BY MOLLY KASSEL This week on Serial, Sarah Koenig addresses the pack of rumors about Adnan that have circulated online and spread like a virus across the vectors of social media, and like an armchair virologist she attempts to trace the seemingly substantive ones back to their points of origin. Most of the rumors are started by people who claim to know Adnan through his mosque and arrive on Koenig’s doorstep via anonymous texts, emails, and phone calls. These tipsters insist on maintaining their anonymity because, they say, in their small, insular mosque community, gossip spreads quickly and nobody wants to be associated with Adnan in the wake of his being convicted of murder.
These rumors speak more to Adnan’s character, and less to the critical facts of his case. Most of these rumors don’t stand up to scrutiny, but there is one that Adnan acknowledges is true: That he once stole money from donation boxes at the mosque. He tells Koenig that during the summer he was in 8th grade, he and a few of his friends would sometimes take money from the donation boxes, which they would use to go to the movies. Adnan chalked this up to his youthful indiscretion but recalls how disappointed his mother was when she found out. Adnan was so ashamed, he says, that he never stole again. Some of the rumor-mongers assert that if Adnan was capable of stealing from their religious community, he is capable of much worse. However, the president of the mosque at that time was unfazed by the ‘crime,’ and dismissed it as ‘boys will be boys.’
Koenig also interviews Charles Ewing, a lawyer and forensic psychologist who has “evaluated several thousand criminal defendants, and testified in more than 700 criminal trials as an expert witness.” Recently he’s been specializing in murders committed in intimate relationships, and “homicides committed by young people.” He says that for most part people kill “because something happens that pushes them over the edge.” Outside of psychopaths, killing is usually not a “planned event.” That’s why it is so hard for those close Adnan accept that the murder of Hae was premeditated as the prosecution argued successfully.
Many of us suspect that Adnan is a psychopath, someone so adept at lying and manipulating people that he is capable of persuading friends and family that he is innocent. Ewing defines a psychopath as someone that has a great deal of “superficial charm” who “cannot empathize with other people’s feelings,” and “effectively manipulates other people.” Koenig is unconvinced that Adnan qualifies. “I don’t think Adnan is a psychopath — I just don’t,” she says. “I think he has empathy, I think he as real feelings because I’ve heard and seen him demonstrate empathy and emotion towards me and towards other people.” (more…)
Comedian Richard Pryor’s legacy still reverberates nearly 10 years after his death. Pryor took the most difficult troubling aspects of his life and turned it into comedy. He talked about being black in ways that had never been done before in mainstream entertainment. And he was fearless and hilarious talking about race relations. “Pryor was so unusual in pioneering in that he really spoke for black, working-class communities across America,” Scott Saul tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. ” … As he goes through his career, you’ll have white and black sitting together in the audience — and he’s talking about the gap between how they travel through the world and perceive it. And people are starting to have a conversation through him, this very difficult conversation about racial injustice … in America.” Saul’s new book Becoming Richard Pryor explains how Pryor went from being raised by a grandmother, who was a bootlegger and madam in Peoria, Ill., to being a transformative figure in entertainment. MORE
The TLA was jam packed last night for Philly’s very own Modern Baseball, homegrown pop-punksters known for their melodic leanings and turn-on-a-dime breakdowns. Opening up the sold-out show was a well-stacked lineup of buzzy bands, including Chicago pop-punkers Knuckle Puck and Beantown grinders Somos. Security had a busy night scooping up crowd surfers left and right while blaring, buzzsawing guitars had fists pumping skyward as the crowd’s energy continued to build. Brendan Lukens, Modern Baseball Jonah Hill-esque frontman, walked on stage a bit past 10, and cut to the quick: “Let’s just get started, we’re gonna play as many songs as we possibly can.” Then the band dove into a wild ride of a set, including some smash hits like “Apartment” and “Re-Done”. Beautiful melodies tumbled across fast-paced riffs, thrilling breakdowns and raunchy guitar solos that worked the audience into a crowd-surfing frenzy for a solid hour of hometown heroics. – DYLAN LONG
PHAWKER: What drew you to the subject matter, to writing about Brian Jones?
PAUL TRYNKA: I really felt that Brian was a true visionary on the same level as Iggy and Bowie. Mick and Keith have spent so much time trying to write Brian out of The Rolling Stones story and I knew there had to be more of a story there. I felt Brian was almost like the last great untold story of ’60s rock music. There hadn’t been a proper book on him and that’s such a shame, it really is. When you look at the whole history of rock music and how iconic he was and obviously there’s a lot of debates and argument about the music but I thought it was undeniable, he’s a major influence on today’s cultural landscape.
PHAWKER: Let’s kind of jump to the end here before we get to the beginning and that is why do you think the Stones go to such lengths to write him out of the official story? Is it ego, is it guilt, is it something else?
PAUL TRYNKA: The only true answer to why they’ve written him out of the stories is because he’s so important. I think that’s why, the denigration of him is caused by the fact they don’t want to pay tribute to the fact that he was a visionary, some people don’t want to be reminded of that. However big they are, it’s rare for people to really acknowledge their influences. Bowie was unusual, he credited Iggy. I think it’s demeaning that [Mick and Keith] don’t, but yeah I think it is that Brian was so important. Although I would add the proviso, Brian was a pain in the ass as well.
PHAWKER: You’re pretty tough on The Stones, did you attempt to get their cooperation for the book?
PAUL TRYNKA: No I didn’t, and just because I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I know the Stones really well and I did think seriously about really leveling with Keith and just saying ‘Look, tell me honestly what you think’ but I just didn’t feel I would get an honest answer from him and I didn’t want it to develop into a he said/she said thing. There are a lot of quotes from Keith out there about Brian and so I was able to use his impressions of Brian without the political agenda of him know I was trying to put Brian back in the center of the story.
PHAWKER: In the book you point to three key things that were formative in terms of Brian’s development as an artist and as a cultural rebel. First, he had asthma which sidelined him from school sports and isolated him from the inside crowd and established him as an outsider. Second, he embraced jazz music early on which has a whole different value system than the English middle class life he was born into. Third, he had a very loveless relationship with his parents. Do I have that right? That these were very key elements to determining the person Brian Jones became?
PAUL TRYNKA: Yeah I think that those are exactly the key facts. People forget how different Britain in particular was in the 1950s, it’s almost like a different planet. Back then there was no real emotional communication between parents and kids, especially in middle class families. Kids were expected to be little models of their parents, just clones, really. Brian was undoubtedly a difficult child, you have to acknowledge he had several kids when he himself was no more than a child which almost terminated his relationship with his parents. All of those factors were really powerful. The asthma kind of separated him from the rest of the kids and that made him an outsider. He had no home life so his own music gave him this kind of channel of escape and validation.
PHAWKER: The two troubling parts of Brian’s personality in his early years, which you reference very directly, is the misogyny and, as you already mentioned, the illegitimate children. The first part I’m guessing was largely culturally ingrained, that casual misogyny was just par for the course back then. But as far as having all of these kids out of wedlock, was it just a matter of him just being irresponsible or was it the fact that birth control was almost impossible to come by back then?
PAUL TRYNKA: I think it’s both. The fact that by that point Brian has already learned to flout convention, so having kids or having sex without thinking about the consequences, that was just part of flouting convention. Brian was unusual in that he wouldn’t think about the consequences, he’d live in the moment. There was misogyny there but I think that was a cultural thing, it certainly wasn’t Brian alone. I feel from the time I spent with the Stones, I kind of hung out with them in Toronto, there’s misogyny around the band, so Brian wasn’t unusual but I don’t want to tone it down, some of his treatment of women was very unpleasant. But it has been exaggerated, as well. A degree of it is cultural but there was this time in the ’60’s when musicians were given this kind of license to behave in a certain way and I think the institution was very misogynistic and I think that happens with loads and loads and loads of bands. The Stones were just the first ones, really. (more…)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Dr. McElhinney’s year-long survey of silent films continues with a silent double-bill featuring damsels in distress. First up, 1913’s lurid drama Traffic in Souls, in which a desperate woman recruits her policeman boyfriend to investigate her younger sister’s kidnapping by white slavers. Made two years before Birth of the Nation, there is no denying that Traffic is primitive cinema, with its camera staying nailed to the floor in long shots for the most part. It seems natural that the acting would be broader, with the camera still not evolved to an expressive instrument, the burden of conveying the drama falls strongly on the actors shoulders. Despite the stationary camera, the film has story structure down pat: the cast is introduced at the opening, a mid-film action scene raises the stakes and the climactic showdown includes wiretapping (recorded on Edison wax cylinders!) and a final confrontation with the wealthy socialites who bankrolled these crimes. Traffic In Souls is an early effort of Universal Studios, back when the industry was centered in Fort Lee, New Jersey, close to where Thomas Edison perfected the technology.
Wild Oranges was made 11 years later but by then cinema had evolved by leaps and bounds. In the hands of directing great King Vidor the camera still moves infrequently but his fluid visual vocabulary of medium, long, and close-up shots would remain the contemporary language of film into at least the 1950s. Wild Oranges follows a tragically widowed man (Frank Mayo) who drowns his sorrow alone at sea. One day the widower docks on the swampy coasts of Georgia where an old man and his beautiful young granddaughter (Virginia Valli) live isolated in a decaying mansion. Interfering with the expected romance is the child-like, swamp-dwelling brute Nicolas (Charles A. Post) who has his own designs for the granddaughter. One gloriously creepy scene has the lovelorn Nicolas forcing the terrified granddaughter to balance on a swampy stump with gators snapping at her feet, all because she won’t give him a little kiss. Murder and madness finally descends on the scenario, with a surprisingly brutal epic brawl closing the show.
King Vidor directed from 1913 until 1980, with the silent classics The Crowd and The Big Parade among his accomplishments, as well as the sexually torrid western Duel in the Sun, the Ayn Rand adaptation The Fountainhead and even the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz (although he was uncredited). Wild Oranges isn’t often mentioned among his classics (the film was missing almost 20 minutes until recently) but it is another fine example of his storytelling, showing passionate common folks drawn into violent conflict by the irresistible lure of love.
GEROFFREY NUNBERG: “Infobesity,” “lumbersexual,” “phablet.” As usual, the items that stand out as candidates for word of the year are like its biggest pop songs, catchy but ephemeral. But even a fleeting expression can sometimes encapsulate the zeitgeist. That’s why I’m nominating “God view” for the honor. It’s the term that the car service company Uber uses for a map view that shows them the locations of all the Uber cars in an area and silhouettes of the people who ordered them. The media seized on the term this fall when it came out that the company had been entertaining themselves and their guests by pairing that view with their customer data so they could display the movements of journalists and VIP customers as they made their way around New York. […]
Calling the display “God view” didn’t help dispel that impression, particularly coming from a company whose name already suggested a certain Teutonic grandiosity. But if Uber’s choice of terms was ill advised, it’s still a pretty apt name for the way technology sees us now. Every week brings another indication that the world is becoming a vast panopticon, a place where everyone can be observed without being aware of it. An app displays the Facebook profile of every woman in the immediate vicinity who is logged in on Foursquare. A website streams live video from thousands of unsecured webcams, along with their map locations. And we’re dogged by those uncannily personalized ads as we browse the web. […]
What we’re talking about here, of course, is the sense that the world is getting more and more creepy. That word has been around too long to be a candidate for word of the year, but it’s clearly in the running for word of the era. It goes back to the time of Dickens, but we use it more often and more broadly than ever before. It’s our aesthetic reaction to everything from John Malkovich to Furbies. And it has become our reflexive response to the unnerving promiscuity of digital information. Scholars ponder it. You see articles in academic journals and law reviews with titles like, “A Theory of Creepy” and “Leakiness and Creepiness in App Space.” As the thinking goes, understand creepiness and you’ve located the boundaries of personal privacy, the line you mustn’t trespass. […] As Google’s Eric Schmidt put it, “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line but not cross it.” But that line is constantly moving as we get more and more used to being exposed. MORE
“God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” – JOHN LENNON
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: That summer in Breezy Point, when he was 18 and out of Madison High in Brooklyn, there was the Beatles on the radio at the beach through the hot days and on the jukebox through the nights in the Sugar Bowl and Kennedys. He was young and he let his hair grow and there were girls and it was the important part of life. Last year, Tony Palma even went to see Beatlemania. And now, last night, a 34-old man, he sat in a patrol car at 82nd St. and Columbus Ave. and the call came over the radio: “Man shot, 1 West 72 St..” Palma and his partner, Herb Frauenberger, rushed through the Manhattan streets to an address they knew as one of the most famous living places in the country, the Dakota apartments. Another patrol car was there ahead of them, and as Palma got out he saw the officers had a man up against the building and were handcuffing him. “Where’s the guy shot?” Palma said. “In the back,” one of the cops said. Palma went through the gates into the Dakota courtyard and up into the office, where a guy in a red shirt and jeans was on his face on the floor. Palma rolled the guy over. Blood was coming out of the mouth and covering the face. The chest was wet with blood. MORE
GAWKER: Two very different flights landed at Mitiga military airport in Libya just over a decade ago. The first was organized by the CIA and MI6. On board were a family of six surrounded by guards, the frightened children separated from their parents, the father chained to a seat in a rear compartment with a needle stuck in his arm. The second flight, only a couple of days later, carried Tony Blair in comfort, on his way to shake hands and do business with Colonel Gaddafi.
I know about the first flight, because I was one of the children. I know about the chains and the needle because Sami al-Saadi—a long-time political opponent of Colonel Gaddafi—is my father and I saw him in that state. I was 12 years old, and was trying to keep my younger brothers and my six year-old sister calm. The guards took us to see our mother once on the 16-hour flight. She was crying, and told us that we were being taken to Gaddafi’s Libya. Shortly before the plane landed, a guard told me to say goodbye to my father, at the front of the plane. I forced myself ahead and saw him with a needle in his arm. I remember guards laughing at me. Then I fainted.
We were taken off the plane and bundled into cars. Hoods were pulled over my parents’ heads. Libyans forced my mother, sister and I into one car, my brothers and father another. The convoy drove to a secret prison outside Tripoli, where I was certain we were all going to be executed. All I knew about Libya at that time was that Colonel Gaddafi wanted to hurt my father, and that our family had always been moving from country to country to avoid being taken to him. Now we had been kidnapped, flown to Libya, and his people had us at their mercy. MORE
HUFFINGTON POST: A leading Libyan opponent of Colonel Gaddafi, forcibly returned to the north African country in a joint operation with the UK and US, where he was tortured, has won a £2.23m settlement with the UK government. Sami al Saadi, a leading Gaddafi opponent, was forced on board a plane in Hong Kong – having sought for years to avoid the agents of the Libyan dictator –with his wife and four young children, in an alleged joint UK-US-Libyan operation. They were then flown to Libya, where all of them were initially imprisoned and al Saadi was held and tortured. MORE
MOTHER JONES: This morning, the Senate intelligence committee released an executive summary of its years-long investigation into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. President George W. Bush authorized the so-called “enhanced interrogation” program after the 9/11 attacks. The full report includes over 6,000 pages and 35,000 footnotes. You can read it here. Here are some of the lowlights:
1. The CIA used previously unreported tactics, including “rectal feeding” of detainees (p. 100, footnote 584):
2. CIA officers threatened the children of detainees (p. 4):
3. Over 20 percent of CIA detainees were “wrongfully held.” One was an “intellectually challenged” man who was held so the CIA could get leverage over his family (p. 12):
4. One detainee, Abu Hudhaifa, was subjected to “ice water baths” and “66 hours of standing sleep deprivation” before being released because the CIA realized it probably had the wrong man (p. 16, footnote 32):
5. The CIA, contra what it told Congress, began torturing detainees before even determining whether they would cooperate (p. 104):
6. CIA officers began torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “a few minutes” after beginning to question him (p. 108):
7. The CIA planned to detain KSM incommunicado for the rest of his life, without charge or trial (p. 9):
8. During waterboarding sessions, KSM made up a story that Al Qaeda was trying to recruit African-American Muslims…in Montana (p. 118):
9. The CIA torturers told CIA leadership that torture wasn’t producing good information from KSM. But CIA leaders didn’t relay that information to Congress (p. 212):
10. A detainee was tortured for not addressing an interrogator as “sir”—and for complaining about a stomach ache (p. 106):
11. CIA officers cried when they witnessed the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (p. 44):
12. Within weeks of his arrival in CIA custody, Zubaydah was “on life support and unable to speak” (p. 30):
BY STEPHANIE SHAMP In the pursuit of not wasting my time, I generally only read memoirs that are:
A. Recommended by a close friend
B. Written past the age of 40
C. Dark with funny moments or funny with dark moments
D. Profoundly moving
I’m sorry to report that Not That Kind of Girl meets none of my basic requirements. Fact is, Lena Dunham’s life is just not that interesting. Born to two artists and raised in what is never directly said but implied to be a middle-class home with her younger sister in New York, Dunham is the definition of “STARS! THEY’RE JUST LIKE US!” From a normal childhood she lived well, made friends, made bad decisions, lost friends, made good decisions, finished high school, went to college, banged some dudes, changed colleges, fell in love, graduated college, fell out of love, and then went on to create, write, direct and star in the cultural phenomenon that is HBO’s Girls. In other words, the standard narrative arc of a mid-twentysomething gals’ life in New York at the dawn of the 21st century, right? As if. The rule of thumb in the memoir genre is if the subject is not relatable his/her life must be a teachable moment and an inveterate narcissist/compulsive oversharer like Dunham is your go-to gal when. Every. Moment. Must. Mean. Something.
Not That Kind of Girl is told in time-traveling non-linear form, meaning we don’t start with birth and end with the present. Instead, Dunham picks moments from her life that can serve as a widescreen onto which she can project the themes she wants to express. Her book is broken up into five sections: Love & Sex, Body, Friendship, Work, and Big Picture. The titles of the essays that anchor the book — e.g. “Take My Virginity (No, Really, Take It)” or “I Didn’t Fuck Them, But They Yelled At Me” — have Dunham’s characteristically blunt charm. Within these cleverly titled essays, people from her life like family members or one of the many jerks she dated will reappear and do something that proves whatever point she’s trying to make.
We find out in “Love & Sex” that when Lena was five, she was asked by a drunk British woman at a gallery opening “what our parents did if we were ‘bad girls’” and Dunham’s instinct, even at a young age, was to say something extreme rather than the boring truth. She falsely accuses her dad of punishing her by sexualy assaulting her with a fork, reflecting that “It is a testament to his good nature that, after the British lady repeated my ‘hilarious’ story to a group of adults, he simply scooped me up and said ‘I think it’s someone’s bedtime.’” To me, this is testament not only to Dunham’s patient father but to her own lifelong history of seeking negative attention.
Another manipulative moment comes in “Love & Sex” when Dunham discusses how she made a habit of luring potential lovers into “platonic bed sharing.” Basically, she slept with men in her bed but didn’t have sex. Not for a lack of interest. She writes, “I writhed around like a cat in heat hoping he’d graze me in a way I could translate into pleasure.” Eventually she figures out that she was just torturing herself as well as damaging her reputation and understanding of romantic relationships, writing “my bed was a rest stop for the lonely, and I was the spinster innkeeper.”
In “Who Moved My Uterus?” from “Body” we’re informed that Dunham has endometriosis, a painful condition that can cause irregular bleeding and, at worst, infertility. Unsurprisingly, her reaction is melodramatic: “I can’t do any of what I had planned. All I can do is survive.” Of course I cannot tell any woman how to cope with such a diagnosis, but Dunham’s reaction struck me as overwrought for a completely manageable illness.
In “Is This Supposed to be Fun?” she writes about the difficulties of enmeshing her pre-fame friends in her current social circle, and concludes with this careful-what-you-wish-for aside: “I thought I would keep my friends, and we’d make new, different memories. None of that happened. Better things happened. Then why am I so sad?” Because Lena Dunham, that’s why. (more…)
COLTRANEFILM: Set against the social, political and cultural landscape of his times, the film will reveal the passions and demons that shaped Coltrane’s life, and explore why his music transcends the barriers of race, religion and age as it continues to inspire listeners around the world decades after his death. Utilizing never-before-seen Coltrane family home movies and audio recordings along with rare film and television appearances, Coltrane’s incredible story will be told by the people who know him best: his family, the musicians that worked with him, and the cultural icons who continue to draw inspiration from his fearless artistry and boundless creative vision.
“What is it about the music of John Coltrane that transcends all barriers of geography, race, religion and age? Who is this outside-the-box thinker whose boundary-shattering work continues to inspire people around the world? Like any good mystery story, this film will peel back the layers of a compelling, emotional, passionate and dramatic life of demons and redemption to reveal the answers to these and other intriguing questions,” says writer and director John Scheinfeld. “We’re also offering people the chance to contribute to the film by sharing stories of how John Coltrane and his music have inspired them personally and professionally. All submissions to the film’s website will be reviewed and the best ones will be considered for the final cut.”
Born September 23rd, 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina, John Coltrane’s first introduction to music came through his musician father. Growing up, Coltrane was obsessed with the records of Count Basie and Lester Young. At the age of 13, he picked up the saxophone and tried to imitate the sounds of his then idols Charlie Parker and Johnny Hodges. Thus began the career of one of the Twentieth Century’s most important and influential artists. Coltrane’s dramatic life story was cinematic in its scope¾from his early musical life playing alongside giants Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Vinson and Jimmy Heath, to breakout performances with the Miles Davis Quintet on their classic recordings ‘Round About Midnight and Kind of Blue, to the historic partnership with Thelonious Monk and then finally to his astonishing solo career that gave the world such musical diamonds as Giant Steps, My Favorite Things, Impressions, Live at Birdland and 1965’s seminal A Love Supreme. “Trane” died in 1967 at the age of 40, an enigmatic, dominant figure whose massive influence on generations of artists has grown even stronger since his death. The film, targeted for theatrical release in late 2015 / early 2016. MORE
NPR: This week, we’ll see the 50th anniversary of a sacred day for many music fans. On December 9, 1964, the John Coltrane quartet recorded the album A Love Supreme. I call it a sacred day for music fans, not just jazz fans, because for people across musical boundaries and cultures, Santana, Bono, Joni Mitchell, Steve Rice, Bootsy Collins and Scott-Heron, hearing “A Love Supreme” was a revelation. “A Love Supreme” is Coltrane’s ultimate spiritual testament. The love supreme is God’s love. MORE
ALL MUSIC GUIDE: Easily one of the most important records ever made, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme was his pinnacle studio outing that at once compiled all of his innovations from his past, spoke of his current deep spirituality, and also gave a glimpse into the next two and a half years (sadly, those would be his last). Recorded at the end of 1964, Trane’s classic quartet of Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, and Jimmy Garrison stepped into the studio and created one of the most thought-provoking, concise, and technically pleasing albums of their bountiful relationship (not to mention his best-selling to date). From the undulatory (and classic) bassline at the intro to the last breathy notes, Trane is at the peak of his logical yet emotionally varied soloing while the rest of the group is remarkably in tune with Coltrane’s spiritual vibe. MORE
PREVIOUSLY: In its golden age, jazz was the radiator steam squealing out of the neon tenement soul of the postwar American night. Native son John Coltrane – who died 40 years ago today — was one those angel-headed hipsters tweaking the thermostat. You could bookend his sax mojo with the almost-pop My Favorite Things and the transcendental dissonance of Ascension. But Live at the Village Vanguard, Coltrane’s great white whale, swallows both of them whole. Recorded live over four nights in 1961, this box set captures Coltrane just as he was making the transition from mortal to immortal. After star-making collaborations with Miles and Monk, he stepped into the spotlight fronting a band that was for all intents and purposes the Led Zeppelin of jazz: Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Reggie Workman, Jimmy Garrison and Ahmed Abdul Malik. For four nights at the dawn of the ’60s, Coltrane and band scribbled out the same eight pieces–the modal raga of “India,” the holy-soul jellyroll of “Spiritual,” the zig-zag blues of “Chasin’ the Trane” and “Impressions,” the physical graffiti of “Brasilia” and “Greensleeves” and the midnight honk of “Miles’ Mode” and “Naima” –- telegraphing the decade’s looming radicalism. – JONATHAN VALANIA
Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride. […]
I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and remain yours faithfully,
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Los Angeles police are investigating the vandalism of comedian Bill Cosby’s star on the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame, which was marked with the word “rapist,” officials said. A photo of the vandalism surfaced on social media Friday morning, showing “rapist” scrawled across the star three times in marker. By midmorning, a cleaning crew was on scene. Ana Martinez, a spokeswoman for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which helps oversee the Walk of Fame, said she became aware of the incident Friday morning. Martinez said the chamber also filed a police report. “The Hollywood Walk of Fame is an institution celebrating the positive contributions of the inductees,” Martinez said in a statement. “When people are unhappy with one of our honorees, we would hope that they would project their anger in more positive ways than to vandalize a California State landmark.” MORE
CNN: Los Angeles police are investigating a sexual assault claim against Bill Cosby, a police spokeswoman said Friday. The woman is a “possible victim” of sexual assault by Bill Cosby, Officer Jane Kim said, adding it is an open case but declining further comment. One of the latest accusations comes from former Playboy bunny P.J. Masten, who says there are 12 more ex-bunnies with similar stories who don’t want to come forward. Masten told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota that Cosby sexually molested her at the Playboy Mansion when she was 15. She said she told her supervisor soon afterward and was told no one would believe her because Cosby and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner were good friends. Hefner responded to the allegations in a statement Friday, saying “Bill Cosby has been a good friend for many years and the mere thought of these allegations is truly saddening. I would never tolerate this kind of behavior, regardless of who was involved.” MORE
WYATT CENAC: “We can be mad at Cosby, but let’s take this s— further, because we live in a country … we’ve done pretty well by rape,” Cenac said. “We live in a country where in 31 states, a rapist has parental rights and parental claim on a child that they conceived out of rape. Thirty-one states out of 50. That’s not all the states you hate. That’s some of the ones you like. Thirty-one out of 50. Those are crazy numbers. If you were a quarterback in the NFL, and you completed 31 of 50 passes, chances are you’re winning the game, and not just winning the game, they are going to ride you to the playoffs. Rape is a pro-bowl quarterback. MORE
Jessica Kourkounis [pictured, below right, with chicken) is a Philadelphia-based photographer specializing in documentary, editorial and portraiture work. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Time, The Art Economist and ESPN The Magazine. Her brother plays drums on many of the albums in your collection. Presumably.
PHAWKER: How did you get interested in photography? What was the ‘Eureka!’ moment when you decided that this is what you wanted to do with your life?
JESSICA KOURKOUNIS: I’ve been interested in photography for so long I honestly can’t even remember when it started. I know that as a young adult, I quickly discovered that I wasn’t cut out for the whole traditional college student trajectory, and so I moved to NYC with $250 to my name to couch surf and work as an apprentice with a photographer named Chris Toliver. He mostly shot portraits of musicians and that type of thing. After that I freelance assisted for a variety of other people. I learned a lot that year and I guess that’s when I realized I could actually survive doing what I love. Which was awesome because I’m the world’s shittiest waitress.
PHAWKER: What photographers influenced your work?
JESSICA KOURKOUNIS: I’ve been influenced by a handful of the usual suspects…Mary Ellen Mark and Dorothea Lange were huge early on, as was Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, Weegee and other big names. There are some lesser knowns like Tseng Kwong Chi and Milton Rogovin. Every day I’m impressed by work I see from my peers and contemporaries such as Damon Winter, Tyler Hicks, Cheryl Senter, Eric Thayer, Philly’s finest David Maialetti, the list goes on forever.
PHAWKER: How did you wind up in the Astrodome in the wake of Katrina?
JESSICA KOURKOUNIS: I was sent to New Orleans to cover Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath by the Houston Chronicle and then once residents were evacuated to Houston I sort of set up camp in the Astrodome. That experience was overwhelming on so many different levels. I remember one elderly woman telling me it was the first time she had ever left her neighborhood. There were a lot of heart breaking moments and encounters but there was also a realization that humans are engineered for survival even under the worst circumstances.
PHAWKER: Tell us about your Camden project — judging by the photos it looks like you were doing ride-alongs with the cops. How did your perspective on Camden — and for that matter the causes and consequences of poverty and the Drug War — evolve over the course of the project.
JESSICA KOURKOUNIS: I worked on a story for The New York Times about the surge of violence in Camden in 2008. And then in 2012 I shot another story for The Times and I met Chief of Police Scott Thomson. He was a very affable and approachable person. This is when it was first revealed that the Camden City Police force was to be disbanded and that Camden County would be taking over. Essentially every officer’s job was terminated, busting up the union, which officials claimed were making it financially impossible to keep enough officers on the street. Those who wanted to had to reapply for their job. It seemed pretty crazy to me and I asked the Chief if I could follow the first year of the take over and see how it went. It was really as simple as that. I just wanted to see what it looked like.
As for my perspective on poverty and the Drug War? I’m an empathetic person by nature and I can’t help but see situations from everyone’s viewpoint and feel like they’re all valid in their own way. Sometimes when I was out there it felt like the cops were doing what needed to be done. And many times it looked and felt like an occupation. But I’m not a cop and I’m not a resident of Camden. I’m not a drug dealer or an addict. I’m not a minority. I don’t live in a particularly poor neighborhood (or a particularly affluent one for that matter). I live a totally middle of the road life. I’m not even going to pretend I have the faintest idea of how to turn a city like Camden around, or any city for that matter. I know that it isn’t just about drug dealers and addicts and cops and criminals. Systematic failures abound in almost every city in America at this point. I think concentrating on the public education systems tops the list of problems that absolutely need to be remedied. There are so many factors at play and so much politics involved.
PHAWKER: Tell us about the Border Life project…
JESSICA KOURKOUNIS: I was piggy-backing on a project my dear friend and very talented photographer Mayra Beltran was working on. Her family came to the United States from Mexico and immigration is a topic she feels close to. I was living in Texas at the time and it was a big headline. I wasn’t really trying to get any of that work published though. I only brought one film camera and one lens and a bag of film. She had her full digital set up and has a lot of amazing images from that trip. I think my real motivation was to spend time with my friend and to learn what life was like first hand along the border. I’d say we spent equal time on both sides. We spent an evening with some nutso militia guys who were using high-powered lasers to try and expose people crossing illegally into the U.S. They ended up shining the thing right into the eyes of a border patrol officer wearing night vision goggles. A few minutes later the Border Patrol were surrounding us with all terrain vehicles and helicopters. It was wild. One of the almost cartoon-like militiamen ended up getting taken in on an outstanding warrant for failure to pay child support or something like that. Actually, I remember Mayra got a bit upset with me because I had a difficult time hiding my dislike for that group of dudes. She was right of course, it wasn’t at all professional of me to broadcast how skeeved out I was, but I just found them to be so offensive it was really difficult.
PHAWKER: Tell us about shooting Daniel Johnston’s portrait. I’m reading a lot of anguish in his face in that shot — is that accurate or am I way off?
JESSICA KOURKOUNIS: Daniel Johnston’s struggle with mental illness is pretty well documented at this point. I think he has a form of bipolar disorder. I don’t know about now, but back then he was taking a lot of medications and he was asleep when we got there. So, I don’t know if anguish would be the word I would use but he was definitely struggling. He chain-smoked and drank soda non-stop. He came to life a bit later after the caffeine kicked in.
PHAWKER: What is the story behind the photo of Henry the Dog?
JESSICA KOURKOUNIS: Henry was my best dog. He was like Winnie the Pooh or something…fully Zen, just by nature. I shot that photo in his later years in front of a storefront window on Arch Street. It was a perfect moment. I think about a month later the ceiling in that place collapsed and it blew that window out onto the sidewalk.
PHAWKER: Likewise, what is the story behind the bird you are holding in the portrait (self-?) of you in the ABOUT ME section.
JESSICA KOURKOUNIS: That’s a rooster belonging to my friend and now business partner Neal Santos. He and his partner have a farm in West Philly, Farm 51, and we were hanging out and taking portraits with chickens. That was a couple of years ago. I should update it. I wear glasses now.
PHAWKER: What does a ‘good’ photo achieve that a ‘bad’ or merely unremarkable photo does not?
JESSICA KOURKOUNIS: Oh I don’t know, a ‘good’ photo should incite a feeling or a laugh, maybe spark an idea or controversy. Teach something to the viewer. Or just look pretty. Any answer I give to that question is going to be subjective.
PHAWKER: What comes next? What projects are you currently working on?
JESSICA KOURKOUNIS: I have a few ideas bouncing around but it sometimes takes a while to get it clear in my own head. I’ve spent the last bunch of months building a studio and partnership with the aforementioned Neal Santos. Its called Rock Paper Scissors Studio and we are really just getting our feet wet. We have a lot of ideas. We also have a growing collection of portraits of each other and an army of different dogs. We spent so much time on the manual labor and planning that recently we’ve been making a point of having some fun and remembering how much we love photography. In unrelated news, I’m also involved in a new company called Kefir Pop which makes a lightly fermented, natural, fizzy soda brewed from tibicos.
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