocked when he agreed to do it. “He’s like a free-floating radical,” Schur says. “He’s in the class of Christopher Walken or Bill Murray, those guys who pop up rarely, and it’s news when they do.”

There’s no great mystery as to why Herzog does these things: He enjoys them. “I was hired for spreading terror among the audience, and I knew I could do it,” he says, smiling, of his Jack Reacher performance. “The main sequence where I’m really threatening, it was castrated twice by the studio because it was so terrifying. They scaled it down twice, and I’m still spreading horror.” MORE

LO & BEHOLD, REVERIES OF A CONNECTED WORLD IS NOW PLAYING AT RITZ AT THE BOURSE

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RIP: Goodbye Gawker, Our First And Best Frenemy

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

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BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA So, the sad, but not entirely unexpected, official news that Gawker will cease to exist came down today. Like most every right-thinking netizen with an abiding belief in the cause of journalism and weaponized wit, we are appalled by Peter Thiel’s grim determination to choke-out the First Amendment with his bazillion dollar money belt while furiously stroking his revenge boner even if A) we think he has good reason to hate Gawker and want it dead (forcibly outing anyone who is not a hypocritical closeted politician who actively demagogues/legislates against the LGBT communities was an unforgivable wrong when Gawker media did it to Thiel in 2007 and it is unforgivably wrong now B) we think, ultimately, it was Gawker’s imperial hubris and drunkard’s judgement that brought on its self-inflicted destruction C) we are kinda pissed that Denton, Daulerio et al would blow a decade’s worth of brilliant precision-targeted snark, poison-pen petard-hoisting, digital comeuppance doled out to the high and the mighty and the odious and the deserving, not to mention breaking important news that would have remained unbroken otherwise for a Hulk fucking Hogan sex tape clickbait gambit and the ensuing refusal to back away from this existentially-stupid and frankly indefensible editorial decision when they had the chance. And what Peter Thiel is doing to our homeboy AJ Daulerio is a media war crime worthy of a Hague tribunal indictment. Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel? Thuggish nouveau riche libertarian tech billionaires adept in the pitiless politics of personal destruction, it turns out. Meet the new robber barons, just as thin-skinned and throat-slashingly vindictive as the old robber barons. Anyway, we shall bid farewell to these harms with a reminder that not only did we get our namesake from a dubious Gawker pun — part tribute, part swipe, in the double-edged Dentonian tradition — but upon our digital birth in 2006, we were baptized by fire with a Jessica Pressler-helmed Gawker diss, which at the time, was the highest form of flattery the Internet could bestow upon a newly-minted insurgent media property (and netted us 25,000 unique visitors on the day we went live). In 2006, if Gawker didn’t shit on you, you didn’t matter. Rest in pieces Gawker, and godspeed to all who sailed upon her.

RELATED: Gawker Was A Great Place To Become A Journalist

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CINEMA: ‘The Who Fell To Earth’ Turns 40

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

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DAVIDBOWIE.COM: To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Nicolas Roeg’s iconic movie, The Man Who Fell To Earth, we’re delighted to announce that the film will return to UK cinemas in 4K this September. MORE

NME: The soundtrack of David Bowie’s classic film The Man Who Fell To Earth is to be available for the first time since its original release 40 years ago. First available in 1976, the soundtrack features specially composed music by Japanese prog-rock musician Stomu Yamash’ta and John Philips, who was the main songwriter for ‘60s pop band The Mamas And The Papas. However, the master tapes were lost, meaning that the soundtrack has been unavailable since its original release. The tapes were recently uncovered, meaning the soundtrack can be reissued for its 40th anniversary to coincide with a new cinema release for the film. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: True to its title, The Man Who Fell To Earth begins with David Bowie’s alien Newton crashing down from the sky in his alien vessel. It isn’t just Newton, Nicholas Roeg’s experimental sci-fi epic also seems like an alien document sent from a far-off place, that place being the mid-1970s. Before Star Wars‘ arrival, mid-70s sci-fi was still heavily influenced by the mystical vagaries of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Roeg’s film, which brought rock phenomenon David Bowie to the big screen for the first time, ultimately found its cult audience outside of the mainstream, mainly through midnight screenings that continued for a good decade after its initial release. Roeg’s challenging, kaleidoscopic film sees the U.S. through an alien’s eyes and its willingness to defy expectations and obscure the narrative distractions of time and space has led some modern viewers (including Phawker’s illustrious editor/publisher) to call “bullshit” on Roeg’s vision. Love it or hate it, it certainly is a far cry from such current sci-fi such as Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern film, a modern day equivalent that offers more easily digestible, crowd-pleasing intergalactic ride.

Walking through the New Mexico desert town in the film’s opening, Bowie’s Newton (and perhaps Englishman Roeg himself) looks at the U.S. as an the_man_who_fell_to_earth_original.jpgunknowable foreign landscape. An abandoned inflatable “moon pillow” kid’s ride threatening to blow loose from its anchor symbolizes the barely-tethered carnival ride that is America. Newton arrives with a handful of industrial patents that make him obscenely wealthy almost instantly. Even though Newton compiles great wealth, it does not bring him happiness. Throughout the film, the camera pans across the faraway look in Newton’s eyes, which in turn dissolves into scenes of his alien family, stranded on a desert planet and waiting for Newton return with help. Over the course of the film, we learn that Newton left his planet looking for water to ease their apocalyptic drought. Newton’s plan is to use his vast wealth to bring them water, but along the way America distracts him and derails his plan.

From its set-up, it looks like TMWFTE is going to follow sci-fi orthodoxy. Perhaps like the similarly-themed The Day the Earth Stood Still, we’re expecting that the spaceman’s superior intellect is going to give him power over earth’s citizens. In the War of the Worlds it was unseen microbes that brought down the hostile invaders, but here it is the sickness of Western culture itself that ultimately hobbles Newton. Introduced to booze and TV by his earthly companion Mary-Lou (Ameican Graffiti‘s girlish Candy Clark), Newton sits idly in his chair, guzzling gin and watching four, five and later a wall of televisions. He builds an empire with his corporation World Enterprises, but the government (who has been surveilling Newton since his arrival) steps in just before his return voyage in order to keep him in custody, albeit in a gilded, luxurious cage. MORE

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BOOKS: May The Road Rise With You

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

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WASHINGTON POST: The first volume of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning landmark “Maus” landed 30 years ago, and ever since, I’ve wondered when I would encounter another epic historical memoir that, in stirring word and stark picture, might achieve some of the same power as that game-changing graphic novel.

The closest American peer I’ve found to “Maus” has arrived. The final volume of Rep. John Lewis’s “March” trilogy is a milestone. This work is the last movement in Lewis’s personal symphony of civil-rights memories. Lewis [pictured, below right] might be a nonviolent protester, but in terms of delivering drama, the hero packs quite a punch.

This summer, when the congressman led a House Democratic sit-in over gun control, Lewis’s book collaborator and artist Nate Powell said, “I love it when he speaks about ‘dramatizing the situation.’ ” Powell was referring to Lewis’s gift for magnifying aspects of a conflict to provide a concrete sense of what is at stake. That might as well have been a guiding creative credo for every volume of “March,” each one illustrated by Powell and co-written by Lewis and his comics-loving staffer, digital director Andrew Aydin.

Last month, the second installment in this gripping trilogy received the Eisner Award — the nearest thing to an Oscar for comics — for Best Reality-Based Work. This month, the even-more-accomplished “March: Book Three” culminates the mid-’60s drama that spans from Albany to Alabama. What the authors achieve with this conclusion is a window into living history that could not resonate more deeply in a year of political John Lewisconventions against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement and its many battle lines of engagement. MORE

THE ATLANTIC:  One person who is well-versed in these kinds of racial politics is Representative John Lewis, whose career as a black civil-rights icon and renown as the last living speaker at the famed 1963 March on Washington are now the stuff of legend. Lewis is working to ensure that the hard truths about race in America and his own legacy aren’t erased. His graphic-novel series, March, created by Lewis, his staffer Andrew Aydin, and the award-winning graphic novelist Nate Powell, has been a surprisingly good and critical part of that work. With its final installment, Book Three, due out in August, the series could be both a necessary guide to the past and a warning about the present.

I read all three books in the March series in one go. Even for readers who own the first two, mainlining the 20-year or so time period the series covers has the same effect as bingeing a season of a television show: The themes and cycles that motivate the action and the characters become more apparent. In the case of March, which covers Lewis’s life and perspective on the civil-rights movement of his childhood through the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the true pervasiveness of American racism and racial inequality in the era is evident, as is Americans’ commitment to keeping it that way.

March: Book One covers the period from Lewis’s boyhood of raising chickens in a sleepy corner of Alabama to him heading off to college, meeting his idol Martin Luther King, Jr., and becoming involved in the Nashville Student Movement’s early protests against segregation. The story details how “The Montgomery Story,” a comic book released in 1956 about King’s involvement in the famous Montgomery Bus Boycotts, motivated Lewis as a youth and likely inspired his own reflections in graphic-novel form. Book two is a longer volume featuring Lewis’s involvement in the Freedom Rides and his eventual ascendance to leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and status as one the “big six” speakers during the March on Washington. Powell richly drew both books in black and white, and the text provides plenty of detail about the history of black activism, detail which will likely be rewarding even for readers who are experts on the era.

But as good as those books are, it is clear that book three is the emotional and narrative climax toward which they’ve been building. While books one and two read like the classic schoolroom Black History Month narrative of a straight line from struggle to transcendence, book three is a story of heartbreak, the pervasiveness of racism, and Pyrrhic policy victories. This is the true story of how civil rights were carved out in America: in the blood of activists. Book three opens with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. What follows is a cavalcade of violence and a war of attrition between the defenders of Jim Crow and those threatening to overturn it. There are several more deaths throughout book three, and the weight of grief and bitterness that threatens to overcome even Lewis’s supernatural commitment to nonviolence is explored. This was the book that I suspect was written most with an eye towards allegory of current events.It’s impossible not to see the modern Black Lives Matter movement reflected in the violence, including the “Mississippi Burning” of three Freedom Summer activists and the tragedies at Selma. MORE

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Win Tix To See Bayside @ The Electric Factory

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

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Since their 2000 inception in the suburban wilds of Long Island, Bayside has cranked out seven albums of moody, melodic, guitar-driven emo. Let’s face it, you need more moody, melodic, guitar-driven emo whether you know it or not. Lucky for you we have a pair of tickets to see Bayside — along with The Menzingers and the wonderfully-named Sorority Noise — at the Electric Factory tomorrow night. To qualify to win them, send an email to Phawker66@gmail.com with the correct answer to the following question: What is the name of the Bayside drummer who was tragically killed 2005 when the band’s tour van hit a patch of ice and lost control. Put the word SCREAMO in the subject line. Please include your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!

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REALITY CHECK: Henry, Portrait Of A Serial Killer

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

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DANIEL ELLSBERG [PICTURED, BELOW RIGHT]: I have a very strong feeling that Nixon and Kissinger are similar personalities and feel a great affinity and attraction. Each of them may be the other’s best friend, at least during business hours. Kissinger – and surely Nixon, too – has a very strong ideological belief in the efficacy and legitimacy of the threat of violence as a tool of power and as a way of “establishing world order.”

One can guess – and I’m neither a psychiatrist nor a producer of official psychological profiles – that Nixon and Kissinger are people who have very strong desires not only to threaten, but to inflict violence. Kissinger can’t be a rebel, he couldn’t conceive of taking part in violence directed against “authority”; but by all evidence he wants very much to be a party to violence. There’s no question that he likes to issue threats. I would suspect very strongly that he wants some of his threats to fail, so that they have to be carried out.

After Cambodia and Laos, I’ve always privately thought of Henry Kissinger as a murderer. We’re not talking of persons who burglarize this or that Ellsbergoffice, but of persons who dropped four million tons of bombs on Indochina. Words are hardly adequate to define people who took those choices and took them in the years 1969 to 1972. They were not confronting Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler, nor did they act under whatever misconceptions about Ho Chi Minh may have lingered in the late Fifties or early Sixties. They took those decisions after Lyndon Johnson and Robert MacNamara themselves dropped two million tons, failed, and were thrown out of office; they proceeded to drop four million more tons after 1969, having been elected mostly by people who expected them to end the war. […]

Finally we saw Kissinger for lunch on a little patio. General Haig was at the table. As we all said hello, Kissinger, in his usual fashion, turned to my friend and said, “You know, I have learned more from Dan Ellsberg…” and I thought he was going to repeat his statement about Vietnam, but he seemed to hesitate, and then said, “about bargaining than from any other person.”

I was taken aback. I didn’t know what he was referring to, although my academic specialty had been “bargaining theory.” And suddenly I remembered that 11 years earlier when I had given a series of talks on “The Art of Coercion,” I had also given a couple of those lectures to Kissinger’s seminar at Harvard. “You have a very good memory,” I said. And he replied, “They were good lectures.”

When I rethought that incident later, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The lectures I had given had to do with Hitler’s blackmail of Austria and Czechoslovakia in the late Thirties, which had allowed him to take over those countries just by threatening their destruction. One of those lectures was “The Theory and Practice of Blackmail.” And another was called, “The Political Uses of Madness.”

News leaks about the Cambodian invasion, obviously coming from off-the-record backgrounders by Kissinger, had revealed a major motive of the invasion was to convince the Russians and the Chinese that our decision-making was unpredictable, and that since we could do something so apparently unpredictable and crazy as invade Cambodia, they could not count on our reasonableness or prudence in a crisis.That was Hitler’s conscious policy: the threat of unpredictability. I had described it in my lectures as being a possibly effective, but extremely dangerous strategy. It was a commitment to madness. MORE

THE NATION: Word comes from Politico that Hillary Clinton is courting the endorsement of Henry Kissinger. No surprise. Kissinger and the Hillary KissingerClintons go back a ways, to when Bill in the early 1990s sought out Kissinger’s support to pass NAFTA and to, in the words of the economist Jeff Faux, serve as “the perfect tutor for a new Democratic president trying to convince Republicans and their business allies that they could count on him to champion Reagan’s vision.” Hillary has continued the apprenticeship, soliciting Kissinger’s advice and calling him “friend.”

Still, Bernie Sanders, and Sanders supporters and surrogates, should use the Politico story to draw a line, making clear that they will withdraw their support of Clinton if Clinton accepts Kissinger’s endorsement. If Sanders stands for anything, it is the promise of decency and civil equality, qualities that he has worked hard to bestow on Clinton since the Democratic National Convention. By accepting Kissinger’s endorsement, Clinton wouldn’t just be mocking that gift. She’d be sending the clearest signal yet to grassroots peace and social-justice Democrats that her presidency wouldn’t be a “popular front” against Trumpian fascism. It would be bloody business as usual.

Kissinger is a unique monster. He stands not as a bulwark against Donald Trump’s feared recklessness and immorality but as his progenitor. As Richard Nixon’s aide-de-camp, Kissinger helped plan and execute a murderous, illegal foreign policy—in Southeast and South Asia, Southern Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America—as reckless and immoral as anything Trump now portends. Millions died as a result of his actions. Kissinger and Nixon threatened to use nuclear weapons, and, indeed, Kissinger helped inscribe the threat of “limited nuclear war” into doctrine. Kissinger, in the 1970s, not only dug the hole that the greater Middle East finds itself in, but, as an influential cheerleader for both the first Gulf War in 1991 and its 2003 sequel, helped drive the United States into that ditch.

Kissinger’s crimes aren’t just related to covert murder, genocide, and illegal bombing. In 1975, for example, as Gerald Ford’s secretary of state, he helped Union Carbide set up its chemical plant in Bhopal, India, working with the Indian government and helping secure a loan from the Export-Import Bank of the United States to cover a portion of the plant’s construction. Then, after the plant’s 1984 chemical-leak disaster, Kissinger Associates, the consultancy firm he set up after leaving the State Department, represented Union Carbide, helping to broker, in 1989, a $470 million out-of-court settlement for victims of the spill. The payout was widely condemned as paltry in relation to the scale of the disaster: The spill caused nearly 4,000 immediate deaths and exposed another half a million people to toxic gases. Kissinger Associates is a private company—Kissinger famously quit as chair of the 9/11 Commission so he wouldn’t have to reveal his client list—so the fees it extracted from Union Carbide for this service is unknown. But Bhopal is a good example of the way Kissinger, as a private consultant, profited from the work he did as a public servant (for Kissinger’s role in negotiating the settlement, see the 1988 letter obtained by the environmental reporter Rob Edwards, found here; also, see New York Times reports that Kissinger’s firm had an account with Union Carbide). MORE

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INCOMING: The Complete Big Star Third Sessions

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After a nearly decade-long search for unheard session recordings from Big Star’s Third LP, the results are finally in. Recorded in 1974 but not released for the first time until 1978, Third would be subsequently re-released, renamed and re-sequenced many times over the years. While some demos and alternate versions and mixes of songs have dribbled out on various compilations, all extant recordings made for the famed album are presented for the first time on Complete Third, due out on Omnivore Recordings on October 14, 2016. Set includes every demo, rough mix, alternate take and final master known to exist, plus extensive liner notes from original participants and artists deeply influenced by Big Star, as well as many previously unseen photos.

The definitive collection boasts 69 total tracks, 29 of which are previously unheard session recordings, demos and alternate mixes made by producer Jim Dickinson and engineer John Fry. The set allows the listener to track the creation of the album from the original demos, through sessions and rough mixes, to the final masters of each song.

Besides the contextualizing main essay from journalist/A&R executive Bud Scoppa, extensive notes from original participants and artists influenced by Big Star are also included: Jody Stephens (Big Star), Mary Lindsay Dickinson (widow of producer Jim Dickinson), Mitch Easter (Let’s Active), Adam Hill (Ardent staff producer), Elizabeth A. Hoehn, Susanna Hoffs and Debbi Peterson (The Bangles), Peter Holsapple (The dB’s), Gary Louris (The Jayhawks), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Cheryl Pawelski (Omnivore Recordings), Pat Rainer (Memphis photographer/friend of band), Danny Graflund (Alex Chilton’s bodyguard), Jeff Rougvie (former Rykodisc A&R), Pat Sansone (Wilco), Chris Stamey (The dB’s), John Stirratt (Wilco), Ken Stringfellow (The Posies, Big Star), and Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate). Initially, the collection will be released in a 3-CD box set and digitally with three separate double LPs to follow at a later date, each vinyl volume representing a CD in the boxed set.

From Bud Scoppa’s liner notes: “The small but rabid cult of Big Star, composed initially of rock critics and hometown Memphis hipsters, coalesced around 1972’s #1 Record, which supercharged the legacy of The Beatles and The Byrds, and 1974’s Radio City, which brought additional attitude and poignancy to the recipe. The shimmering brilliance of Big Star’s sound and songs on those two LPs, along with its underdog allure, would have been sufficient to perpetuate the band’s legend. But there was a third album, and that strange beast of a record made all the difference for subsequent generations of fans—many of whom formed bands of their own—who turned each other on to this music as if it were a secret religion or a trippy new drug.”

Ardent Studios Adam Hill wrote: “Ask any of the original participants who made the record, and none of them would say they expected this album to even see a real release, much less end up on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 best albums of all time… It’s an amazing snapshot of the artists and the times and circumstances in which the recordings were made. It’s a great testament to Third that an album that almost nobody was interested in at the time of its pressing, is now loved and sought out by an ever growing legion of fans. I guess that’s called ‘ahead of its time.’”

And finally, surviving Big Star member Jody Stephens recalls the time and place: “At the time of the recording, everyone’s emotions were forefront… is uncertainty an emotion? We were responding to Alex’s mood both in song and conversation. All my time spent in the studio for Third was in the company of John (Fry) and Jim (Dickinson) as well as Alex. I heard stories of maudlin scenes that happened after hours but never really witnessed them. But I did witness Alex, Jim, and John, and the sometimes easy and sometimes uneasy interaction among us all. Through it all, Jim and John were brilliant and reassuring.”

CD/Digital Track List:

Vol. 1: Demos To Sessions To Roughs
1. Like St. Joan (Kanga Roo)* (Demo)
2. Lovely Day (Demo)
3. Downs (Demo)
4. Femme Fatale (Demo)
5. Thank You Friends (Demo)
6. Holocaust (Demo)
7. Jesus Christ (Demo)
8. Blue Moon (Demo)
9. Nightime (Demo)
10. Take Care (Demo)
11. Big Black Car (Demo #2/Acoustic Take 1)
12. Don’t Worry Baby
13. I’m In Love With A Girl*
14. Big Black Car (Demo #3/Acoustic Take 2)
15. I’m So Tired* – Alex & Lesa
16. That’s All It Took* – Alex & Lesa
17. Pre-Downs*
18. Baby Strange*
19. Big Black Car (Demo #1/Band)
20. Kizza Me* (Dickinson Rough Mix/Alex Guide Vocal)
21. Till the End Of the Day* (Dickinson Rough Mix/Alex Guide Vocal, Kept As Final Vocal)
22. Thank You Friends* (Dickinson Rough Mix/Alex Guide Vocal)
23. O, Dana* (Dickinson Rough Mix)
24. Dream Lover* (Dickinson Rough Mix)

Vol. 2: Roughs To Mixes
1. Big Black Car* (Dickinson Rough Mix/Alex Guide Vocal)
2. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On* (Dickinson Rough Mix)
3. Take Care* (Dickinson Rough Mix)
4. Holocaust* (Dickinson Rough Mix)
5. Nightime* (Dickinson Rough Mix)
6. Thank You Friends* (Dickinson Rough Mix)
7. Nature Boy* (Dickinson Rough Mix)
8. After Hours* – Lesa
9. Stroke It Noel (Backwards Intro)
10. Lovely Day* (Fry Rough Mix)
11. Nightime* (Fry Rough Mix)
12. Blue Moon* (Fry Rough Mix)
13. Till The End Of The Day (Alternate Mix #1)
14. Big Black Car (Fry Rough Mix)
15. Holocaust (Fry Alternate/Rough Mix)
16. Downs* (Fry Rough Mix)
17. Kanga Roo (Fry Rough Mix)
18. Femme Fatale* (Fry Rough Mix)
19. For You* (Alternate Version/Alex Vocal)
20. Thank You Friends * (Fry Rough Mix)
21. Take Care* (Alternate Version/Alex Vocal)
22. Kizza Me* (Fry Rough Mix)
23. Till the End Of the Day (FRY Rough Mix #2) – Lesa
24. Nature Boy (Fry Rough Mix)
25. Mañana

Vol. 3: Final Masters
1. Stroke It Noel
2. Downs
3. Femme Fatale
4. Thank You Friends
5. Holocaust
6. Jesus Christ
7. Blue Moon
8. Kizza Me
9. For You
10. O, Dana
11. Nightime
12. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
13. Kanga Roo
14. Take Care
15. Big Black Car
16. Dream Lover
17. You Can’t Have Me
18. Till the End Of the Day
19. Lovely Day
20. Nature Boy

* Previously unissued

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STAR POWER: Doing The Lord’s Work

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Big Star Evangelists

 

ROCK SNOB ENCYCLOPEDIA: It has been said that the genre of power pop—frail white man-boys with cherry gui­tars re­in­vig­or­at­ing the har­mon­ic con­ver­gence of the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Byrds with the caf­fein­ated rush of youth—is the re­venge of the nerds. Big Star pretty much in­ven­ted the form, which ex­plains the wor­ship­ful al­tars erec­ted to the band in the bed­rooms of lonely, dis­en­fran­chised melody-makers from Los Angeles to Lon­don and points in between.

Though they nev­er came close to fame or for­tune in their time, the band con­tin­ues to hold a sac­red place in the cos­mo­logy of pure pop, a glit­ter­ing con­stel­la­tion that re­mains in­vis­ible to the na­ked main­stream eye. Suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions of pop philo­soph­ers and as­pir­ing rock Moz­arts pore over the group’s mu­sic like bib­lic­al schol­ars hunched over the Dead Sea Scrolls, plumb­ing the depths of the band’s shad­owy his­tory, search­ing for mean­ing in Big Star’s im­macu­late con­cep­tion and still­born death.

Big Star was the sound of four Mem­ph­is boys caught in the vor­tex of a time warp, re­in­ter­pret­ing the big_star_webposterjangling, three-minute Brit-pop odes to love, youth and the loss of both that framed their form­at­ive years, the mid-‘60s. Just one prob­lem: It was the early ‘70s. They were out of fash­ion and out of time. With­in the band, this dis­con­nect with the pop mar­ket­place would lead to bit­ter dis­il­lu­sion­ment, self-de­struc­tion and death. But that same damning ob­scur­ity would nur­ture their myth­o­logy and be­come Big Star’s greatest ally, a form­al­de­hyde that would pre­serve the band’s three full-length al­bums—No. 1 Re­cord, Ra­dio City and Sis­ter Lov­ers/Third—as per­fect spe­ci­mens of clas­sic gui­tar pop. That Big Star’s re­cor­ded leg­acy would go on to in­spire count­less al­tern­at­ive acts is one of pop his­tory’s cruelest iron­ies—every­one from R.E.M. to the Re­place-ments to Eli­ott Smith would come to see Big Star as the great miss­ing link between the ‘60s and the ‘70s and bey­ond.

There is a dreamy, pre-Raphael­ite aura that sur­rounds the le­gend of Big Star. Like the doomed, tender-aged beau­ties in Jef­frey Eu­gen­ides’ nov­el The Vir­gin Sui­cides, the tra­gic ca­reer of Big Star would un­ravel in the au­tum­nal Sunday af­ter­noon sun­light of the early 1970s. The band’s sound and vis­ion hinged on the con­trast­ing sens­ib­il­it­ies of song­writers Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. In the gos­pel of Big Star, Bell is the sac­ri­fi­cial lamb—fra­gile, doe-eyed and marked for an early death. Chilton is the prod­ig­al son, re­turn­ing to Mem­ph­is after trav­el­ing the world, hav­ing tasted the bac­chanali­an pleas­ures of teen star­dom with the Box Tops in the 1960s.

Where Bell was pre­cious and na­ive, Chilton was nervy and sar­don­ic, but the band’s steady down­ward spir­al would set him on the dark path of per­son­al dis­in­teg­ra­tion — booze, pills, vi­ol­ence and at­temp­ted sui­cide. Years later, he would re­in­vent him­self as an iras­cible icon­o­clast and semi-iron­ic in­ter­pret­er of ob­scure soul, R&B; and Itali­an rock ‘n’ roll. Drum­mer Jody Steph­ens, the wide-eyed in­no­cent of the group, and bassist Andy Hum­mel, the sly-grin­ning sphinx with the glam-rock hair, were the shep­herds in the manger, mid­wives to the mir­acle birth. In the af­ter­math of Big Star’s col­lapse, Steph­ens would be­come a born-again Chris­ti­an, and Hum­mel would go on to design jet fight­ers for the mil­it­ary, an­onym­ous and happy be­hind the wall of secrecy his job would re­quire. MORE

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BEING THERE: Mad Decent 2016

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Mad_Decent_2016

Photo by DYLAN LONG

Welcome to one of the hottest fucking days of my entire life. Let’s get this out of the way before we go any further: This year’s Mad Decent Block Party was excruciatingly hot. Triple digits. Insane humidity. The last time I can remember sweating that much in one sitting was when I participated in a Sweat Lodge Ceremony, a Native American tradition in which various participants gather into a small hut filled with steam and sweat their dicks off for several hours. Aside from sweating non-stop for what seemed like eternity, here’s how the day went down:

After a good ol’ pregame at my buddy Sam’s place in Chestnut Hill (thanks for the hospitality if you’re reading this), myself and the 20 or so of us all went down to Festival Pier in time to catch the remainder of one of the most anticipated sets of the day, Herobust. Having seen him destroy Camp Bisco in 2015, our expectations were high, but we ended up catching maybe the last five minutes of his set, AKA nothing substantial to review. I hope he kicked ass. Once getting inside and situating myself with my good buddies Adam, Reilly, Matt and Avi, we settled in to catch the debut Philly set from the latest hometown hero, Slushii. At the fresh age of 19, he’s just recently started performing live. Despite some issues with beat matching and overall subpar mixing skills and song selection, I’m sure he’ll get his footing in due time. Up next was Rich the Kid, an Atlanta-based rapper with an impressive portfolio of collaborative partners, and a less than impressive performance. The majority of his 30 minute set consisted of his DJ playing out top ten rap singles and him and his friends jumping around on stage, and maybe three Rich the Kid songs. The crowd was less than enthused.

The brand spankin’ new duo known as Party Khan (Party Favor and Valentino Khan) marked the return of electronic music to the festivities as the sun began to set on the several thousand partiers. Don’t worry though, the homicidal heat and humidity weren’t going anywhere. Party Khan cranked the volume up to the loudest it had gone thus far, dropping a ton of classic material, such as Flosstradamus’ “Original Don” remix and the 1993 anthem, “Macarena,” in addition to newer hits such as Skrillex’s massive “Red Lips” remix. By the time Party Khan finished up, the place was dripping wet. The staffers with the hoses were having an absolute heyday, excessively spraying the crowd with water nonstop. Having to be in the photo pit with those guys with my uber-expensive camera gear was extremely annoying as they had little to no regard for the media and our equipment in their use of those hoses, but luckily I was able to protect my shit. Fast forward to the set that stole the night, Philly homeboy Baauer.

Baauer is a scrawny Jewish white dude who makes some of the freshest beats in the game. He hopped up on stage with an eager grin and began laying down some fire ass shit. Dropping absolutely mammoth tracks such as Gesaffelstein’s “Hellifornia” and his very own “DumDum,” die-hard fans were downright flailing to everything this guy was putting down. Baauer is a household name in Philly, as he is a native and got his start here, spinning at the Medusa Lounge by Rittenhouse Square every month for a good period of time. It was definitely clear that his longtime supporters came out in droves and got their money’s worth.

Diplo, one of the biggest success stories out of Philly in the electronic scene, was the final headlining act. Girls were losing their minds over the mere presence of him as the crowd rushed forth to find all possible spots that were in proximity of the guy. Diplo knows how to work a crowd and flexed his skills effortlessly, dropping Drake, Jbeebs and Future and material from his supergroup Major Lazer. Despite a stoked crowd and stellar sound system, I was pretty underwhelmed with his set. Having heard close to ¾ of his song selection throughout my freshman year partying at Temple University, it was hard to be stoked on hearing it all yet again. Plus by this time I was no longer in the mood, to be blunt; the soul-crushing heat does that to you after eight hours or so. Still, this year’s Mad Decent Block Party was a successful gathering of friends from far and wide to have fun, let loose and celebrate. – DYLAN LONG

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SIDEWALKING: An American Horror Story

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Serial Killers For TrumpCROPPED
Man dressed as Michael Myers from Halloween, Kissimmee, Florida by FRANK THORP

NEW YORK TIMES: Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s presence remains elsewhere here in the Kiev, where government investigators examining secret records have found his name, as well as companies he sought business with, as they try to untangle a corrupt network they say was used to loot Ukrainian assets and influence elections during the administration of Mr. Manafort’s main client, former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr.6a00d834515c5469e201b7c7fc93d0970bYanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.

In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.

Mr. Manafort’s involvement with moneyed interests in Russia and Ukraine had previously come to light. But as American relationships there become a rising issue in the presidential campaign — from Mr. Trump’s favorable statements about Mr. Putin and his annexation of Crimea to the suspected Russian hacking of Democrats’ emails — an examination of Mr. Manafort’s activities offers new details of how he mixed politics and business out of public view and benefited from powerful interests now under scrutiny by the new government in Kiev. MORE

RELATED: On the same day that one major news outlet uncovered millions of dollars of illegal cash payments flowing from a puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the campaign manager of Donald Trump, another major news outlet discovered that Trump’s daughter Ivanka is currently on vacation with Putin’s girlfriend. The combination of scandals has made for an explosive fallout in the hours since the news broke. ivanka-trump-600MORE

PEOPLE: Ivanka Trump is taking a break from the campaign trail to vacation with friends. The daughter of GOP nominee Donald Trump shared a scenic snap with Wendi Deng Murdoch, the ex-wife of billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Trump, 34, was spotted with husband Jared Kushner in the city’s old town, seemingly taking a couple’s vacation without their three children – Arabella, 5, Joseph, 2, and Theodore, 4 months. Deng Murdoch was actually responsible for setting up Trump and Kushner. MORE

US WEEKLY:  How’s this for a new couple alert? The rumor circulating around the corridors of power — from Washington, D.C., to Europe and Asia — is that Vladimir Putin and Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife, are dating. See more photos of Wendi here. Reports of the pair have been floating around for years, ever since their respective divorces in 2014 and 2013. One insider close to the powerful leader tells Us Weekly the relationship is “serious.” MORE

vampire_putin2-copy

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Via BuzzFeed

Cost of the War in Iraq
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