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Tuesday, Mar 17, 2009
A look at some of the responses and coverage to the recent school shooting in Germany.

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting by Tim Kretschmer in Germany, politicians in both America and Germany are rallying behind the event to once again call for tighter restrictions on video games. Germany already has the strongest censorship laws in the EU, which short of outright banning all or most video games means there is not much left to lock down. Here in America, games are already actively not sold to minors and the video game industry has the highest success rate of any media for keeping mature rated content out of the hands of minors.


Particularly troubling is the continuing coverage of the incident which insists on the connection between playing games and violence. Politicians and ignorant parents are one thing, journalists should be held to a higher standard. The Times’ connection of the incident to Far Cry 2 (their description of the game is factually inaccurate) barely qualifies as tenuous. Kretschmer played Far Cry 2 the night before the event along with several other FPS titles. The expert consulted in the article to establish the link is Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, the man who coined the term “murder simulator” for games, and he bases his accusations on a connection between training tactics used by the military and video games. Specifically, the need to simulate the effects of shooting a person more accurately on targeting ranges (such as having targets that go limp or flail) is echoed in games. A game controller is otherwise considered the equivalent of holding a gun and firing it. The article balances out the coverage by consulting other experts on the topic who rely on psychological studies and a growing majority that have found that there is no link between video games and violence. Elements such as the father owning numerous guns, teaching Kretschmer to use guns at a young age, and a troubled childhood are all referenced as contributing factors to the crime.


Both the Telegraph and Escapist have taken the time to report on the event and also question the connection to games.


Mark David Chapman obsessively read Catcher in the Rye before shooting John Lennon. Does reading Salinger make people want to kill celebrities? Timothy McVeigh’s favorite flavor of ice cream was Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Chip. Does eating it make people want to blow up Federal buildings? Jeffrey Dahmer’s favorite horror film is Hellraiser III. Does watching it make people want to murder and eat one another? Ted Kaczynski was obsessed with Joseph Conrad and the novel, The Secret Agent, in which a professor abandons his job, lives in seclusion, and decides to bomb a scientific lab. Are other people who read the story going to act it out?


As the growing problem of youth violence and school shooting continues, perhaps the press will eventually want to stop and ask why there are so many people who play these games that don’t exhibit similar behavior.


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Tuesday, Mar 17, 2009

From the Los Angeles Times:


Millard Kaufman published his first novel, “Bowl of Cherries,” at age 90. In his ninth decade, he had the presence of mind, the diligence and the creativity to write a book, an act that seems to me to be remarkable, verging on the heroic. But he’d been heroic before, lending his name to Dalton Trumbo in the heat of the blacklist. Kaufman was a screenwriter, a one-time movie director, a Marine, co-creator of Mr. Magoo and an author with a second book in the works. He died Saturday, two days after his 92nd birthday.


A YouTube clip of Kaufman talking about his life in books, Hollywood, and excrement.


 


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Tuesday, Mar 17, 2009
by Walter Tunis - McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

How do you whittle down 70 years of Blue Note Records to a handful of favorites?


Downbeat magazine asked those at the forefront of today’s jazz generation to go one step better and name their single favorite album issued by the label. On the magazine’s cover is sax man Joe Lovano, who will release his 21st record for Blue Note, Folk Art, in May. Cradled in his arms is his pick: Art Blakey’s 1964 bop masterwork Free for All.


Bill Charlap, pianist and musical director for The Blue Note 7, chose pianist Horace Silver’s 1954 album with an earlier and altogether different lineup of the band (named Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers). But in a recent telephone interview, he all but dismissed any notion of a single “favorite” Blue Note work.


“It’s a very show-business question to ask about your favorite Blue Note record,” he said. “If you have more than one child, would you choose a favorite?”


Rather than limiting the choices to a single selection, here is my critic’s pick sampling of five champion Blue Note recordings. The choices—representing a just four years of the label’s mammoth history—intentionally omit Blue Note’s more iconic artists (Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and others) in favor of less-appreciated players who defined the label’s timeless blues, bop, soul and swing.


Hank Mobley, Soul Station (1960). One of the happiest Blue Note sessions ever teams sax great Mobley with drummer (and onetime boss) Art Blakey and pianist Wynton Kelly for an album of lean, soulful cheer. A guaranteed smile-maker of an album.


 


Sonny Clark, Leapin’ and Lopin’ (1961). Clark is a shamefully overlooked pianist, composer and sideman, and his records as a band leader mixed playful blues (summarized here on “Voodoo”) and exquisitely reflective solo playing (his cover of “Deep in a Dream”).


 


Kenny Dorham, Una Mas (1963). Like fellow trumpeter Lee Morgan, Dorham had a way with a lyrical phrase. Note the similarities between Una Mas’ title tune and Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”. But Dorham also exhibited understated swing and regal cool.


 


Lee Morgan, Search for the New Land (1964). You could argue to infinity about who was Blue Note’s greatest soloist and composer. Morgan gets my vote. He cut harder swing sessions, but few reached the sleeker emotive extremes of New Land.


 


Andrew Hill, Point of Departure (1964). Albums like this woke up Blue Note to the times. Within the jagged rhythmic strides of “New Monastery”, “Spectrum” and “Dedication”, pianist/composer Hill took the blues of Blue Note into brave new improvisational turf.


 



Tagged as: blue note
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Tuesday, Mar 17, 2009

Eight years ago this week, Welsh agit-rock band Manic Street Preachers released their sixth album, Know Your Enemy. The album’s style was highly idiosyncratic and more varied stylistically than earlier Manics albums. Notably, it’s the first time lead singer James Dean Bradfield penned a lyric for the band in the form of “Ocean Spray,” a song that hit #15 on the UK charts. Here are the singles for the record as well as a live version of “Baby Elian”.


Manic Street Preachers - “So Why So Sad”


Manic Street Preachers - “Ocean Spray”


Manic Street Preachers - “Found That Soul”


Manic Street Preachers - “Let Robeson Sing”


Manic Street Preachers - “Baby Elian” (Live)


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Tuesday, Mar 17, 2009

Barry Ritholtz provides an object lesson in breaking down a financial story that has been framed in an entirely misleading way. On the screen in my building’s elevator this morning—a pretty good distillation of what has been deemed considered newsworthy for regular office workers—I saw that home starts were up a surprising percent in February, which was being touted as a welcome piece of good news for the housing industry. The further implication was that the rumors of the demise of homebuilding have been greatly exaggerated. This was exactly the sort of thing we’d like to hear—that the economy is not as bad off as it seems and our “animal spirits” should be perking up right about now. Maybe Obama was right to be sending optimistic signals last week.


Ritholtz takes apart the data though and reveals nothing to be optimistic about:


If we look at the breakdown by unit types, the gains in starts were mainly in multi-family units; single family starts were little changed. And, February was still down nearly 50% from prior year. The past 4 months rank as the worst housing start figures since the data was collected. The past 2 quarters have 6 of the 10 worst seasonally adjusted figures.
This is reflecting the secular shift in trend to renting from buying. Home ownership rate is receding form the 68% level a few years ago — artificially inflated via ultra low rates / abdication of lending standards — back towards to a normalized 64% level.
Peter Boockvar suggests today’s data “is a reflection of where construction money is going.” And, the decline in permits though in this sector means that the building pace in February is unsustainable.


The question to consider here is whether the skewed reporting of economic data is a matter of incompetence or design. (Economist Dean Baker’s ongoing exposés of poor economic reporting on his blog are relevant to this question as well.) Often, numbers are framed in a congenially reportable way by trade organizations (think, the National Association of Realtors, whose onetime president wrote the already infamous Are You Missing the Real Estate Boom?: The Boom Will Not Bust and Why Property Values Will Continue to Climb Through the End of the Decade - And How to Profit From Them). Reporters and headline writers have little incentive to question this spin, since it comes ready-made and tends to conform to what editors assume readers want to read. And in general, they are trained to defer to expert opinion, in this case, the industry economists who have an interest in shading the statistics. The problem is that pertinent analysis tends to be buried in most reports of economic data, and if it exists at all, it tends to be presented as a battle between competing experts who say the opposite, leaving the slant of the headline as the final arbiter. So economic reporting in nonfinancial papers is ultimately about gauging the zeitgeist and trying to establish and exaggerate confidence or, more rarely, exploit fear. It’s a dubious place to go if you want to understand the data itself.


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