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.