Monday, December 29, 2008

Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008)

Jazz great Freddie Hubbard dead at 70
By JOHN ROGERS, Associated Press Writer John Rogers, Associated Press Writer Mon Dec 29, 5:49 pm ET

LOS ANGELES – Freddie Hubbard, the Grammy-winning jazz musician whose style influenced a generation of trumpet players and who collaborated with such greats as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, died Monday, a month after suffering a heart attack. He was 70.

Hubbard died at Sherman Oaks Hospital, said his manager, fellow trumpeter David Weiss of the New Jazz Composers Octet. He had been hospitalized since suffering the heart attack a day before Thanksgiving.

A towering figure in jazz circles, Hubbard played on hundreds of recordings in a career dating to 1958, the year he arrived in New York from his hometown Indianapolis, where he had studied at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music and with the Indianapolis Symphony.

Soon he had hooked up with such jazz legends as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley and Coltrane.

"I met Trane at a jam session at Count Basie's in Harlem in 1958," he told the jazz magazine Down Beat in 1995. "He said, `Why don't you come over and let's try and practice a little bit together.' I almost went crazy. I mean, here is a 20-year-old kid practicing with John Coltrane. He helped me out a lot, and we worked several jobs together."

In his earliest recordings, which included "Open Sesame" and "Goin' Up" for Blue Note in 1960, the influence of Davis and others on Hubbard is obvious, Weiss said. But within a couple years he would develop a style all his own, one that would influence generations of musicians, including Wynton Marsalis.

"He influenced all the trumpet players that came after him," Marsalis told The Associated Press earlier this year. "Certainly I listened to him a lot. ... We all listened to him. He has a big sound and a great sense of rhythm and time and really the hallmark of his playing is an exuberance. His playing is exuberant."

Hubbard played on more than 300 recordings, including his own albums and those of scores of other artists. He won his Grammy in 1972 for best jazz performance by a group for the album "First Light."

As a young musician, Hubbard became revered among his peers for a fiery, blazing style that allowed him to hit notes higher and faster than just about anyone else with a horn. As age and infirmity began to slow that style, he switched to a softer, melodic style and played a flugelhorn. His fellow musicians were still impressed.

"The sound he gets on just one note. I know he does all the flashy stuff and the high stuff and it's all great but ... he'd play `Body and Soul' on the flugelhorn and it was just that much better again than everyone around him," trumpeter Chris Botti said in an interview earlier this year.


Associated Press Writer Charles J. Gans in New York contributed to this story.

From downbeat:

Freddie Hubbard Dies
Daily News Headlines

Posted 12/29/2008

Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, who from the mid '60s to the late '80s was arguably the most powerful and prolific trumpeter in jazz, died Monday morning in Sherman Oaks Hospital in Sherman Oaks, Calif., of complications from a heart attack he had in late November. He was 70.

Blessed with a sound that combined Clifford Brown's technique, Lee Morgan's bravura and Miles Davis' sensitivity, Hubbard was prominent for much of his career both a leader and a sideman. Born in Indianapolis on April 7, 1938, Hubbard's earliest professional gigs were with guitarist Wes Montgomery and his brothers before he moved to New York in 1958, working with Eric Dolphy, Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones and many others. He recorded with John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and on Oliver Nelson's Blues And The Abstract Truth album.

In 1961, he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers for three years and recorded as a leader for Blue Note. His albums for the label include Breaking Point, Goin' Up and Hub-Tones, and he appeared as a sideman on a number of important Blue Note dates, including Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage and Empyrean Isles. After stints with Atlantic and Impulse! records, Hubbard worked with producer Creed Taylor in 1970 and recorded a number of accessible and noteworthy jazz-fusion classics including Red Clay, Straight Life, Sky Dive and First Light. In the mid '70s, Hubbard signed with Columbia and recorded and toured with VSOP: a Miles Davis reunion combo featuring Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams.

Hubbard also collaborated with vocalists Chaka Khan and Elton John and recorded Double Take with trumpeter Woody Shaw. His recorded on the Atlantic, Pablo ad EMI throughout the '80s. After a series of lip problems had sidelined him for almost a decade, Hubbard re-emerged in the past few years with David Weiss’s New Jazz Composers Octet. He released On The Real Side (Times Square) last year to celebrate his 70th birthday.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

NPR: Never Too Late to Learn an Instrument

Never Too Late To Learn An Instrument
By Brigid McCarthy

Weekend Edition Saturday, December 27, 2008 - Taking up an instrument for the first time can be daunting for adults, both because of hectic schedules and perhaps the wiring of the brain. But those who do try to learn the piano, the trumpet or violin later in life discover that the biggest obstacles have nothing to do with innate ability or IQ.

Listen to the story HERE.

Songs From the Heart of a Marketing Plan

December 28, 2008
Songs From the Heart of a Marketing Plan

IN “Creator,” the rawest track on Santogold’s debut and self-titled album, the singer Santi White boasts, “Me I’m a creator/Thrill is to make it up/The rules I break got me a place up on the radar.” It’s a bohemian manifesto in a sound bite, brash and endearing, or at least it was for me until it showed up in a beer commercial. And a hair-gel commercial too.

It turns out that the insurgent, quirky rule breaker is just another shill. Billboard reported that three-quarters of Santogold’s excellent album has already been licensed for commercials, video games and soundtracks, and Ms. White herself appears in advertisements, singing for sneakers. She has clearly decided that linking her music to other, mostly mercenary agendas is her most direct avenue to that “place up on the radar.”

I know — time for me to get over it. After all, this is the reality of the 21st-century music business. Selling recordings to consumers as inexpensive artworks to be appreciated for their own sake is a much-diminished enterprise now that free copies multiply across the Web.

While people still love music enough to track it down, collect it, argue over it and judge their Facebook friends by it, many see no reason to pay for it. The emerging practical solution is to let music sell something else: a concert, a T-shirt, Web-site pop-up ads or a brand.

Musicians have to eat and want to be heard, and if that means accompanying someone else’s sales pitch or videogame, well, it’s a living. Why wait for album royalties to trickle in, if they ever do, when licensing fees arrive upfront as a lump sum? It’s one part of the system of copyright regulations that hasn’t been ravaged by digital distribution, and there’s little resistance from any quarters; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss croon for J. C. Penney and the avant-rockers Battles are heard accompanying an Australian vodka ad.

The question is: What happens to the music itself when the way to build a career shifts from recording songs that ordinary listeners want to buy to making music that marketers can use? That creates pressure, subtle but genuine, for music to recede: to embrace the element of vacancy that makes a good soundtrack so unobtrusive, to edit a lyric to be less specific or private, to leave blanks for the image or message the music now serves. Perhaps the song will still make that essential, head-turning first impression, but it won’t be as memorable or independent.

Music always had accessory roles: a soundtrack, a jingle, a branding statement, a mating call. But for performers with a public profile, as opposed to composers for hire, the point was to draw attention to the music itself. Once they were noticed, stars could provide their own story arcs of career and music, and songs got a chance to create their own spheres, as sanctuary or spook house or utopia. If enough people cared about the song, payoffs would come from record sales (to performer and songwriter) and radio play (to the songwriter).

When Moby licensed every song on his 1999 album, “Play,” for ads and soundtracks, the move was both startling and cheesy, but it did lead to CD sales; an album that set staticky samples of blues and gospel to dance-floor beats managed to become a million seller. Nearly a decade later, platinum albums are much scarcer.

For all but the biggest names — like AC/DC, which made Wal-Mart the exclusive vendor for CDs of its long-awaited “Black Ice” album, got its own “store within a store” and sold more than a million copies in two weeks — a marketing deal is more likely to be its own reward rather than spawn a career. With telling ambivalence, Brooklyn Vegan, the widely read, indie-loving music blog, recently started a column, “This Week in Music Licensing: It’s Not Selling Out Anymore,” but soon dropped the “selling out” half of the title. There’s no longer a clear dividing line for selling out, if there ever was.

And as music becomes a means to an end — pushing a separate product, whether it’s a concert ticket or a clothing line, a movie scene or a Web ad — a tectonic shift is under way. Record sales channeled the taste of the broad, volatile public into a performer’s paycheck. As music sales dwindle, licensers become a far more influential target audience. Unlike nonprofessional music fans who might immerse themselves in a song or album they love, music licensers want a track that’s attractive but not too distracting — just a tease, not a revelation.

It’s almost enough to make someone miss those former villains of philistinism, the recording companies. Labels had an interest in music that would hold listeners on its own terms; selling it was their meal ticket. Labels, and to some extent radio stations and music television, also had a stake in nurturing stars who would keep fans returning to find out what happened next, allowing their catalogs to be perennially rediscovered. By contrast, licensers have no interest beyond the immediate effect of a certain song, and can save money by dealing with unknowns.

As the influence of major labels erodes, licensers are seizing their chance to be talent scouts. They can be good at it, song by song, turning up little gems like Chairlift’s “Bruises,” heard in an iPod ad. For a band, getting such a break, and being played repeatedly for television viewers, is a windfall, and perhaps an alternate route to radio play or the beginning of a new audience. But how soon will it be before musicians, perhaps unconsciously, start conceiving songs as potential television spots, or energy jolts during video games, or ringtones? Which came first, Madonna’s “Hung Up” or the cell phone ad?

Not wanting to appear too crass, musicians insist that exposure from licensing does build the kind of interest that used to pay off in sales and/or loyalty. Hearing a song on the radio or in a commercial has a psychological component; someone else has already endorsed it. Musicians who don’t expect immediate mass-market radio play — maybe they’re too old, maybe they’re too eccentric — have gotten their music on the air by selling it to advertisers. That can rev up careers, as Apple ads have done for Feist and for this year’s big beneficiary, Yael Naim, whose “New Soul” introduced the MacBook Air. (Sites like help listeners identify commercial soundtracks.)

The Sri Lankan art-pop-rapper M.I.A. already had all the hipster adoration she could ever want for her song “Paper Planes,” which compares international drug dealing to selling records, and it turns gunshots and a ringing cash register into hooks. But having the song used in the trailer for “Pineapple Express” was probably what propelled the song to a Grammy nomination for record of the year.

(Grammy voters often seize on music from everywhere but the albums they purport to judge; they seem particularly drawn to film soundtracks.) And if the song now conjures images of the movie trailer for many listeners, that’s the tradeoff for recognition.

The old, often legitimate accusation against labels was that they sold entire albums with only one good song or two. Now there’s an incentive for a song to have only 30 seconds of good stuff. It’s already happening: Chris Brown’s hit “Forever” is wrapped around a jingle for chewing gum.

Apparently there’s no going back, structurally, to paying musicians to record music for its own sake. Labels that used to make profits primarily from selling albums have been struggling since the Internet caused them to lose their chokehold on distribution and exposure. Now, in return for investing in recording and promotion, and for supplying their career-building expertise (such as it was), they want a piece of musicians’ whole careers.

Old-fashioned audio recording contracts are increasingly being replaced by so-called 360 deals that also tithe live shows, merchandising, licensing and every other conceivable revenue stream — conceding, in a way, that the labels’ old central role of selling discs for mere listening is obsolescent. Some musicians, like the former record company president Jay-Z, have concurred, but by signing 360 deals not with labels but with the concert-promotion monolith Live Nation.

Maybe such dire thoughts are extreme, since some people are still buying music. The iTunes Music Store has sold more than five billion songs since 2003. But it’s harder and harder to find a song without a tie-in. It took Guns N’ Roses 15 years between albums to complete “Chinese Democracy,” certainly long enough to receive worldwide notice when the album was released this year. But instead of letting the album arrive as an event in itself, the band licensed one of the album’s best songs, “Shackler’s Revenge,” to a video game that came out first. Metallica fans have complained that the band’s new album, “Death Magnetic,” sounds better in the version made for the “Guitar Hero” video game than on the consumer CD, which is compressed to the point of distortion so it will sound louder on the radio. But they take for granted that the music will end up in the game in the first place. Consumers reinforce the licensers almost perversely: they pay for music as a ringtone, or tap along with it on the iPhone game Tap Tap Revenge, but not as a high-fidelity song.

Perhaps it’s too 20th century to hope that music could stay exempt from multitasking, or that the constant insinuation of marketing into every moment of consciousness would stop when a song begins. But for the moment I’d suggest individual resistance. Put on a song with no commercial attachments. Turn it up. Close your eyes. And listen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

World's Oldest Marijuana Stash Discovered

Stash for the afterlife: A photograph of a stash of cannabis found in the 2,700-year-old grave of a man in the Gobi Desert. Scientists are unsure if the marijuana was grown for more spiritual or medical purposes, but it's evident that the man was buried with a lot of it. David Potter / Oxford University Press

World's oldest marijuana stash totally busted
Two pounds of still-green weed found in a 2,700-year-old Gobi Desert grave
By Jennifer Viegas
Discovery Channel
updated 10:19 a.m. PT, Wed., Dec. 3, 2008

Nearly two pounds of still-green plant material found in a 2,700-year-old grave in the Gobi Desert has just been identified as the world's oldest marijuana stash, according to a paper in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Botany.

A barrage of tests proves the marijuana possessed potent psychoactive properties and casts doubt on the theory that the ancients only grew the plant for hemp in order to make clothing, rope and other objects.

They apparently were getting high too.

Lead author Ethan Russo told Discovery News that the marijuana "is quite similar" to what's grown today.

"We know from both the chemical analysis and genetics that it could produce THC (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase, the main psychoactive chemical in the plant)," he explained, adding that no one could feel its effects today, due to decomposition over the millennia.

Russo served as a visiting professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Botany while conducting the study. He and his international team analyzed the cannabis, which was excavated at the Yanghai Tombs near Turpan, China. It was found lightly pounded in a wooden bowl in a leather basket near the head of a blue-eyed Caucasian man who died when he was about 45.

"This individual was buried with an unusual number of high value, rare items," Russo said, mentioning that the objects included a make-up bag, bridles, pots, archery equipment and a kongou harp. The researchers believe the individual was a shaman from the Gushi people, who spoke a now-extinct language called Tocharian that was similar to Celtic.

Scientists originally thought the plant material in the grave was coriander, but microscopic botanical analysis of the bowl contents, along with genetic testing, revealed that it was cannabis.

The size of seeds mixed in with the leaves, along with their color and other characteristics, indicate the marijuana came from a cultivated strain. Before the burial, someone had carefully picked out all of the male plant parts, which are less psychoactive, so Russo and his team believe there is little doubt as to why the cannabis was grown.

What is in question, however, is how the marijuana was administered, since no pipes or other objects associated with smoking were found in the grave.

"Perhaps it was ingested orally," Russo said. "It might also have been fumigated, as the Scythian tribes to the north did subsequently."

Although other cultures in the area used hemp to make various goods as early as 7,000 years ago, additional tomb finds indicate the Gushi fabricated their clothing from wool and made their rope out of reed fibers. The scientists are unsure if the marijuana was grown for more spiritual or medical purposes, but it's evident that the blue-eyed man was buried with a lot of it.

"As with other grave goods, it was traditional to place items needed for the afterlife in the tomb with the departed," Russo said.

The ancient marijuana stash is now housed at Turpan Museum in China. In the future, Russo hopes to conduct further research at the Yanghai site, which has 2,000 other tombs.
© 2008 Discovery Channel


Sunday, December 21, 2008

A World Enslaved (More Slaves Today than at Any Point in History)

Foreign Policy

A World Enslaved

By E. Benjamin Skinner

March/April 2008
There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history. True abolition will elude us until we admit the massive scope of the problem, attack it in all its forms, and empower slaves to help free themselves.

21st-century slaves: 300,000 children are in domestic bondage in Haiti.

Web Extra: Listen to author E. Benjamin Skinner negotiate with a slave trader for a human life at:

Standing in New York City, you are five hours away from being able to negotiate the sale, in broad daylight, of a healthy boy or girl. He or she can be used for anything, though sex and domestic labor are most common. Before you go, let’s be clear on what you are buying. A slave is a human being forced to work through fraud or threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence. Agreed? Good.

Most people imagine that slavery died in the 19th century. Since 1817, more than a dozen international conventions have been signed banning the slave trade. Yet, today there are more slaves than at any time in human history.

And if you’re going to buy one in five hours, you’d better get a move on. First, hail a taxi to JFK International Airport, and hop on a direct flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The flight takes three hours. After landing at Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport, you will need 50 cents for the most common form of transport in Port-au-Prince, the tap-tap, a flatbed pickup retrofitted with benches and a canopy. Three quarters of the way up Route de Delmas, the capital’s main street, tap the roof and hop out. There, on a side street, you will find a group of men standing in front of Le Réseau (The Network) barbershop. As you approach, a man steps forward: “Are you looking to get a person?”

Meet Benavil Lebhom. He smiles easily. He has a trim mustache and wears a multicolored, striped golf shirt, a gold chain, and Doc Martens knockoffs. Benavil is a courtier, or broker. He holds an official real estate license and calls himself an employment agent. Two thirds of the employees he places are child slaves. The total number of Haitian children in bondage in their own country stands at 300,000. They are the restavèks, the “stay-withs,” as they are euphemistically known in Creole. Forced, unpaid, they work in captivity from before dawn until night. Benavil and thousands of other formal and informal traffickers lure these children from desperately impoverished rural parents, with promises of free schooling and a better life.

The negotiation to buy a child slave might sound a bit like this:

“How quickly do you think it would be possible to bring a child in? Somebody who could clean and cook?” you ask. “I don’t have a very big place; I have a small apartment. But I’m wondering how much that would cost? And how quickly?”

“Three days,” Benavil responds.

“And you could bring the child here?” you inquire. “Or are there children here already?”

“I don’t have any here in Port-au-Prince right now,” says Benavil, his eyes widening at the thought of a foreign client. “I would go out to the countryside.”

You ask about additional expenses. “Would I have to pay for transportation?”

“Bon,” says Benavil. “A hundred U.S.”

Smelling a rip-off, you press him, “And that’s just for transportation?”

“Transportation would be about 100 Haitian,” says Benavil, or around $13, “because you’d have to get out there. Plus [hotel and] food on the trip. Five hundred gourdes.”

“Okay, 500 Haitian,” you say.

Now you ask the big question: “And what would your fee be?” This is the moment of truth, and Benavil’s eyes narrow as he determines how much he can take you for.

“A hundred. American.”

“That seems like a lot,” you say, with a smile so as not to kill the deal. “How much would you charge a Haitian?”

Benavil’s voice rises with feigned indignation. “A hundred dollars. This is a major effort.”

You hold firm. “Could you bring down your fee to 50 U.S.?”

Benavil pauses. But only for effect. He knows he’s still got you for much more than a Haitian would pay. “Oui,” he says with a smile.

But the deal isn’t done. Benavil leans in close. “This is a rather delicate question. Is this someone you want as just a worker? Or also someone who will be a ‘partner’? You understand what I mean?”

You don’t blink at being asked if you want the child for sex. “I mean, is it possible to have someone that could be both?”

“Oui!” Benavil responds enthusiastically.

If you’re interested in taking your purchase back to the United States, Benavil tells you that he can “arrange” the proper papers to make it look as though you’ve adopted the child.

He offers you a 13-year-old girl.

“That’s a little bit old,” you say.

“I know of another girl who’s 12. Then ones that are 10, 11,” he responds.

The negotiation is finished, and you tell Benavil not to make any moves without further word from you. Here, 600 miles from the United States, and five hours from Manhattan, you have successfully arranged to buy a human being for 50 bucks.

The Cruel Truth

It would be nice if that conversation, like the description of the journey, were fictional. It is not. I recorded it on Oct. 6, 2005, as part of four years of research into slavery on five continents. In the popular consciousness, “slavery” has come to be little more than just a metaphor for undue hardship. Investment bankers routinely refer to themselves as “high-paid wage slaves.” Human rights activists may call $1-an-hour sweatshop laborers slaves, regardless of the fact that they are paid and can often walk away from the job. But the reality of slavery is far different. Slavery exists today on an unprecedented scale. In Africa, tens of thousands are chattel slaves, seized in war or tucked away for generations. Across Europe, Asia, and the Americas, traffickers have forced as many as 2 million into prostitution or labor. In South Asia, which has the highest concentration of slaves on the planet, nearly 10 million languish in bondage, unable to leave their captors until they pay off “debts,” legal fictions that in many cases are generations old.

Few in the developed world have a grasp of the enormity of modern-day slavery. Fewer still are doing anything to combat it. Beginning in 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush was urged by several of his key advisors to vigorously enforce the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, a U.S. law enacted a month earlier that sought to prosecute domestic human traffickers and cajole foreign governments into doing the same. The Bush administration trumpeted the effort—at home via the Christian evangelical media and more broadly via speeches and pronouncements, including in addresses to the U.N. General Assembly in 2003 and 2004. But even the quiet and diligent work of some within the U.S. State Department, which credibly claims to have secured more than 100 antitrafficking laws and more than 10,000 trafficking convictions worldwide, has resulted in no measurable decline in the number of slaves worldwide. Between 2000 and 2006, the U.S. Justice Department increased human trafficking prosecutions from 3 to 32, and convictions from 10 to 98. By 2006, 27 states had passed antitrafficking laws. Yet, during the same period, the United States liberated less than 2 percent of its own modern-day slaves. As many as 17,500 new slaves continue to enter bondage in the United States every year.

The West’s efforts have been, from the outset, hamstrung by a warped understanding of slavery. In the United States, a hard-driving coalition of feminist and evangelical activists has forced the Bush administration to focus almost exclusively on the sex trade. The official State Department line is that voluntary prostitution does not exist, and that commercial sex is the main driver of slavery today. In Europe, though Germany and the Netherlands have decriminalized most prostitution, other nations such as Bulgaria have moved in the opposite direction, bowing to U.S. pressure and cracking down on the flesh trade. But, across the Americas, Europe, and Asia, unregulated escort services are exploding with the help of the Internet. Even when enlightened governments have offered clearheaded solutions to deal with this problem, such as granting victims temporary residence, they have had little impact.

Many feel that sex slavery is particularly revolting—and it is. I saw it firsthand. In a Bucharest brothel, for instance, I was offered a mentally handicapped, suicidal girl in exchange for a used car. But for every one woman or child enslaved in commercial sex, there are at least 15 men, women, and children enslaved in other fields, such as domestic work or agricultural labor. Recent studies have shown that locking up pimps and traffickers has had a negligible effect on the aggregate rates of bondage. And though eradicating prostitution may be a just cause, Western policies based on the idea that all prostitutes are slaves and all slaves are prostitutes belittles the suffering of all victims. It’s an approach that threatens to put most governments on the wrong side of history.

Indebted for Life

Save for the fact that he is male, Gonoo Lal Kol typifies the average slave of our modern age. (At his request, I have changed his first name.) Like a vast majority of the world’s slaves, Gonoo is in debt bondage in South Asia. In his case, in an Indian quarry. Like most slaves, Gonoo is illiterate and unaware of the Indian laws that ban his bondage and provide for sanctions against his master. His story, told to me in more than a dozen conversations inside his 4-foot-high stone and grass hutch, represents the other side of the “Indian Miracle.”

Gonoo lives in Lohagara Dhal, a forgotten corner of Uttar Pradesh, a north Indian state that contains 8 percent of the world’s poor. I met him one evening in December 2005 as he walked with two dozen other laborers in tattered and filthy clothes. Behind them was the quarry. In that pit, Gonoo, a member of the historically outcast Kol tribe, worked with his family 14 hours a day. His tools were simple, a rough-hewn hammer and an iron pike. His hands were covered in calluses, his fingertips worn away.

Gonoo’s master is a tall, stout, surly contractor named Ramesh Garg. Garg is one of the wealthiest men in Shankargarh, the nearest sizable town, founded under the British Raj but now run by nearly 600 quarry contractors. He makes his money by enslaving entire families forced to work for no pay beyond alcohol, grain, and bare subsistence expenses. Their only use for Garg is to turn rock into silica sand, for colored glass, or gravel, for roads or ballast. Slavery scholar Kevin Bales estimates that a slave in the 19th-century American South had to work 20 years to recoup his or her purchase price. Gonoo and the other slaves earn a profit for Garg in two years.

Every single man, woman, and child in Lohagara Dhal is a slave. But, in theory at least, Garg neither bought nor owns them. They are working off debts, which, for many, started at less than $10. But interest accrues at over 100 percent annually here. Most of the debts span at least two generations, though they have no legal standing under modern Indian law. They are a fiction that Garg constructs through fraud and maintains through violence. The seed of Gonoo’s slavery, for instance, was a loan of 62 cents. In 1958, his grandfather borrowed that amount from the owner of a farm where he worked. Three generations and three slavemasters later, Gonoo’s family remains in bondage.

Bringing Freedom to Millions

Recently, many bold, underfunded groups have taken up the challenge of tearing out the roots of slavery. Some gained fame through dramatic slave rescues. Most learned that freeing slaves is impossible unless the slaves themselves choose to be free. Among the Kol of Uttar Pradesh, for instance, an organization called Pragati Gramodyog Sansthan (Progressive Institute for Village Enterprises, or PGS) has helped hundreds of families break the grip of the quarry contractors. Working methodically since 1985, PGS organizers slowly built up confidence among slaves. With PGS’s help, the Kol formed microcredit unions and won leases to quarries so that they could keep the proceeds of their labor. Some bought property for the first time in their lives, a cow or a goat, and their incomes, which had been nil, multiplied quickly. PGS set up primary schools and dug wells. Villages that for generations had known nothing but slavery began to become free. PGS’s success demonstrates that emancipation is merely the first step in abolition. Within the developed world, some national law enforcement agencies such as those in the Czech Republic and Sweden have finally begun to pursue the most culpable of human trafficking—slave-trading pimps and unscrupulous labor contractors. But more must be done to educate local police, even in the richest of nations. Too often, these street-level law enforcement personnel do not understand that it’s just as likely for a prostitute to be a trafficking victim as it is for a nanny working without proper papers to be a slave. And, after they have been discovered by law enforcement, few rich nations provide slaves with the kind of rehabilitation, retraining, and protection needed to prevent their re-trafficking. The asylum now granted to former slaves in the United States and the Netherlands is a start. But more must be done.

The United Nations, whose founding principles call for it to fight bondage in all its forms, has done almost nothing to combat modern slavery. In January, Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, called for the international body to provide better quantification of human trafficking. Such number crunching would be valuable in combating that one particular manifestation of slavery. But there is little to suggest the United Nations, which consistently fails to hold its own member states accountable for widespread slavery, will be an effective tool in defeating the broader phenomenon.

Any lasting solutions to human trafficking must involve prevention programs in at-risk source countries. Absent an effective international body like the United Nations, such an effort will require pressure from the United States. So far, the United States has been willing to criticize some nations’ records, but it has resisted doing so where it matters most, particularly in India. India abolished debt bondage in 1976, but with poor enforcement of the law locally, millions remain in bondage. In 2006 and 2007, the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons pressed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to repudiate India’s intransigence personally. And, in each instance, she did not.

The psychological, social, and economic bonds of slavery run deep, and for governments to be truly effective in eradicating slavery, they must partner with groups that can offer slaves a way to pull themselves up from bondage. One way to do that is to replicate the work of grassroots organizations such as Varanasi, India-based MSEMVS (Society for Human Development and Women’s Empowerment). In 1996, the Indian group launched free transitional schools, where children who had been enslaved learned skills and acquired enough literacy to move on to formal schooling. The group also targeted mothers, providing them with training and start-up materials for microenterprises. In Thailand, a nation infamous for sex slavery, a similar group, the Labour Rights Promotion Network, works to keep desperately poor Burmese immigrants from the clutches of traffickers by, among other things, setting up schools and health programs. Even in the remote highlands of southern Haiti, activists with Limyè Lavi (“Light of Life”) reach otherwise wholly isolated rural communities to warn them of the dangers of traffickers such as Benavil Lebhom and to help them organize informal schools to keep children near home. In recent years, the United States has shown an increasing willingness to help fund these kinds of organizations, one encouraging sign that the message may be getting through.

For four years, I saw dozens of people enslaved, several of whom traffickers like Benavil actually offered to sell to me. I did not pay for a human life anywhere. And, with one exception, I always withheld action to save any one person, in the hope that my research would later help to save many more. At times, that still feels like an excuse for cowardice. But the hard work of real emancipation can’t be the burden of a select few. For thousands of slaves, grassroots groups like PGS and MSEMVS can help bring freedom. But, until governments define slavery in appropriately concise terms, prosecute the crime aggressively in all its forms, and encourage groups that empower slaves to free themselves, millions more will remain in bondage. And our collective promise of abolition will continue to mean nothing at all.

E. Benjamin Skinner is the author of A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery (New York: Free Press, 2008).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shoe Model Hurled at Bush in Iraq Flies Off Turkish Maker’s Shelves

Shoe Hurled at Bush Flies Off Turkish Maker’s Shelves (Update1)

By Mark Bentley

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- The shoe hurled at President George W. Bush has sent sales soaring at the Turkish maker as orders pour in from Iraq, the U.S. and Iran.

The brown, thick-soled “Model 271” may soon be renamed “The Bush Shoe” or “Bye-Bye Bush,” Ramazan Baydan, who owns the Istanbul-based producer Baydan Ayakkabicilik San. & Tic., said in a telephone interview today.

“We’ve been selling these shoes for years but, thanks to Bush, orders are flying in like crazy,” he said. “We’ve even hired an agency to look at television advertising.”

Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi hurled a pair at Bush at a news conference in Baghdad on Dec. 14. Both shoes missed the president after he ducked. The journalist was jailed and is seeking a pardon from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Baydan has received orders for 300,000 pairs of the shoes since the attack, more than four times the number his company sold each year since the model was introduced in 1999. The company plans to employ 100 more staff to meet demand, he said.

“Model 271” is exported to markets including Iraq, Iran, Syria and Egypt. Customers in Iraq ordered 120,000 pairs this week and some Iraqis offered to set up distribution companies for the shoe, Baydan said.

Baydan has received a request for 4,000 pairs from a company called Davidson, based in Maryland. He declined to provide further details.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Bentley at
Last Updated: December 19, 2008 11:53 EST

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Village Voice Worst Pop Lyric of 2008 Tournament

Personally, I think Lil Wayne and Ne-Yo were robbed. You can see the tournament-style bracket here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Voice in the Ear Proclaims Change (Prompting Opera Singers)

December 14, 2008
A Voice in the Ear Proclaims Change

WHAT do the New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre and the Tristan-singing tenor Peter Seiffert have in common?

They both rely on electronic signals to get cues from coaches on the sidelines.

There is no mystery about the speaker in Mr. Favre’s helmet. Over the last 15 years or so it has become standard in the National Football League for quarterbacks to be equipped with devices through which instructions can be relayed before each offensive play. This practice is universally regarded as a major improvement over the days when quarterbacks had to interpret the distant hand signals of gesticulating coaches or take messages from other players shuttling in and out of the game, and now the device has been extended to defensive play callers as well.

But remote electronic cues in opera?

For the Metropolitan Opera’s first performance this season of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” conducted by Daniel Barenboim on Nov. 28, Mr. Seiffert, 54, a German singer acclaimed for his portrayals of several leading Wagner roles, had an electronic device in one ear that allowed him to hear cues from his own prompter. He used the device only for Acts II and III of the work, which runs five hours with two intermissions.

This was the first time in Met history that a singer had used an earpiece for assistance rather than relying on the house prompter in the box at the front of the stage. And the news rippled through the opera world, stirring debate and casting doubt on Mr. Seiffert’s readiness to sing Tristan, one of the most daunting tenor roles in the repertory.

The controversy raises a larger issue. It has long been standard practice for an operatic artist who has prepared a role thoroughly to take cues from a house prompter. But does a singer cross a line by putting an electronic gizmo in his ear?

Julien Salemkour, a veteran coach and conductor and the prompter who assisted Mr. Seiffert during the rehearsals and performance of “Tristan und Isolde” at the Met, strongly defends the electronic earpiece, made by Sennheiser. Speaking on behalf of Mr. Seiffert, who was fighting a cold and under doctor’s orders not to talk, Mr. Salemkour said during a telephone interview that using earpieces is “not new at all.”

“Just watch the U.N. General Assembly,” he said. True, delegates to the United Nations have long used earpieces to hear translations of one another’s comments. But none of them are trying to sing Tristan.

Mr. Salemkour, a musical assistant to Mr. Barenboim at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, came up with the idea to use earpieces for prompting two years ago, during a production there of “Tristan und Isolde.” It was Mr. Seiffert’s first Tristan, and he was struggling to learn the role. Its difficulties, combined with the challenges of the staging, made him insecure. The high-concept modern production raised the level of the stage floor two feet and covered the prompter’s box. To compensate, up to three coaches at a time, including Mr. Salemkour, stood in the wings practically shouting cues to the singers.

Mr. Salemkour thought that an electronic aid would be more efficient and less distracting to Mr. Seiffert, allowing him to relax and empowering him to give his best performance, which is the whole point of prompting. Mr. Barenboim, who conducted the Berlin production, gave his blessing.

A plugged-in Tristan has one disadvantage, Mr. Salemkour conceded. “The singer has one ear half blocked,” he said, and while that does not prevent the performer from hearing the orchestra and other singers, “it is uncomfortable physically.” Otherwise, Mr. Salemkour added, the device works extremely well.

So what’s the harm?

It depends on the results. Many opera roles are long, complex and difficult. For a singer in the midst of an impassioned scene, with the orchestra blaring and the chorus soaring, remembering the words or finding the first notes of a vocal line can be extremely hard. And given the expansiveness of a stage like the Met’s, a singer at any moment can be positioned too far from the orchestra pit for the conductor to be any help. The Met’s current production of “Tristan und Isolde,” by the director Dieter Dorn, uses a deep and spacious unit set.

At the Met the musicians who perform the prompting are officially titled assistant conductors, and when things go well, that is exactly the function they fulfill. The prompter’s box is aptly named. To enter the one at the Met, you must climb a steep metal ladder and squeeze into a narrow chair with a hydraulic lift. Small video monitors on either side allow the prompter to see the conductor, and speakers pipe in the performance from the pit. The box hides the prompter from audience members, who seldom hear the cues.

Many companies, especially those with smaller houses, dispense with prompters entirely: the New York City Opera, for one. (Remember the good old City Opera, nearly dormant and badly struggling right now?) There is no prompter’s box at the David H. Koch Theater. So when singers in a City Opera production get in trouble or draw a blank on a line, they resort to the time-tested solution of actors in the theater: just wing it and move on. Some opera buffs would argue that it is worth trading off occasional flubs from singers for the enhanced spontaneity that comes from performing without a prompter. But it is hard to imagine a performance of an opera like “Tristan” that would not require prompting.

Just as some opera houses use prompting and others don’t, some sports allow coaching during competition while others, curiously, forbid it. Tennis, for example. For whatever reason, tennis players are not allowed to communicate with coaches during matches, though many have worked out cagey systems of secret cues. As a fan of the sport, I’ve never understood why it is considered almost cheating for a player to get input from a coach during the throes of a match.

No opera buff objects to the use of prompters per se, as long as it does not become an enabling device for unprepared singers. On the first night of the Met’s run of “Tristan und Isolde,” which was also Mr. Barenboim’s long-awaited company debut, Mr. Seiffert, despite using his earpiece for the final two acts, seemed to be glancing rather often at the prompter’s box.

The complicated logistics that night explained this, in part. During Act I Mr. Seiffert relied only on the house prompter, Carrie-Ann Matheson. During Act II, with his earpiece in place, he received cues from Mr. Salemkour, who stood in the wings wearing a headset so he could hear the orchestra clearly. For Act III, dominated by Tristan, Mr. Salemkour occupied the box, with Ms. Matheson off to the side.

Mr. Salemkour said that Mr. Seiffert was understandably nervous about singing this touchstone role at the Met. In addition Mr. Seiffert, who sounded congested in his lower register that night, was already battling a cold. He pulled out of the following two performances of “Tristan.” (Gary Lehman took over. At press time it was not known which tenor would sing in the fourth performance, on Friday.)

Vocally and dramatically Mr. Seiffert was at his best that night when it counted the most, during the notoriously difficult and endless scene in which the wounded, delirious Tristan works himself into frenzied states, erupting with anguish and longing for his beloved Isolde, then turning half-crazed as he thinks he sees the ship bringing Isolde to the shore of his castle in Brittany. Perhaps having an earpiece during this scene accounted for the confidence he projected, even when his voice faltered.

Still, many longtime opera lovers will see the introduction of earpieces as at best distracting and at worst cheating.

Compare, for a moment, prompting in opera with the protocols of a voice recital. A pianist accompanying a singer typically performs from printed music, often with a page turner seated nearby. But because a singer in recital is presenting a musical-dramatic performance, a recitation of poetry set to music, the ideal is for the singer to perform from memory. Though singing without a score is not always possible or even wise, especially in challenging contemporary music, it remains the goal.

But suppose a singer in recital had an earpiece through which an offstage prompter could provide needed cues. The idea might seem dreadful in concept. But if the device liberated that singer to give a strong performance, well, why not?

I am not ready to condemn the use of earpieces right off, especially since there appears to be scant interest among other singers, so far, in following Mr. Seiffert’s lead. A singer wearing an earpiece bothers me less than a sound-enhancement system, like the one the City Opera has been using since 1999. This leap has introduced amplification into an art form that for centuries cherished natural sound.

But in coming up with increasingly sophisticated technological methods to assist singers in opera, coaches and conductors should be careful not to complicate things. The basic issue with this performance of “Tristan und Isolde” was pretty elementary: Mr. Seiffert, it seemed, did not know the role well enough to sing it. Neither an old-fashioned prompter nor a newfangled earpiece can compensate for that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Musicians protest use of songs by US jailers


Musicians protest use of songs by US jailers
By ANDREW O. SELSKY, Associated Press Writer Andrew O. Selsky, Associated Press Writer Tue Dec 9, 11:57 pm ET

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – Blaring from a speaker behind a metal grate in his tiny cell in Iraq, the blistering rock from Nine Inch Nails hit Prisoner No. 200343 like a sonic bludgeon.

"Stains like the blood on your teeth," Trent Reznor snarled over distorted guitars. "Bite. Chew."

The auditory assault went on for days, then weeks, then months at the U.S. military detention center in Iraq. Twenty hours a day. AC/DC. Queen. Pantera. The prisoner, military contractor Donald Vance of Chicago, told The Associated Press he was soon suicidal.

The tactic has been common in the U.S. war on terror, with forces systematically using loud music on hundreds of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the U.S. military commander in Iraq, authorized it on Sept. 14, 2003, "to create fear, disorient ... and prolong capture shock."

Now the detainees aren't the only ones complaining. Musicians are banding together to demand the U.S. military stop using their songs as weapons.

A campaign being launched Wednesday has brought together groups including Massive Attack and musicians such as Tom Morello, who played with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave and is now on a solo tour. It will feature minutes of silence during concerts and festivals, said Chloe Davies of the British law group Reprieve, which represents dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainees and is organizing the campaign.

At least Vance, who says he was jailed for reporting illegal arms sales, was used to rock music. For many detainees who grew up in Afghanistan — where music was prohibited under Taliban rule — interrogations by U.S. forces marked their first exposure to the pounding rhythms, played at top volume.

The experience was overwhelming for many. Binyam Mohammed, now a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, said men held with him at the CIA's "Dark Prison" in Afghanistan wound up screaming and smashing their heads against walls, unable to endure more.

"There was loud music, (Eminem's) 'Slim Shady' and Dr. Dre for 20 days. I heard this nonstop over and over," he told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith. "The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night for the months before I left. Plenty lost their minds."

Rear Adm. David Thomas, the commander of Guantanamo's detention center, said the music treatment is not currently used at Guantanamo but added that he could not rule out its use in the future.

"I couldn't speculate and I wouldn't speculate but I can tell you it doesn't happen here at Guantanamo and it hasn't happened since I've been here," Thomas, who has been at Guantanamo for a half-year, told AP.

The spokeswoman for Guantanamo's detention center, Navy Cmdr. Pauline Storum, wouldn't give details of when and how music has been used at the prison.

FBI agents stationed at Guantanamo Bay reported numerous instances in which music was blasted at detainees, saying they were "told such tactics were common there."

According to an FBI memo, one interrogator at Guantanamo Bay bragged he needed only four days to "break" someone by alternating 16 hours of music and lights with four hours of silence and darkness.

Ruhal Ahmed, a Briton who was captured in Afghanistan, describes excruciating sessions at Guantanamo Bay. He said his hands were shackled to his feet, which were shackled to the floor, forcing him into a painful squat for periods of up to two days.

"You're in agony," Ahmed, who was released without charge in 2004, told Reprieve. He said the agony was compounded when music was introduced, because "before you could actually concentrate on something else, try to make yourself focus on some other things in your life that you did before and take that pain away.

"It makes you feel like you are going mad," he said.

Not all of the music is hard rock. Christopher Cerf, who wrote music for "Sesame Street," said he was horrified to learn songs from the children's TV show were used in interrogations.

"I wouldn't want my music to be a party to that," he told AP.

Bob Singleton, whose song "I Love You" is beloved by legions of preschool Barney fans, wrote in a newspaper opinion column that any music can become unbearable if played loudly for long stretches.

"It's absolutely ludicrous," he wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "A song that was designed to make little children feel safe and loved was somehow going to threaten the mental state of adults and drive them to the emotional breaking point?"

Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, has been especially forceful in denouncing the practice. During a recent concert in San Francisco, he proposed taking revenge on President George W. Bush.

"I suggest that they level Guantanamo Bay, but they keep one small cell and they put Bush in there ... and they blast some Rage Against the Machine," he said to whoops and cheers.

Some musicians, however, say they're proud that their music is used in interrogations. Those include bassist Stevie Benton, whose group Drowning Pool has performed in Iraq and recorded one of the interrogators' favorites, "Bodies."

"People assume we should be offended that somebody in the military thinks our song is annoying enough that played over and over it can psychologically break someone down," he told Spin magazine. "I take it as an honor to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that."

The band's record label told AP that Benton did not want to comment further. Instead, the band issued a statement reading: "Drowning Pool is committed to supporting the lives and rights of our troops stationed around the world."

Vance, in a telephone interview from Chicago, said the tactic can make innocent men go mad. According to a lawsuit he has filed, his jailers said he was being held because his employer was suspected of selling weapons to terrorists and insurgents. The U.S. military confirms Vance was jailed but won't elaborate because of the lawsuit.

He said he was locked in an overcooled 9-foot-by-9-foot cell that had a speaker with a metal grate over it. Two large speakers stood in the hallway outside. The music was almost constant, mostly hard rock, he said.

"There was a lot of Nine Inch Nails, including 'March of the Pigs,'" he said. "I couldn't tell you how many times I heard Queen's 'We Will Rock You.'"

He wore only a jumpsuit and flip-flops and had no protection from the cold.

"I had no blanket or sheet. If I had, I would probably have tried suicide," he said. "I got to a few points toward the end where I thought, `How can I do this?' Actively plotting, `How can I get away with it so they don't stop it?'"

Asked to describe the experience, Vance said: "It sort of removes you from you. You can no longer formulate your own thoughts when you're in an environment like that."

He was released after 97 days. Two years later, he says, "I keep my home very quiet."


On the Net:

Reprieve Zero dB campaign:

FBI Guantanamo files:

Sunday, December 07, 2008

SNL Electronica Dance Music Parody (NSFW)

FYI, "Jizz in My Pants" is the name of the skit.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Grammy Nominations

The 51st Grammy Award nominations can be found HERE.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bel Canto: Audiences Love It, but What Is It?

November 30, 2008
Bel Canto: Audiences Love It, but What Is It?

IN 1858 Gioachino Rossini, wealthy, well fed and, at 66, retired from the opera business for nearly 30 years, bemoaned the decline in the heritage of Italian singing during a conversation with friends in Paris. “Alas for us,” he is reported to have said, “we have lost our bel canto.”

He was referring to the art of singing as it flourished in Italy from the mid-1700s through the first decades of the 19th century. He might also have been referring to the approach to writing operas by the Italian composers who were steeped in the bel canto singing tradition. It is not really clear.

Quite a bit about the concept of bel canto has long been open to interpretation, including the meaning of this loose term itself, which literally translates as beautiful singing. (Or beautiful song. See what I mean?) But one indisputable point is that the singing tradition for which Rossini was waxing nostalgic was not known as bel canto during the decades when it was supposedly thriving.

The term did not come into fashion until midway through the 19th century. To speak of the bel canto era in opera is like referring to the Lost Generation of young Americans, mostly creative types, who flocked to Paris during the 1920s. Only after the fact, through the propaganda of Ernest Hemingway, did those expatriates discover that they had been lost.

Opera buffs today use the term bel canto all the time. Yet we each seem to bring a different set of assumptions to the concept.

So here is one opera lover’s attempt to explain bel canto as I understand it, a primer of sorts, along with recommendations of a few recordings for those who don’t want to wait for the presentations of bel canto operas next year at the Metropolitan Opera to bone up. Mary Zimmerman’s production of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” will be revived in late January with Anna Netrebko in the title role, and Ms. Zimmermann’s new production of a Bellini classic, “La Sonnambula,” opens in early March, starring the soprano Natalie Dessay and the tenor Juan Diego Flórez, two leading exponents of bel canto repertory.

In its narrowest sense bel canto opera refers to the early decades of 19th-century Italian opera, when Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti dominated the field. But the overall concept of bel canto started much earlier, with a consensus among opera enthusiasts that there was nothing more ravishing than a beautiful voice singing a beautiful melodic line beautifully, especially a melodic line driven by a sensitive musical setting of a poetic and singable text.

The technique of singing that produced the desired results valued smooth production, or legato, throughout the entire vocal range. Ideally, you did not want to hear singers shifting gears as their voices moved from low to middle to high registers. Also prized was the ability to execute effortlessly all manner of embellishments — rapid-fire runs, trills and such — the better to decorate vocal lines. So the use of a lighter yet penetrating sound in the upper register was crucial to the style.

But as the Romantic movement took hold in the 19th century, the public taste for operatic drama evolved. Composers started writing works that demanded more intense and powerful singing. Voices grew weightier. A telling example of the shift in fashion was the acclaimed tenor Gilbert Duprez, born in Paris in 1806.

In his early days Duprez was a “tenore di grazia,” a light lyric tenor with an agile and flexible voice, which he showed in roles like Almaviva in Rossini’s “Barbiere di Siviglia.” But increasingly he displayed dramatic intensity, notably in Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell” and later in operas by Donizetti and Berlioz. He is believed to have been the first tenor to sing a high C not with the lighter, ringing so-called head voice but with a full, powerful chest voice. It drove crowds wild, but it drove Rossini crazy. He likened the sound to “the squawk of a capon with its throat cut.”

A tenor’s high C’s can still drive audiences wild. Last season, though Mr. Flórez was completely charming and sang beautifully as Tonio in the Met’s production of Donizetti’s “Fille du Régiment,” he garnered excessive attention for his dispatching of the tenor’s showpiece aria with its nine high C’s. When Luciano Pavarotti sang this bel canto tour de force, he stunned his audiences by tossing off those notes with astounding power. His voice was an uncanny hybrid, combining the colorings and agility of a lyric tenor with an enormous sound. When a light-voiced lyric tenor like Mr. Flórez sings the aria, it is not all that hard. Still, Mr. Flórez is a gift to bel canto opera fans.

The other historical dimension of the bel canto era has to do with the nature of the operas written for voices steeped in the practice. Since beautiful singing carried the day in the bel canto tradition, it was natural to compose music that would showcase such vocalism. For me the most fascinating element of the practice has to do with the approach to writing melody.

The melodic line is everything in a bel canto opera, not just in the arias but in the elaborate scenes that contain them. Those scenes offer long stretches of lyrically enhanced recitative and extended spans of arioso, a halfway station between full-out melody and conversational recitative.

Catchy tunes in all styles of music tend to have something in common: they are laid out in symmetrical phrases with simple melodic riffs that are repeated. Think of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Or the operatic equivalent of a catchy tune, Figaro’s “Non più andrai” from Mozart’s “Nozze di Figaro.” Such melodies are analogous to poetry written in symmetrical verses with lines of equal length and repeated phrases.

But the bel canto melodies that most captivate me are those that spin out in long, elegant, endless lines that almost disguise the phrase structure of the melody. For a modern equivalent, think of the Beatles’ song “Yesterday,” with its elusive and haunting melody. A prime example from bel canto would be Norma’s aria “Casta diva” from the Bellini masterpiece that bears her name.

The elaborately ornamented phrases of “Casta diva” sensitively elongate every syllable of the Italian text. But the result is a melody that seems to hover wondrously above the undulant and respectful accompaniment pattern.

It’s easy to poke fun at those simple, some would say simplistic, accompaniment patterns in a bel canto aria, or the oom-pah-pah’s in an early Verdi aria, which Wagner mocked, likening Verdi’s orchestra to a big guitar. Verdi understood, however, that when a melody was pure, strong and beguiling, it was enough for an accompaniment to provide harmonic support and rhythmic lift. Defending Verdi’s standard approach to aria writing, Stravinsky, no less, in his “Poetics of Music,” wrote that “there is more substance and true invention in the aria ‘La donna è mobile,’ for example, in which the elite saw nothing but deplorable facility, than in the rhetoric and vociferations of the ‘Ring.’ ”

As every opera historian will say, the problem in talking about early-19th-century bel canto opera is that no work from that era relied solely on creating longspun phrases of ethereal melody. Bellini was probably the purest bel canto master, but an opera like “Norma” is rich with declamatory vocal writing, fits of Romantic passion, fearsome outbursts for the volatile tragic heroine in which the soprano must summon chilling power and dispatch quick-paced lines full of daring leaps.

The practice of bel canto in its purest form had enormous influence on subsequent composers. Donizetti cleared the path that Verdi followed. Verdi became a bold innovator later in his career, but early on he struggled to find a balance between transcending the parameters of opera as it was practiced and honoring the bel canto heritage to which he was beholden.

It’s a wonder that Chopin, born in 1810, never tried to write an opera, because he was completely smitten with bel canto works, especially Bellini’s. Chopin’s melodies, like the opening theme for the soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 1, composed in 1830, sing with the long-lined, profoundly melancholic elegance of a bel canto melody. Chopin and Bellini sometimes seem like distant composer cousins drawing from the same creative well.

Listen to the scene at the beginning of Act II of “Norma,” which appeared the year after Chopin’s concerto. When the title character, a druid priestess who has secretly violated her vows and given birth to two children by an occupying Roman, contemplates killing them, she pours out her anguish in a profoundly sad melody, “Teneri figli” (“Tender children”). There are remarkable similarities.

Even Wagner was influenced by the principles of bel canto opera, though he did not like to admit it. His early works, especially “Das Liebesverbot,” have set-piece arias with florid melodies and chordal accompanimental patterns, the whole works.

Naturally, Wagner, who debunked just about everything, described bel canto singing as blandly lyrical and obsessed with vocal niceties. He called for a German school of singing that would bring spiritually vibrant and profoundly passionate qualities into vocal artistry.

For sure, Wagner demanded new levels of vocal power and stamina from singers. Yet at other times he supported the essential approach to singing that the bel canto tradition espoused. Brünnhilde has extended passages of elegiac melodic lines. Even in her trademark “Hojotojo!” battle cry, she must execute a long trill. The German soprano Lilli Lehmann, who participated in the first complete “Ring” production at Bayreuth in 1876, would later become renowned both as Brünnhilde and as Norma and considered the roles complementary. More recently Jane Eaglen also sang both prominently, though how well she handled Bellini’s florid vocal lines was a hot topic among operagoers.

As for the bel canto approach to melodic construction, Bellini and his generation were hardly the first to compose long, winding vocal lines. What could be more melismatic and endlessly melodic than medieval chant? And in the arias of his Passions and cantatas, Bach could spin a florid melodic line as well as any bel canto master.

Think of the artful pop songs of Rufus Wainwright, who knows opera like an expert and is nearly finished writing one. Or of Burt Bacharach’s dreamy melodies, like the quirky song “Alfie,” which does its thing, complete with twists and turns, oblivious to phrase structure.

And though Stephen Sondheim has a love-hate attitude toward opera, many of his melodic lines show its influence. In “No Place Like London” from “Sweeney Todd,” the title character, an avenging barber, gives hints of his woeful story to the sailor Anthony (“There was a barber and his wife”) through a slow accretion of melodic phrases that grow increasingly prolonged and anguished. Verdi could not have done it better.

I would like to think that the practice of writing free-roaming melodic lines, which continues, is in part a result of early-19th-century Italian opera, which empowered composers to push the practice to the hilt. Whatever you want to call it.

But one thing about opera hasn’t changed since the days of Rossini’s maturity. Buffs are always complaining that singing was better in the old days.

That Sound at Its Best


Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano; Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Tullio Serafin (EMI Classics 5 66438 2; two CDs).

Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes; Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Richard Bonynge (Decca 410 193-2, three CDs).

Maria Callas’s 1953 “Lucia,” with forces from the May Festival in Florence, Italy, is not just her best recording of the role but a milestone in the discography of opera. Also splendid is the 1971 recording with Covent Garden forces, starring Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti, both in superb voice.


Maria Callas, Cesare Valletti; La Scala Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Leonard Bernstein (EMI Classics 5 67906 2; two CDs).

There are excellent studio recordings of “La Sonnambula,” including the 1980 Decca account with Joan Sutherland and a superlative Luciano Pavarotti. Still, though you have to listen through some surface noise, my favorite is the 1955 live recording from La Scala, with an inspired Callas and, of all people in a bel canto opera, the 37-year-old Leonard Bernstein, conducting with a wondrous balance of urgency and lyrical elegance.

Monday, November 24, 2008

As Taboos Ease, Saudi Girl Group Dares to Rock

November 24, 2008
Jidda Journal
As Taboos Ease, Saudi Girl Group Dares to Rock

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — They cannot perform in public. They cannot pose for album cover photographs. Even their jam sessions are secret, for fear of offending the religious authorities in this ultraconservative kingdom.

But the members of Saudi Arabia’s first all-girl rock band, the Accolade, are clearly not afraid of taboos.

The band’s first single, “Pinocchio,” has become an underground hit here, with hundreds of young Saudis downloading the song from the group’s Web site. Now, the pioneering foursome, all of them college students, want to start playing regular gigs — inside private compounds, of course — and recording an album.

“In Saudi, yes, it’s a challenge,” said the group’s lead singer, Lamia, who has piercings on her left eyebrow and beneath her bottom lip. (Like other band members, she gave only her first name.) “Maybe we’re crazy. But we wanted to do something different.”

In a country where women are not allowed to drive and rarely appear in public without their faces covered, the band is very different. The prospect of female rockers clutching guitars and belting out angry lyrics about a failed relationship — the theme of “Pinocchio” — would once have been unimaginable here.

But this country’s harsh code of public morals has slowly thawed, especially in Jidda, by far the kingdom’s most cosmopolitan city. A decade ago the cane-wielding religious police terrorized women who were not dressed according to their standards. Young men with long hair were sometimes bundled off to police stations to have their heads shaved, or worse.

Today, there is a growing rock scene with dozens of bands, some of them even selling tickets to their performances. Hip-hop is also popular. The religious police — strictly speaking, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — have largely retreated from the streets of Jidda and are somewhat less aggressive even in the kingdom’s desert heartland.

The change has been especially noticeable since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the Saudis confronted the effects of extremism both outside and inside the kingdom. More than 60 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population is under 25, and many of the young are pressing for greater freedoms.

“The upcoming generation is different from the one before,” said Dina, the Accolade’s 21-year-old guitarist and founder. “Everything is changing. Maybe in 10 years it’s going to be O.K. to have a band with live performances.”

Dina said she first dreamed of starting a band three years ago. In September, she and her sister Dareen, 19, who plays bass, teamed up with Lamia and Amjad, the keyboardist.

They were already iconoclasts: Dina and Dareen wear their hair teased into thick manes and have pierced eyebrows. During an interview at a Starbucks here, they wore black abayas — the flowing gown that is standard attire for women — but the gowns were open, showing their jeans and T-shirts, and their hair and faces were uncovered. Women are more apt to go uncovered in Jidda than in most other parts of the country, though it is still uncommon.

“People always stare at us,” Dareen said, giggling. She and her sister are also avid ice skaters, another unusual habit in Saudi Arabia’s desert.

The band gets together to practice every weekend at the sisters’ house, where their younger brother sometimes fills in on drums. In early November, Dina, who studies art at King Abdulaziz University, began writing a song based on one of her favorite paintings, “The Accolade,” by the English pre-Raphaelite painter Edmund Blair Leighton. The painting depicts a long-haired noblewoman knighting a young warrior with a sword.

“I liked the painting because it shows a woman who is satisfied with a man,” Dina said.

She had thought of writing a song based on “Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci but decided that doing so would be taking controversy too far. In Saudi Arabia, churches are not allowed, and Muslims who convert to Christianity can be executed.

Dina held out her cellphone to show a video of the band practicing at home. It looked like a garage-band jam session anywhere in the world, with the sisters hunching over their instruments, their brother blasting away at the drums and Lamia clutching a microphone.

“We’re looking for a drummer,” Lamia said. “Five guys have offered, but we really want the band to be all female.”

Although they know they are doing something unusual, in person the band members seem more playful than provocative. Unlike some of the wealthier Saudi youth who have lived abroad and tasted Western life, they are middle class and have never left their country.

“What we’re doing — it’s not something wrong, it’s art, and we’re doing it in a good way,” Dina said. “We respect our traditions.”

All the members are quick to add that they disapprove of smoking, drinking and drugs.

“You destroy yourself with that,” Lamia said.

Yet rock and roll itself is suspect in Saudi Arabia in part because of its association with decadent lifestyles. Most of the bands here play heavy metal, which has only added to the stigma because of the way some Western heavy metal bands use images linked to satanism or witchcraft. In Saudi Arabia, people are sometimes imprisoned and even executed on charges of practicing witchcraft.

The first rock bands appeared here about 20 years ago, according to Hassan Hatrash, 34, a journalist and bass player who was one of the pioneers, and their numbers gradually grew. Then in 1995, the police raided a performance in the basement of a restaurant in Jidda, hauling about 300 young men off to jail, including Mr. Hatrash. They were released a few days later without being charged. There is no actual law against playing rock music or performing publicly.

“After that, the scene kind of died,” he said.

Mr. Hatrash, who has graying shoulder-length hair, recalled how the religious police used to harass young men who advertised their interest in rock and roll. He once had his head was shaved by the police.

In recent years, with the religious police on the defensive, bands have begun to play concerts, and a few have recorded albums. Occasionally young men bring their guitars and play outside the cafes on Tahlia Street in Jidda, where young people tend to congregate in the evenings.

Although the music is mostly familiar to heavy metal fans anywhere — thrashing guitars and howling vocals — some of the lyrics reflect the special challenges of life and love in this puritanical country.

“And I Don’t Know Why,” a song by Mr. Hatrash’s band, Most of Us, has these lyrics:

Why is it always so hard to get to you

When it’s something we both want to do

Every time we have to create an alibi

So that we can meet and love or at least try...

As the Saudi rock scene grew, Dina gathered the courage to start her own band. It plans to move slowly, she said, with “jams for ladies only” at first. The band members’ parents support them, though they have asked them to keep things low-key. Eventually, Dina said, they hope to play real concerts, perhaps in Dubai.

“It’s important for them to see what we’re capable of,” she said.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What Happy People Don’t Do (Watch Television)

November 20, 2008
What Happy People Don’t Do

Happy people spend a lot of time socializing, going to church and reading newspapers — but they don’t spend a lot of time watching television, a new study finds.

That’s what unhappy people do.

Although people who describe themselves as happy enjoy watching television, it turns out to be the single activity they engage in less often than unhappy people, said John Robinson, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and the author of the study, which appeared in the journal Social Indicators Research.

While most large studies on happiness have focused on the demographic characteristics of happy people — factors like age and marital status — Dr. Robinson and his colleagues tried to identify what activities happy people engage in. The study relied primarily on the responses of 45,000 Americans collected over 35 years by the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, and on published “time diary” studies recording the daily activities of participants.

“We looked at 8 to 10 activities that happy people engage in, and for each one, the people who did the activities more — visiting others, going to church, all those things — were more happy,” Dr. Robinson said. “TV was the one activity that showed a negative relationship. Unhappy people did it more, and happy people did it less.”

But the researchers could not tell whether unhappy people watch more television or whether being glued to the set is what makes people unhappy. “I don’t know that turning off the TV will make you more happy,” Dr. Robinson said.

Still, he said, the data show that people who spend the most time watching television are least happy in the long run.

Since the major predictor of how much time is spent watching television is whether someone works or not, Dr. Robinson added, it’s possible that rising unemployment will lead to more TV time.

The N-Word Is Flourishing Among Generation Hip-Hop Latinos

Village Voice
The N-Word Is Flourishing Among Generation Hip-Hop Latinos
Why should we care now?
By Raquel Cepeda
published: October 22, 2008

"Yo, my nigga, that nigga's crazy," declares a young Dominican guy in his late teens, early twenties. "Yeah, my nigga, that nigga was buggin' last night, my nigga," responds another hermano. Chatter like this floated in the air like the whiff of days-old garbage smoldering in the heat while I took my frequent summer jaunts along Vermilyea Avenue way uptown in Inwood, with my 11-year-old daughter in tow.

Initially, you'd find mostly Caribbean Latinos dropping n-bombs into rap lyrics—"Pigs," off Cypress Hill's classic self-titled 1991 debut, is just one example—but nearly two decades later, the profusion of the word into the New York City Latino vocabulary is reaching an almost caricaturist quality. In Spanish Harlem, el Bronx, and the Lower East Side, it's enthusiastically deployed in an almost faddish manner, as if it's going out of style literally tomorrow. With Nas threatening to name his latest album Nigga (he relented, eventually, but most fans still call it that anyway) a few months ago, and iconic Latino artists from the authentic urban native Fat Joe to one of my favorite internationalists, Immortal Technique, still flinging it about freely, the word, its meaning, and our sense of who can and cannot use it still dominates public conversation. The palpable racial tension that's been rearing its head this historic presidential election, the subject of race and who is truly considered black or white in this black-and-white race, is something Latinos need to pay attention to. For many of us, especially those of Caribbean descent who make up a sizable chunk of New York Latinos, race should matter, and so should that one particular word.

Personal feelings, premonitions, and politics aside, I took the two young boys' exchange as an interesting opportunity, an exercise in thinking about Afro-Latino identity in an unlikely way: through a hip-hop lens. Aside from the fact that we're in the thick of a predominantly Dominican enclave (for now) in our beloved Uptown Manhattan, and the first guy I'd overheard wore an oversized white T-shirt emblazoned with our motherland's flag, homeboy could've passed for an African-American man on any other stretch of blocks stateside. By comparison, his comrade looked more like Fat Joe's skinnier brother, with light eyes and pale skin. Was it OK, or more OK, for the darker-skinned kid to use the term?

As many times as I've heard it yelled across the streets and in playgrounds lately, it doesn't take away the sting. But it's naive to think Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban kids in New York City aren't calling each other and themselves the n-word, especially in 2008. (It's a global phenomenon, too: In West African cities like Freetown and Accra, heads that find out you're from the States and part of the hip-hop community will find creative ways to work the word into a conversation.) For us, the word usually surfaces in the same context that arises among young African-Americans: as a term of inclusion and solidarity. "It's just a code of communication to us, a 'hood word people throw around frequently," says half-African-American, half-Dominican rapper AZ, who released his "rap thesis" on the subject, titled N.4.L. (Niggaz 4 Life), last month. "I guess people want to use it now for press and all that; I don't understand what's all the big fuss about."

Somehow, the n-word has found its way back into hip-hop's critical zeitgeist: I'm interested in exploring, as a Dominican New Yorker, how we as a community have propagated it. Recently, due to the mounting criticism of Boricua rapper Fat Joe's use of the term eight albums deep into his career (including his latest, The Elephant in the Room), Latinos are being challenged to introspect. But I can see why an impulse to laser-focus on the issue now would bewilder a veteran rapper like Joe; he's used the word consistently since emerging in 1993, as have the Beatnuts, Hurricane G, and his late Puerto Rican cohort Big Pun, to name a few. In an interview with Chicago-based WGCI radio personality Leon Rogers, Joe said that while he didn't know exactly when Latinos started using the n-word, he felt that "somehow it became a way to embrace each other." He added: "Crazy shit is, my man Reverend Al Sharpton, whenever I see him, he'll be like, 'Wassup Joe, my nigga,' and he's the dude that protests 'my nigga.' He's my friend, so he says it to me as a term of endearment."

"It draws the racial differentiations into the Latino community, which I agree with," says New York University Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, Juan Flores, who regularly teaches courses on Afro-Latino identity here and abroad. "It's just an opportunity to check the power that Black Latinos reflect off each other and the Latino population." In other words, Latino artists use the n-word as a reminder that they too have been oppressed and are products of the transatlantic slave trade.

There may be a reason for the lack of attention: Many Caribbean Latinos are, to Americans at least, ethnically ambiguous products of miscegenation. Regardless of what we've learned in grade school, our history extends past Columbus and our Spanish conquistadores. "The European Spaniards have left a legacy of self-hatred and racism among the Latino population; without acknowledging that, we will not evolve past our own inequity," says Immortal Technique, an Afro-Peruvian hip-hop artist who also uses the n-word. "Racism in America, as horrible and ugly as it may be, still isn't as bad as what it is in Latin America, and the sad part is that we are being racist against ourselves."

Maybe, in a way, that's the statement Dania Ramirez intended to make when, as part of Nas's Grammy-night entourage earlier this year, the dark-brown Dominican actress sported a black T-shirt emblazoned with the n-word. Many folks in our parents' generation have rejected their blackness—I have older Latino neighbors who won't vote for Barack Obama simply because he's black—but those generations more informed by hip-hop are embracing their Afro-Latino identity and evolving past our own self-hatred. Perhaps. "One fallacy is that [the n-word is] blasé, like, 'Ah well, everyone can use it now that it has a different meaning,' because it's not completely meaningless," says Professor Flores. "The other extreme, though, is the absolutist who thinks no one can use it because it's taboo, under any circumstances. That's a problem, too, because every expression has the potential for ulterior meanings, depending on the circumstances of the person."

Crystal, a 13-year-old fair-skinned Dominican girl attending eighth grade in an Inwood public school, remembers first hearing the n-word in a song while hanging out with her aunt. "So then, we got on the computer and we looked it up, and it had the meaning and everything," she recalls. "I was like, 'Why would you say it in a song?' From there, you started hearing everybody on the street saying it, and then everybody started getting used to it." To be fair, parents aren't always able to interfere because they speak little to no English; those reared by hip-hop culture in the last two decades often use it themselves.

The similar term cocolo—most popularly used as an insult against Haitians by Dominicans, and by Puerto-Ricans against Dominican immigrants who look Haitian—is another word gradually being assigned a new meaning here among Latinos. Other words that translate to mean "black" among Caribbean Latinos are moreno/a and negrito/a, almost always used as terms of endearment. However, because none of these words have had the fraternal stamp of hip-hop approval, they have yet to receive their proverbial ghetto passes; speaking of which, Jennifer Lopez might've surrendered hers when she left the Bronx eons ago. While it's a fact that men in the hip-hop industry can get away with murder, women are held to impossibly high standards, and the question of authenticity played a role in how negatively the public reacted to J. Lo's use of the n-word on the remix for her 2001 single "I'm Real."

"I think with that, it was really based more upon class than anything else," Immortal Technique says. "Many people saw Fat Joe as technically black even though he was a light-skinned Puerto Rican, and he had affiliations with the streets that Jennifer Lopez probably lost on the way to Hollywood."

With few exceptions within our community—Raquel Rivera's 2003 book New York Ricans From the Hip Hop Zone devoted prime real estate to the discussion of Latino identity in hip-hop—this is a conversation we've failed to have, whatever our personal feelings. "It really don't matter if you're white, you're black, you're brown, or from the Boogie Down—it irks me to death," says Alain "KET" Maridueña, 37, an entrepreneur and artist. "Latinos in our neighborhood use it a lot—like every other word—and I'm trying to check people because I find that we're suffering, we're going through our thing, times are hard, there aren't enough opportunities out there, and I want us to rise up." But we won't rise up if we can't talk about the reasons why we haven't quite gotten there yet, and the words that've risen in prominence as a result.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Music in the WWII Concentration Camps

A 2007 article translated from German in the online journal Music and Politics.

Music in Concentration Camps 1933–1945


Translated from the German by Peter Logan (Würzburg).

It would be wrong to reduce the “Music of the Shoah” (Holocaust/ churbn) to the Yiddish songs from the ghetto camps of Eastern Europe or to the multiple activities in the realm of classical or Jewish music found in the ghetto camp at Theresienstadt (Terezín), which of course enjoyed a special status as a model camp. It would be equally wrong to restrict our view of music in concentration camps to the “Moorsoldatenlied” (“The Peat Bog Soldiers”), the “Buchenwald Song,” the “Dachau Song,” or the so-called “Girls’ Orchestra in Auschwitz,” described by Fania Fénelon – also the subject of the Hollywood film entitled “Playing for Time”.[1] Instead of this, I wish to address the topic of musical activities in general in the concentration camps.[2] Thus this chapter is about those camps that the Nazi regime started to erect just a few weeks after Hitler’s assumption of power; these camps formed the seed from which the entire system of Nazi camps grew, and which eventually consisted of over 10,000 camps of various kinds.[3]

In fact music was an integral part of camp life in almost all the Nazi-run camps. The questions covered by my research include: how was it possible to play music in these camps? What musical forms developed there? What, under these circumstances was the function, the effect and the significance of music for both the suffering inmates and the guards who inflicted the suffering? And how was the extent of musical activities affected by the development of the concentration camp system? My research is based on extensive archive work, the study of memoirs and literature, and interviews with witnesses. In the first part of this essay I describe the various forms of music performed at the behest of the SS in the camps. In the second part I analyze the very different question of the musical activities initiated by the inmates themselves.

Read the article here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Law professor fires back at song-swapping lawsuits

Anniston Star/AP
Nov 17, 7:22 AM EST

Law professor fires back at song-swapping lawsuits

Associated Press Writer

BOSTON (AP) -- The music industry's courtroom campaign against people who share songs online is coming under counterattack.

A Harvard Law School professor has launched a constitutional assault against a federal copyright law at the heart of the industry's aggressive strategy, which has wrung payments from thousands of song-swappers since 2003.

The professor, Charles Nesson, has come to the defense of a Boston University graduate student targeted in one of the music industry's lawsuits. By taking on the case, Nesson hopes to challenge the basis for the suit, and all others like it.

Nesson argues that the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 is unconstitutional because it effectively lets a private group - the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA - carry out civil enforcement of a criminal law. He also says the music industry group abused the legal process by brandishing the prospects of lengthy and costly lawsuits in an effort to intimidate people into settling cases out of court.

Nesson, the founder of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said in an interview that his goal is to "turn the courts away from allowing themselves to be used like a low-grade collection agency."

Nesson is best known for defending the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers and for consulting on the case against chemical companies that was depicted in the film "A Civil Action." His challenge against the music labels, made in U.S. District Court in Boston, is one of the most determined attempts to derail the industry's flurry of litigation.

The initiative has generated more than 30,000 complaints against people accused of sharing songs online. Only one case has gone to trial; nearly everyone else settled out of court to avoid damages and limit the attorney fees and legal costs that escalate over time.

Nesson intervened after a federal judge in Boston asked his office to represent Joel Tenenbaum, who was among dozens of people who appeared in court in RIAA cases without legal help.

The 24-year-old Tenenbaum is a graduate student accused by the RIAA of downloading at least seven songs and making 816 music files available for distribution on the Kazaa file-sharing network in 2004. He offered to settle the case for $500, but music companies rejected that, demanding $12,000.

The Digital Theft Deterrence Act, the law at issue in the case, sets damages of $750 to $30,000 for each infringement, and as much as $150,000 for a willful violation. That means Tenenbaum could be forced to pay $1 million if it is determined that his alleged actions were willful.

The music industry group isn't conceding any ground to Nesson and Tenenbaum. The RIAA has said in court documents that its efforts to enforce the copyright law is protected under the First Amendment right to petition the courts for redress of grievances. Tenenbaum also failed, the music group noted, to notify the U.S. Attorney General that that he wanted to contest the law's constitutional status.

Cara Duckworth, a spokeswoman for the RIAA, said her group's pursuit of people suspected of music piracy is a fair response to the industry's multibillion-dollar losses since peer-to-peer networks began making it easy for people to share massive numbers of songs online.

"What should be clear is that illegally downloading and distributing music comes with many risks and is not an anonymous activity," Duckworth said.

Still, wider questions persist on whether the underlying copyright law is constitutional, said Ray Beckerman, a Forest Hills, N.Y.-based attorney who has represented other downloading defendants and runs a blog tracking the most prominent cases.

One federal judge has held that the constitutional question is "a serious argument," Beckerman said. "There are two law review articles that have said that it is unconstitutional, and there are three cases that said that it might be unconstitutional."

In September, a federal judge granted a new trial to a Minnesota woman who had been ordered to pay $220,000 for pirating 24 songs. In that ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael J. Davis called on Congress to change copyright laws to prevent excessive awards in similar cases. He wrote that he didn't discount the industry's claim that illegal downloading has hurt the recording business, but called the award "wholly disproportionate" to the industry's losses.

In the Boston case, Nesson is due to meet attorneys for the music industry for a pretrial conference on Tuesday, ahead of a trial set for Dec. 1.

Entertainment attorney Jay Cooper, who specializes in music and copyright issues at Los Angeles-based Greenberg Traurig, is convinced that Nesson will not persuade the federal court to strike down the copyright law. He said the statutory damages it awards enable recording companies to get compensation in cases where it is difficult to prove actual damages.

The record companies have echoed that line of defense. In court filings in Tenenbaum's case, they contend that the damages allowed by the law are "intended not only to compensate the copyright owner, but also to punish the infringer (and) deter other potential infringers."

But are these lawsuits the only way the record industry could deter piracy? Nesson believes the industry could develop new ways to prevent copyright material from being shared illegally. One idea would be to bundle music with ads and post it for free online, he says.

"There are alternative ways," he said, "of packaging entertainment to return revenue to artists."


On the Net:

Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society:

Ray Beckerman's blog:

The Recording Industry Association of America on music piracy:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Lost Photographs of the Hiroshima Bombing

Design Observer/Adam Levy Hat tip to the Daily Dish.

One rainy night eight years ago, in Watertown, Massachusetts, a man was taking his dog for a walk. On the curb, in front of a neighbor’s house, he spotted a pile of trash: old mattresses, cardboard boxes, a few broken lamps. Amidst the garbage he caught sight of a battered suitcase. He bent down, turned the case on its side and popped the clasps.

He was surprised to discover that the suitcase was full of black-and-white photographs. He was even more astonished by their subject matter: devastated buildings, twisted girders, broken bridges — snapshots from an annihilated city. He quickly closed the case and made his way back home.

At the kitchen table, he looked through the photographs again and confirmed what he had suspected. He was looking at something he had never seen before: the effects of the first use of the Atomic bomb. The man was looking at Hiroshima.

In a dispassionate and scientific style, the seven hundred and one photographs inside the suitcase catalogued a city seared by a new form of warfare. The origin and purpose of the photographs were a mystery to the man who found them that night. Now, over sixty years after the bombing of Hiroshima, their story can be told.

Read the post HERE.