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by Lara Killian

22 Sep 2008

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I was surprised by the sudden arrival of the fall season today in the northern hemisphere. Some people feel like it will soon be time to pull on the woolly coats and hibernate until the sun shines again, but I feel there is a reawakening going on in areas with vibrant student populations. The energy on campus as first assignments come due and readings start to pile up is fantastic. And with a return to school comes a renewed focus on outreach programming related to literature and writing. This Saturday, 28 September, The Word on the Street Book and Magazine Festival 2008 will be celebrated in five Canadian cities: Calgary, Halifax, Kitchener, Toronto and Vancouver. The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia is sponsoring some excellent readings and local events not only in the week leading up to The Word on the Street Festival, but right on into October as well. And all this week, Thin Air,  the Winnipeg International Writers Festival, is on. I particularly wish I could have swooped in for Andrew Davidson’s reading from The Gargoyle at Winnepeg’s Millennium Library. He’ll be in Toronto on 24 September, just in case you’re interested. Any upcoming book or literacy festivals in your area?

by Rob Horning

22 Sep 2008

Since returning from vacation, I’ve read little other than posts about the banking industry’s continued implosion and the various bailouts meant to rescue it. The most recent issue is Treasury secretary Hank Paulson’s plan to spend unlimited billions without any oversight buying up banks’ bad assets in a contemporary version of the Resolution Trust Company, which was deployed during the 1980s savings-and-loan bailout. Paulson’s idea seems to be to stop the financial crisis by fixing banks’ balance sheets once and for all, through the magic process of letting banks replace failing, ill-considered, or impossible-to-price items on it with what the banks want them to be worth in government (aka taxpayer) cash. With the toxic assets—strange how toxic has moved from a business journalism cliche to a virtual term of art—cleansed from the system, banks can resume borrowing short and lending long again as their business model demands. As Mark Thoma points out, this will work if the problem is illiquidity. If the banks are actually insolvent, what’s needed to bail them out is a massive capital infusion—money for nothing. Given the nature of the assets the government would acquire under the Paulson plan, it’s not clear if there is a difference.

Most experts and pundits and economists who have commented on Paulson’s plan seem to hate it. (Steven Waldman has a good roundup here.) Some question it because it rewards an industry for its failure to effectively perform its most basic function—evaluate credit risk so that it can make loans to make money. Some are skeptical because it gives Paulson unchecked power to help his former compatriots on Wall Street. (The proposal features this banana-republic-appropriate codicil: “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”) Some wonder why it uses taxpayer money to prop up an industry that has doled out to itself millions in bonus money while doing nothing to help the wage-earning classes directly. Some are curious about why the banks should be able to get away with selling assets no one else wants to the government at sweetheart prices. Many note that this is risk-free socialism for the rich—the gains of entrepreneurship are privatized while the losses are socialized. Accordingly, most commentators want to see a taxpayer stake added to the plan, under which the government gets to own part of the firms it helps out—a debt-for-equity arrangement of some sort. But such an arrangement would threaten to nationalize the banking industry.

Would that be a terrible thing? It could, in economist Luigi Zingales’s phrase, “save capitalism from the capitalists.” Of course, bankers don’t like such a thing, and as Zingales points out, it is much easier for those few bankers to coordinate and argue their side to Congress then the many taxpayers who would get nothing under the Paulson plan. So it seems unlikely that the plan will be modified too much in our favor. But hey, we got a lot of overpriced and inefficient houses in the exurbs out of this whole mess.

by Sarah Zupko and Karen Zarker

22 Sep 2008

The Mercy Lounge and its even bigger venue sister downstairs, the Cannery Ballroom, combine to provide great music venues. There’s lots of space on stage and off, but wear your comfortable shoes, as seats are few. Downstairs, you can sit on the other side of a brick wall to the Ballroom, a wall perforated with open windows to let the music through, and rest your aching mules while sinking in to a broken down vinyl seat at a table. There’s a whole string of ‘em along the wall.

We started our final evening of the American Music Fest diggin’ the Duhks, a powerfully talented stew of young Winnipegians. Watching this good looking group of young people started me thinking about how I (KZ of the SZ/KZ team, that is) like the food on my plate. (This will make sense in a moment.)  See, I like to mix things up. To the embarrassment of my mate when we dine at restaurants, I’ve gottta stir, swirl, and glop it all together—deee-lish!

That’s what the Duhks are like: a plate full of all the good stuff, all mixed up. You’ll get rock (with a violin that sounds like an electric guitar), cabaret (with that tinge of the dark, somewhat perverse, rather intellectual approach which makes for the best of cabaret), foot-stomping Celtic, and a spicy bit of Afropop (wherein the fiddle becomes a thumb piano). Sarah Dugas’ versatile pipes can belt out gospel with the best of ‘em, followed by some good ol’ Louisiana Cajun. Sarah and Tania Elizabeth will sing to you in French and sing to you in English, but the band’s instruments sing in more tongues than any mere multilingual human can.

Their rousing finale merged into Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, no doubt a nod to Robert Plant, who’s been making the rounds at the American Music Fest this year. He and Alison Krauss won the Album of the Year for Raising Sand. As for “Whole Lotta Love”, we rather liked the Duhks version of this rock classic better. Sorry, Robert.

For those of you who like the piles on your plate all neat in their own places, think of the Duhks as a belly-busting buffet—you get it all, however you like it. Dig in.

Downstairs for the Glen Campbell tribute—with Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Mead, Raul Malo and many others—wherein the man himself came out and sang not only some of his own stuff—songs with that melted, gooey cheese dripping all over them—that is: songs that everyone loves (and everyone sings along with). The country star covered Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Live)”, as well. The man looks and sounds good. Indeed, he seems like he’s hardly changed over the years - such is the nature of old souls, aged yet ageless, somehow.

We squeezed our way back upstairs for Buddy Miller, who’d bring on Bonnie Bramlett for some rocking harmonizing. Standing right up front, tempted to take a sip from that cool, bottled water at Buddy’s feet, we were experiencing the Mercy Lounge/Cannery Row at its best: hot, crowded, and friendly. (The guy behind me was a hootin’ and hollerin’ in the manner of fan appreciation. Now that’s good company, unlike the guys at Day 1 at The Basement.) 

At Mercy and Cannery, the bartenders are friendly, the fellow out in the parking lot collecting the $3 parking fee is friendly (swear it’s the same guy as last year), the musicians who make their way unassumingly amongst you, give a nod and let you through, or mutter a simple ‘scuse me, when making their way—all unassumingly polite. You are in good company in these places.

Day 3 at the 3rd & Lindsley, Jim White sang that a bar was just a church that serves beer. Well, down here in the buckle of the Bible belt, we never set foot in a church - technically speaking, that is—but we shared hours and hours of sweet fellowship with the music-loving faithful.

God looked down and saw that it was good.

* * *

Our wish list for next year’s Americana Music Fest:

Give Casey Driessen a showcase (we caught up with him on our volition).

Bring Trent Summar back, and give him a Friday or Saturday night showcase. The few who saw him on a Wednesday, we think it was, last year, enjoyed him mightily. More Dale Watson too, please. You can never get enough Texas honky tonk. Less quiet, mellow stuff and more barn burners would liven these nights up even more.

Invite the stellar musicians that comprise BeauSoleil. Perhaps a Cajun night with the Red Stick Ramblers might be in order. Marcia Ball would fit in nicely there too to broaden the taste of the Louisiana stew.

And finally, we hope that Nashville doesn’t run out of gas at next year’s Fest. Driving downtown to meet up with folks, we passed lines of cars blocks long, waiting to fill at gas stations that were pumping painfully slowly. Cops were guiding traffic. People were standing outside their cars, waiting. It was a site reminiscent of the ‘70s gas crises, though unlike many of our compatriots who had to hitch rides to showcases, we were lucky that we had enough in the tank to get us to Kentucky, north of the crises, come the time we had to leave this lovely land that is Nashville, Tennessee.

by Jason Gross

22 Sep 2008

Since last month, I had that title sitting in my drafts folder, wondering if I’d have ever the occasion to write about the topic.  I mean, other than in musician mags, does anyone really write about such an idea anymore?  Not that I see and that’s a shame.  That’s why I was glad to see this recent article in Blurt Magazine about Jon Mueller, whose career might just answer the question I posed here.  Some of the prose there is a little flowery about lit references but the subject is definitely fascinating enough to warrant an extended article.

by Mike Schiller

21 Sep 2008

de Blob for the Wii

de Blob for the Wii

Oh, oh yes, that…that’s nice.  Look at all of those games coming out this week.  And it’s only going to get busier.  This is truly my favorite time of year.

When the release list starts to get as clogged up as this week’s looks, it tends to take something either well-established and highly anticipated or something innovative and head-turning to stand out from the pack.  I’m happy to say that this week we have what looks to be a fine example of the latter, as THQ’s de Blob is released for the Wii.  If Wikipedia is to be believed (and I’m prone to believing it), de Blob had its origins as a class project, got noticed by THQ, and got turned into a full-fledged retail game.  The mechanic of it seems perfect fo the Wii, as you roll around your blob of an avatar, dipping yourself into paint cans and rolling all over a city gone monochrome.  As you color the city, the music for that city slowly reveals itself, as painting the buildings and the scenery certain colors unlocks instrumental tracks that all fit together as theme music.

They even came up with appropriately awful box art!

They even came up with
appropriately awful box art!

Those tired of the Wii’s innovation being reduced to added waggle must be thrilled to be getting something, from a third party no less, that actually manages to not look like something we’ve seen before.  The last time a third party gave us something truly interesting-looking that would take advantage of the control scheme of the Wii was…Elebits, maybe?  Needless to say, de Blob will be a welcome sight for Wii owners on the shelves of whatever stores they frequent.

On the more well-established side, it might be considered just a little bit insane just how much I’m looking forward to trying out Mega Man 9.  Yes, I’m fully aware that it’s probably going to feel just like the other Mega Man games I’ve got sitting around for the NES.  Yes, I’m also fully aware that I may break whatever controller I use to play the thing.  Don’t care.  Modern retro that actually tries to stay retro?  No HD graphics, no remade levels, no pandering to modern gamers used to cakewalks?  Yes, it’s just a completely new Mega Man adventure from the ground up.  Sign me up.

Lego Batman on the Xbox 360

Lego Batman on the Xbox 360

Lego Batman comes out for a pile of formats this week—they had me when they released the footage of Harley Quinn.  A couple of non-traditional (read: no plain old cars allowed) racers are on the scene, as Baja: Edge of Control and Pure share shelf space and target audiences, and both look like they stand a decent chance of being rather entertaining.  There’s also a little, tiny part of me that wants to get my hands on the Hamtaro game (with the properly nonsensical title of Hi! Hamtaro Ham-Ham Challenge).  Remember Hamtaro?  The hyperkinetic hamster that actually invaded the WB for a while?  Oh, the memories, of staring at the television screen in slackjawed wonder/amusement/terror. 

Obviously, there’s plenty coming out this week.  What are you picking up?  Scope out the full release list and a trailer for de Blob after…the jump.

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