Two new books about music in post-Katrina New Orleans

November 26, 2011

Those who have spent any significant amount of time in New Orleans can attest to the fact that the real musical treasures are found off the beaten path. Keith Spera and John Swenson are both savvy writers who have infiltrated the inner circle of the Crescent City’s musical culture. Each has assembled a collection of intriguing essays that reveal secrets that exist well beyond Bourbon Street.

New Orleans native Spera, a longstanding music writer for The Times-Picayune who was also part of the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina coverage team, focuses on tales of musicians confronting the challenges of trying to continue to make music in a post-Katrina environment. He covers those displaced New Orleanians forced to seek refuge in Houston, Austin, Nashville and other points around the country in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (known around New Orleans as “the Federal flood”).

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Top Ten Literary Cities in the World

November 26, 2011

From the September 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine

1. Edinburgh, Scotland

It’s practically mandatory that visitors to Edinburgh travel by the book. The atmospheric city—which has inspired more than 500 novels—passionately keeps its written tradition alive, from the verse of 18th-century bard Robert Burns (who even merits an iPhone app) to the works of modern-day writers like Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith. On tap are two different pub crawls, a walking tour, and excursions specific to Rankin’s Inspector Rebus and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting.

If you’re short on time, head straight to the Writers’ Museum located in a 17th-century building reached by a narrow stone passageway. Exhibits are devoted to a powerhouse literary trio: Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. For more adventures in Edinburgh and beyond, offers “A Traveller’s Guide to Literary Scotland.”

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Voice of the Day

November 26, 2011

“Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is humanity’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.”

— Oscar Wilde

Charlie Chaplin’s Greatest Performance

November 23, 2011

A speech for the ages.

In under five minutes, Charlie Chaplin addresses the fundamental problem in our world.

These are words that no politician would ever dare speak.

As relevant as ever, in 2011.

Cartoon of the Day

November 23, 2011

Oregon Governor stops executions in Oregon, calls system ‘compromised and inequitable’

November 23, 2011

The best news I’ve heard all week.

A very humane and principled argument made by the Oregon Governor in explaining his decision to halt all executions.

A moratorium is at least a positive first step as the work towards abolition continues.

May the next victory be in Oregon!

Gov. John Kitzhaber stops executions in Oregon, calls system ‘compromised and inequitable’

SALEM — Gov. John Kitzhaber announced today he will not allow the execution of Gary Haugen — or any death row inmate — to take place while he is in office.

The death penalty is morally wrong and unjustly administered, Kitzhaber said.

“In my mind it is a perversion of justice,” he said at an emotional news conference in Salem.

The governor cited his constitutional authority to grant a temporary reprieve for Haugen, in effect canceling the planned Dec. 6 lethal injection of the twice-convicted murderer. Haugen waived his legal appeals and has been preparing for the execution, which would have been Oregon’s first in 14 years.

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New Almodóvar Movie

November 23, 2011

John Steinbeck’s bitter fruit

November 23, 2011

John Steinbeck’s bitter fruit

Seventy years after The Grapes of Wrath was published, its themes – corporate greed, joblessness – are back with a vengeance.

Melvyn Bragg on John Steinbeck’s remarkable legacy

I read The Grapes of Wrath in that fierce span of adolescence when reading was a frenzy. I was all but drowned in the pity and anger John Steinbeck evoked for these people, fleeing Oklahoma to seek work but finding nothing save cruelty, violence, the enmity of immoral banks and businesses, and the neglect by the state of its own people in the Land of the Free. The novel was published in 1939 and delivered a shock to the English reading world.

But for years I did not read him. Earlier this year, when asked to make a film about Steinbeck for the BBC, I went back with apprehension. The peaks of one’s adolescent reading can prove troughs in late middle age. Life moves on; not all books do. But 50 years later, The Grapes of Wrath seems as savage as ever, and richer for my greater awareness of what Steinbeck did with the Oklahoma dialect and with his characters.

It is just as alive, with its fine anger against the banks: “The bank – the monster – has to have profit all the time. It can’t wait … It’ll die when the monster stops growing. It can’t stay in one place.”

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Harry Belafonte Documentary

November 21, 2011

Picture of the Day

November 21, 2011

NEW YORK CITY—East 100th Street, 1966.