Latest Blog Posts

by Rachel Balik

25 Nov 2009

When you think about it, the legacy of the Iranian elections last year isn’t going to be anything that actually happened in Iran. The thing we’re all going to remember about that election is how profoundly it demonstrated the power of Twitter. One of the biggest selling points of Twitter at the time was that it was “the only way” to get information out of the country. We all got to participate, too: a Twitter location stating one was in Iran became akin to the latest fashion accessory. So, if you do get to read 44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World, don’t be shocked when you learn that during the Iranian revolution, photographer David Burnett had to smuggle his film out of the country by going to the airport and searching for “pigeons” who might be willing to carry it to Paris where they handed it off to a correspondent. The photographs still made it out, but their journey required physical, not digital ingenuity.

44 Days is an annotated compilation of the photographs he took during that time. The book chronicles the last days of the Shah’s rule, the protests and bloodshed that followed and the return of Ayatollah Khomenini. The photographs are accompanied by Burnett’s journal-like descriptions of each experience. Essentially, it’s a compilation of his Twitter stream, except, there was no Twitter. He writes objectively about the political situation, the emotions of the crowd and his own investigative journey. Burnett also writes about the relationship of the press to the government, and to the protesters.

Of course, Burnett’s book chronicles the events leading up the real crisis, the capturing of American hostages for 44 days. He shows us what Iran was before it became the sort of place that would cut off email in 2009, and his notes as a journalist reflect the painstaking devolution of democracy. While his photographs are certainly not to be missed, one of the more fascinating aspects of the book is watching the new government piece itself together from the perspective of a journalist. At certain points, the press was restrained. Burnett notes that he had to tell everyone that he was Canadian, because as an American, he says he was treated as though he personally had put the Shah in power.

But at other times, the government gave instructions to accommodate foreign press. He tells a story about passing film to a fellow photographer across a crowd of protesters; after the roll Burnett threw to his colleague failed to go to the distance, it was caught handed over from person to person until it reached the other journalists. That attitude shifted when the Ayatollah came to power, but Burnett was able to secure a private shoot with the religious leader by suggesting that in large crowds, he appeared too much like Hitler and was going to garner distaste from the rest of the world. In a private shoot, he argued, he could show the man’s softer side. Burnett’s journalistic maneuvers are certainly quite different then the ones employed to get information out via Twitter. While his experiences seem more real and more vivid, it is valuable to note what the change in freedom of speech says about the changes in Iran. Burnett’s account carries us across the River Styx; he captures, in words and images, the experience of Iran as it crossed the threshold from old to new.

by Eleanore Catolico

25 Nov 2009

NPR’s Cake Lady Melissa Gray offers her delectable cake recipes in her new cookbook All Cakes Considered. Gray’s recipes are easily read and practical for anyone who loves to bake. The book is divided according to each genre of baking and recipes according to techniques, ingredients, and supplies in order to make treats for the office, a party, or your family. With sensuously luscious illustrations of over 50 cakes including Brown Sugar Pound Cake, Peppermint and Chocolate Rum Marble Cake, Lord and Lady Baltimore Cakes, Dark-Chocolate Red Velvet Cake, just to name a few, this book is an essential for friends with a dessert fetish. All Cakes Considered is mmm mmm good and then some.

by Rob Horning

24 Nov 2009

The idea that consumer choice is freedom is perhaps the quintessential piece of consumerist ideology, so perhaps it is no surprise that economic pundits like Tim Harford, writing in the FT, would be eager to report the evidence against it.

The average of all these studies suggests that offering lots of extra choices seems to make no important difference either way. There seem to be circumstances where choice is counterproductive but, despite looking hard for them, we don’t yet know much about what they are. Overall, says Scheibehenne: “If you did one of these studies tomorrow, the most probable result would be no effect.” Perhaps choice is not as paradoxical as some psychologists have come to believe. One way or another, we seem to be able to cope with it.

Interesting that the paradox of choice is here presented as something the psychologists merely want to believe—is this projection at work? Tyler Cowen, who declares that “the so-called paradox of choice is one of the most overrated and incorrectly cited results in the social sciences,” links to Harford’s story approvingly.

Whether you accept the refutation (or the original observation) seems a question of whether you trust the methodology of these sorts of studies. Mine is undermined by the fact that the studies themselves have yielded contradictory results: Harford reports, “Neither the original Lepper-Iyengar experiments nor the new study appears to be at fault: the results are just different and we don’t know why.” I’m skeptical generally of efforts to replicate real-world psychology in artificial lab experiments. The arbitrariness of the tasks subjects are asked to participate in, and their abstraction from lived social reality, means they have turned off their self-consciousness to a degree and are behaving artificially, different from how they would act in a situation with true social implications and ongoing ramifications for their self-concept.

Determining the psychological impact of the number of choices is a proxy war for whether or not restrictions should be placed on markets in order to benefit consumers—or to even encourage them to be less of consumers. I don’t think any amount of research can ultimately arbitrate what is an ideological question.

by Tyler Gould

24 Nov 2009

Dream Get Together
(Dead Oceans)
Releasing: January 26

I couldn’t remember a single note from “Careful With That Hat” after I listened to it once through, but when there are a gaggle of people in your band and your most salient characteristic is guitar fuzz, that sort of comes with the territory. After another go, it’s less monotonous and muddled than I had originally thought. The groove is insistent, but there are a few morsels of goodness nestled in there, making it about as benign and harmless as their last record, Little Kingdom.

01 Careful With That Hat
02 Return From Silence
03 Dream Get Together
04 Secret Breakfast
05 Mirror Kisses
06 Hunter
07 Fortunate Sun
08 Tugboat

Careful With That Hat [MP3]

by Meghan Lewit

24 Nov 2009

In an article on Prospect.org, writer Sady Doyle posits that the backlash against the wildly popular Twilight series of books and film adaptations isn’t so much based on the poor writing, overwrought performances and anti-feminist message, as it is on the fact that its fan base is almost exclusively female.

Doyle concedes the series’ many faults, but also points out that Twilight engenders a different kind of derision than nerdy fan-boy fare.

Twilight is more than a teen dream. It’s a massive cultural force. Yet the very girliness that has made it such a success has resulted in its being marginalized and mocked. Of course, you won’t find many critics lining up to defend Dan Brown or Tom Clancy, either; mass-market success rarely coincides with literary acclaim. But male escapist fantasies—which, as anyone who has seen Die Hard or read those Tom Clancy novels can confirm, are not unilaterally sophisticated, complex, or forward-thinking—tend to be greeted with shrugs, not sneers. The Twilight backlash is vehement, and it is just as much about the fans as it is about the books. Specifically, it’s about the fact that those fans are young women.”

It’s an interesting take on the Twilight phenomenon—one that I hadn’t really considered because, well, there are plenty of perfectly valid reasons to scorn Twilight: the central message of the story aimed at teen girls seems to be that if you really, really, really like a boy, you should seriously consider giving up your soul for him. Franchise stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson spend most of their time together onscreen staring dolefully at each other for interminable stretches. Author Stephenie Meyer never met an adjective she didn’t like and her prose is uniformly awful. (The sentence, “He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare,” simply should not occur in the English language. Ever.) Gender issues aside, all of this makes the series ripe for mocking.

Still, it’s undeniable that entertainment aimed specifically at women is often relegated to a fluffy, pink ghetto. For years, I listened to male friends carp about the vapidity and silliness of Sex and The City, although it never occurred to them that their beloved Entourage was essentially the same show re-packaged and targeted to a different gender. Doyle raises a good point in questioning whether Harry Potter would have been such a universally embraced phenomenon if it had a more feminine perspective.

I may not understand theTwilight obsession, but I can empathize with it. After all, I was once a 16-year-old who saw Titanic three times in the theater. I know a little something about falling head-over-heals for a cinematic hero who is tailor-made to appeal to adolescent girls and bored housewives.

What is also undeniable is that The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the second installment in the saga, made $140 million last weekend—the third highest opening ever behind The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 3. If there were any lingering questions, it’s now clear that the vampire-loving ladies now have just as much power to set the cultural agenda as the superhero-worshipping lads.

The rest of us had better either get on board, or get out of the way.

//Mixed media

Red Baraat Blows Hartford Hall Down Celebrating the Festival of Colors (Photos)

// Notes from the Road

"Red Baraat's annual Festival of Colors show rocked a snow laden Hartford on a Saturday evening.

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