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Wednesday, Dec 10, 2014
Japanese music, specifically a shamisen performance, can be a hard sell initially, but a Westerner might find some similarities with Appalachian folk music.

Last year around Thanksgiving time, I was visiting Japan. I didn’t attend any kabuki or any noh performances nor did I check out any music (though Paul McCartney played there days before I arrived). I did however check out something that does translate well, giant robots. It’s not just that I’m not familiar with many Japanese bands, though few if any cross over into the US market, it’s that those theater productions are often lengthy which makes it difficult to approach (which section of the performance should I see?) and, in this case, the instrumental music doesn’t have a specific rhythm or catchy chorus for one to grasp onto. So I didn’t risk a show in Tokyo, but I was lucky to catch a rare and masterful set of shamisen performances in New York at the Japan Society.


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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Marvel superheroes, DC supervillians, video game characters and cosplayers (including Jessica Nigri) of all sorts make New York Comic Con a blast to attend.

Just outside the convention floor, DC Comics was celebrating the 75th anniversary of Batman with a showcase of costumes while the US Postal Service was selling a limited print of stamps honoring the Caped Crusader. But for several blocks around the Javits Center, superheroes like the Caped Crusader, supervillians, video game characters and cosplayers descended upon the 2014 New York Comic Con to share their fandom and enjoy the company of like-minded folks. Attendees wore spandex, painted their hair, crafted cardboard weapons and masks and basically tried to differentiate themselves from the twenty plus other Spiderman or Harley Quinn variations that were around. Some people, like Doc Ock, struggled to make their way around the convention floor given the width of their appendages especially in the areas where fans were lined up in droves, like those gathered well in advance of the appointed time for famous cosplayer Jessica Nigri’s appearance. Then there were those who planned collective costumes with their friends, like the Tetrominos or the Batman villians or the LEGO Marvel characters. Check out some photos of the cosplayers below and see why NYCC is a blast to attend.


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Monday, Sep 29, 2014
Almost 50,000 people gathered in Central Park for the 3rd Annual Global Citizen Festival, a star-studded affair that draws attention to extreme poverty with world leaders pledging funds for relief.

The scope of the Global Citizen Festival remains the same as it did for the prior two iterations, to mitigate extreme poverty worldwide though this year the organizers directed additional attention to the subjects of vaccines, education and sanitation. Regarding sanitation, there was a lot of attention directed towards open defecation, a huge issue in India in particular. Amongst the global leaders in attendance (as the festival is timed to coincide with world leaders being in New York for the U.N. Global Summit) was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi had been implicated as one of the instigators of religious violence against Muslims (by Hindus) in Gujurat in 2002 where he was Chief Minister at the time. And he hadn’t been permitted to enter the United States from that point on, until he became elected Prime Minister in 2014 so he was given a moment at the festival to pledge that Indians citizens will have access to toilets by 2019. Other world leaders were present, including Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who pledged over $1.2 billion towards vaccinations worldwide over the next several years, and some NGO leaders including World Bank President Jim Kim and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.


But for many of nearly 50,000 people in attendance at the six hour event, including one girl who drove up from Tennessee, the primary attraction was not actor Hugh Jackman introducing Ban Ki-Moon or Olivia Wilde talking about her recent charitable endeavors, but the powerful and diverse line-up of musicians. Via an online lottery, for which people earned entries by completing socially conscious activities, the lucky people in attendance got to see performances from Jay Z and Beyonce, No Doubt (their first show in a couple of years) do a set with Sting guesting for one song, Carrie Underwood, Alicia Keys with Idan Raichel, The Roots and more. The concert was available as a stream online or live on MSNBC (with noticeable delay) for those that couldn’t go, but given the opportunity to be out on Central Park on a lovely summery day, Global Citizen Festival was a perfect outing… if you could get in (VIP ticket holders complained of long lines). It may be hard to determine what the attendees’ motives were but if they were genuine, but if even a small percentage of them feel urged to donate, or be more socially active that is a good start.


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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014
Afropunk Fest felt more politically charged this year. People had their hands in the air as a tribute to Michael Brown nearly as often as they did for the performers.

The atmosphere at the 2014 Afropunk Festival was permeated by the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri (namely the death of Michael Brown) and last month’s chokehold-related death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. People had their hands in the air as a tribute to Michael Brown nearly as often as they did for the performers. In correlation, the (what seemed to me to be) higher police presence at the fest didn’t impede any of the fun, nor did the weather for the most part. Saturday was a bit overcast and there was a light rain for a bit which may have been enough to keep some of the crowds away—Sunday was extraordinarily tight when the sun was out in full force. Photos from much of Saturday (I didn’t stay for Sharon Jones partly because I caught her earlier this year and part of Sunday (D’Angelo with the Roots headlined but photographers weren’t allowed in the pit and he started an hour late) are below. Other notable moments were seeing Mayor de Blasio on site for Bad Brains set and Cold Specks unfortunately not performing due to visa issues.


Check out a larger gallery of higher-res images over on Facebook!


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Thursday, Jul 17, 2014
When you live in a cutting-edge state where marijuana is legal, it’s easy to forget how far behind so much of America still is.
Photo courtesy of Gregory M. Schwartz


With marijuana having been legalized in Colorado and Washington state, there were activists who decided it was high time to go for legalization in the nation’s capital. Hence, the D.C. Cannabis Campaign was launched this spring to collect the signatures to get Voter Initiative #71 on the fall ballot in the District of Columbia.


When members of the campaign feared that they might not obtain the 22,373 valid signatures from registered District voters by the 7 July deadline, organizers sought to bring in reinforcements from afar. A handful of activists from California and other distant states soon took up residence at the campaign’s headquarters on Embassy Row to help push the initiative over the top.


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