The Spaces Issue... and a video we like

The December issue is out and scattered around campus and downtown. Check it out and let us know what you think. In the meantime, we came across a video by Annie Leonard, which sums up some of the points raised in the Spaces issue. The Story of Stuff is a collaborative visual effort of two decades worth of research put together by Leonard and funded through Sustainability Funders (The Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption) and Tides Foundation. A 20-minute, digitalized film that highlights the cause-and-effect of our crazy, consumer-based global market, The Story of Stuff will not only have you rethinking the means in which you dispose of your garbage, but also rationalizing whether it's necessity or habit that leads you to yearn to purchase the newest gadget on the market.


War, TV and Hip-Hop: A Buzzsaw Spectacular at the Lost Dog

UPDATE: Canceled due to snow. Will be reschedule for spring semester.

Thursday, Dec. 13, Buzzsaw presents perhaps our greatest event ever. Screenings, live music, free food, and give-a-ways - all in one glorious, pre-finals evening at the Lost Dog Café.

War, TV, and Hip-Hop is a mixed media party taking a second look at three pillars of contemporary American life.

First, “The War Tapes” brings us a perspective on the war in Iraq that is free from embedded anchors, commercial sponsors, and motion graphics. A long-form documentary shot by three soldiers working in collaboration with award-winning documentarians.

Second, a screening aimed spreading awareness about two new media initiatives that want to expand their pool of active producers, not boost ratings by recruiting passive viewers. On the national level, Current TV integrates viewer created content into roughly one-third of its cable broadcasts and is looking for more. At the local level, Buzzsaw Haircut is launching a new digital video component called Buzzsaw TV. Buzzsaw TV will function both as a production unit and as an outlet for locally produced video work to be featured in a video blog, screening events, and an annual DVD release.

Finally, Kidz in the Hall bring us their acclaimed brand of politically conscious hip-hop with an aim to make us rethink the formula for the catchy rap music we’ve grown used to. Co-signed by Just Blaze, 3H (50 cent, Kanye West), and Matty C (Originator of Unsigned Hype) the Kidz debut album, “School Was My Hustle” was rated 3.5 by Scratch Magazine.

Here's the schedule:

5:30 PM: The War Tapes (Sponsored by Campus Progress)

7:00 PM Megg Farrell (Folk Rock / Hawaiian / Blues)

7:30 PM The Tundra Toes (Indie / Country / Tropical)

8:00 PM Current TV Screening

9:00 PM Buzzsaw TV Launch Party

10:00 PM Kidz in the Hall (Sponsored by Buzzsaw Haircut and Imprint Magazine. Free give-a-ways from Homegrown Skateshop.)

Lost Dog Café, downtown Ithaca. Doors open at 5:30 PM. 18 to enter, 21 to drink. No cover until 10pm.

The Iowa Derby for Donkeys

The presidential candidate field tends to start off overly saturated. Luckily, America has the Iowa caucuses to narrow down the field for the rest of the country. In many cases, a poor outcome in Iowa can mean the end of a campaign for a candidate. In the 2004 caucuses, Democratic front-runner Howard Dean finished in a dismal third place and then went on to give his infamous "I Have A Scream" speech. Nearly a month later, he dropped out of the race and endorsed John Kerry.

The 2008 Iowa Caucuses are almost a month away, and there is still a great amount of uncertainty regarding the results. If Obama doesn't win Iowa, he really won't have much of a shot winning the nomination. But despite Clinton doing very well in the polls, I think Obama may have a very good shot at winning Iowa.

Here is a brief rundown of how the Democratic Iowa Caucuses work:

Voters have to select their candidate in the first round of voting. If their candidate gets less than 15 percent of the vote then they are not considered a viable candidate and those voters must select someone who is viable.

Several weeks ago, The New York Times released poll results. In Iowa, Clinton was ahead of Obama 25 percent to 22 percent. However, when voters were asked who their second choice was, Obama beat Clinton 24 percent to 16 percent. This could put Obama ahead of Clinton in the second and final round of voting and make him the winner in Iowa.

However, both Obama and Clinton should be looking out for John Edwards. He has a lot of support in Iowa and is pretty much neck and neck with the other two front-runners in Iowa. Edwards is also popular as a second-choice candidate. But if he wins Iowa, he still has a long battle ahead of him. He has spent a lot of time and money in that state and there have been questions regarding his ability to campaign in the following primaries. Yet a win there could also bring in the money that he needs.

Generally speaking, the winner of Iowa wins the nomination. Of course, this isn't always the case. For instance, Bill Clinton lost the Iowa caucus in 1992 to Tom Harkin and he went on to win the presidency. This upcoming caucus could also fall under that category. An Obama or Edwards victory in Iowa with a Clinton nomination at the Democratic National Convention in August. It could be 1992 all over again.


Truthiness in '08

Can't even describe how stoked I am to be able to write about Presidential Candidate Stephen Colbert. Colbert announced his candidacy on October 16th's episode of The Colbert Report; he already has corporate campaign sponsorship from Doritos -- very, very savvy, Doritos -- and the Donorschoose.org Straw Poll has Colbert as the top choice for President, with Obama second and Mike Gravel third. In other words, the man is not screwing around.

Colbert's bid for War Chief was covered intrepidly here by the Chicago Tribune. Obviously, the good people at the Tribune are not taking this seriously, and I think they damn well should be. The video clip compares Colbert to other joke candidates in the past -- at least I hope to every God conceived by humanity that the "Supreme Vermin" campaign was a joke -- and was apparently trying to demonstrate with their beat-on-the-street interviews that nobody really cares about Colbert.

Not so, says I.

For starters, maybe the clip would have been a little less biased if the reporter had not, presumably, staked herself out in front of the local AARP offices, and perhaps tried to interview a few people who weren't old enough to remember Lincoln's campaign; I have the utmost respect for the elderly, but I think it might have been a bit difficult to get an accurate read on society's pulse from the people featured in the clip -- considering they barely seemed to have pulses themselves.

Next: I'm not sure if it's willful denial or simple ignorance, but the Tribune seems to know as much about Colbert as did the poor schmuck who infamously set him loose at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner--which is not much.

There are two lessons that everybody -- everybody -- in the media business should have learned from that massacre. First, Stephen Colbert is not some brainless jester with nothing to do but crack jokes: the man has an agenda. Second, he has the logistical means to carry out that agenda: unless the Correspondents' Dinner was a massive, epic, once-in-a-century fluke, Colbert obviously knows people who know people, and in politics, that's most of what you need. Third -- and I hate to sound sexist, but I know of no better metaphor -- the man has bulletproof cajones. My God, what must he have been thinking at that dinner: he stands up from his seat, walks past the President of the United States of America, moves to the podium not ten feet away, looks out at a sea of dignitaries and politicians, takes a deep breath -- and commences to unload a righteous hellfire barrage of thinly-veiled criticism, aimed at practically every breathing creature in the room, including -- especially -- the Most Powerful Man in the World, who is no doubt wishing he could give the word for the Secret Service to empty every weapon they have into Colbert's bespectacled frame and dump his body in the Potomac River. It was epic. It was Biblical. It damn near brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it. And if that is what Colbert is capable of -- if nothing else -- then nobody, not even the Tribune, had better be taking him lightly.

It goes beyond that. Not only does Colbert have an impressive pair of...
...values, he has an army backing him up. The "Colbert Nation" commands a substantial chunk of that delicious 18-to-24 age demographic, and many of them are rabidly loyal to Colbert: they almost got a bridge named after him, for God's sake. They'll carry him as close to the White House as he wants to go.

Everybody's always lamenting how college kids never participate in politics: what are they going to do if Colbert allows himself to win in the primaries? I know it's practically impossible, but it's worth wondering: what would happen if the 18-24s turned out in record numbers in 2008 and handed Colbert the popular vote? What would that say about our political system? Is it really that impossible?

I have the utmost respect for Colbert, but I hope to God this madness stops soon: if the rest of the world realizes it's possible for a comedian to be voted President of the United States, every nation of people who can hold so much as a tree branch will be scrambling to invade us. Canadians armed with chainsaws and broken maple syrup bottles will swarm over the northern border. Migrant workers turned sleeper-cell invaders will raise the Mexican flag over the entire Southwest. Greenlanders riding polar bears will conquer New England. Ithaca itself will surely be subjugated by gravity-defying Buddhist monks from Namgyal Monastery a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Mark my words: if Colbert succeeds, the nation will burn.


Bitches and Hoes, or Women & Prostitutes?

In the gym I see your ass up on the Stairmaster
But you got it on level two bitch go a little faster
Look girl, I ain’t gonna lie, I'll tell you how I feel
They should handcuff your big ass to the treadmill – 50 Cent – Fat Bitches

Since I was little, my parents have given me many of my beliefs. Two of the ones that are most important to me are my love of music and a positive self-image / self-respect. Today, however, those two parts of my life are clashing. It seems that everywhere I look (or listen), “bitches” and “hoes” are dancing around men who seem to only care about sex. For example, "I’m sick of using technology, why don't you come sit on top of me" [50 cent ft Justin Timberlake - ayo technology]. Isn’t there a slightly nicer way to ask a girl to have sex with you? And God FORBID a woman has a normal body shape. For example, Britney Spears in the VMA’s this year. I’m not condoning her horrendous performance, but in no way shape or form was she overweight. If anything, she looked healthy. So girls see healthy women being called fat bitches and lose their self-esteem and stop eating. But that’s not okay either. Because then they’re anorexic whores who are talked about by everyone from Perez Hilton to CNN. How are girls that are exposed to pop culture supposed to feel good about themselves? Granted, there are songs that promote positive self-image like Mika’s “Big Girls.” But there aren’t nearly enough. I’m all for freedom of speech, but personally, I don't see the need for "bitches" and “hoes” to be in songs. I understand some artists want to be "shocking" and "outrageous" to gain more fans. But does Ludacris really need to yell out "move, bitch; get out the way"? Can’t he just say “excuse me miss, I need to pass by you”? All I’m saying is there should be some sort of happy medium that artists can reach without being misogynistic and sounding like sexual pigs. I don't know, maybe I just need some "sexual healing."


Poem to Present New Perspective on Patriotism?

Okay, enough with the personal attempts at trying to be witty. In all seriousness, when a friend sent me the poem, "First Writing Since (Poem on Crisis of Terror)" written by Palestinian-American Suheir Hammad, I was blown away. And it wasn't necessarily because she presents new perspectives that I haven't thought about, it's the level of depth and emotion congealed into her poetry that only comes from real, personal experience. Hammad's poetic memoir of 9/11 and it's post-affects on her personal life and our society are perspectives that (I believe) every American needs to read.

In one of my classes, we've been discussing what it is about the word "patriotism" that has created so many black and white barriers in our country. Since 9/11, the abstract notion of patriotism is so close to being defined on paper by our government that it leaves almost no room for personal evaluation. Who is to say what encompasses true patriotism? Hammad takes you inside her mind for anecdotal and psychological hindsight on her feelings of true terrorism and patriotism, and the mess that lies in between. I've included Hammad's poem in this blog; it was first published in the November 7, 2001 issue of In Motion Magazine. Also check out Hammad's personal website to see more of her work. Enjoy.

First Writing Since

(Poem on Crisis of Terror)

by Suheir Hammad
New York, New York

1. there have been no words.
i have not written one word.
no poetry in the ashes south of canal street.
no prose in the refrigerated trucks driving debris and dna.
not one word.

today is a week, and seven is of heavens, gods, science.
evident out my kitchen window is an abstract reality.
sky where once was steel.
smoke where once was flesh.

fire in the city air and i feared for my sister's life in a way never
before. and then, and now, i fear for the rest of us.

first, please god, let it be a mistake, the pilot's heart failed, the
plane's engine died.
then please god, let it be a nightmare, wake me now.
please god, after the second plane, please, don't let it be anyone
who looks like my brothers.

i do not know how bad a life has to break in order to kill.
i have never been so hungry that i willed hunger
i have never been so angry as to want to control a gun over a pen.
not really.
even as a woman, as a palestinian, as a broken human being.
never this broken.

more than ever, i believe there is no difference.
the most privileged nation, most americans do not know the difference
between indians, afghanis, syrians, muslims, sikhs, hindus.
more than ever, there is no difference.

2. thank you korea for kimchi and bibim bob, and corn tea and the
genteel smiles of the wait staff at wonjo the smiles never revealing
the heat of the food or how tired they must be working long midtown
shifts. thank you korea, for the belly craving that brought me into
the city late the night before and diverted my daily train ride into
the world trade center.

there are plenty of thank yous in ny right now. thank you for my
lazy procrastinating late ass. thank you to the germs that had me
call in sick. thank you, my attitude, you had me fired the week
before. thank you for the train that never came, the rude nyer who
stole my cab going downtown. thank you for the sense my mama gave me
to run. thank you for my legs, my eyes, my life.

3. the dead are called lost and their families hold up shaky
printouts in front of us through screens smoked up.

we are looking for iris, mother of three. please call with any
information. we are searching for priti, last seen on the 103rd
floor. she was talking to her husband on the phone and the line
went. please help us find george, also known as a! ! del. his family is
waiting for him with his favorite meal. i am looking for my son, who
was delivering coffee. i am looking for my sister girl, she started
her job on monday.

i am looking for peace. i am looking for mercy. i am looking for
evidence of compassion. any evidence of life. i am looking for

4. ricardo on the radio said in his accent thick as yuca, "i will
feel so much better when the first bombs drop over there. and my
friends feel the same way."

on my block, a woman was crying in a car parked and stranded in hurt.
i offered comfort, extended a hand she did not see before she said,
"we"re gonna burn them so bad, i swear, so bad." my hand went to my
head and my head went to the numbers within it of the dead iraqi
children, the dead in nicaragua. the dead in rwanda who had to vie
with fake sport wrestling for america's attention.

yet when people sent emails saying, this was bound to happen, lets
! ! not forget u.s. transgressions, for half a second i felt resentful.
hold up with that, cause i live here, these are my friends and fam,
and it could have been me in those buildings, and we"re not bad
people, do not support america's bullying. can i just have a half
second to feel bad?

if i can find through this exhaust people who were left behind to
mourn and to resist mass murder, i might be alright.

thank you to the woman who saw me brinking my cool and blinking back
tears. she opened her arms before she asked "do you want a hug?" a
big white woman, and her embrace was the kind only people with the
warmth of flesh can offer. i wasn't about to say no to any comfort.
"my brother's in the navy," i said. "and we"re arabs". "wow, you
got double trouble." word.

5. one more person ask me if i knew the hijackers.
one more motherfucker ask me what navy my brother is in.
one more person assume no arabs or muslims were killed.one more person
assume they know me, or that i represent a people.
or that a people represent an evil. or that evil is as simple as a
flag and words on a page.

we did not vilify all white men when mcveigh bombed oklahoma.
america did not give out his family's addresses or where he went to
church. or blame the bible or pat robertson.

and when the networks air footage of palestinians dancing in the
street, there is no apology that hungry children are bribed with
sweets that turn their teeth brown. that correspondents edit images.
that archives are there to facilitate lazy and inaccurate

and when we talk about holy books and hooded men and death, why do we
never mention the kkk?

if there are any people on earth who understand how new york is
feeling right now, they are in the west bank and the gaza strip.

6. today it is ten days. last night bush waged war on a man once
openly funded by the
cia. i do not know who is responsible. read too many books, know
too many people to believe what i am told. i don't give a fuck about
bin laden. his vision of the world does not include me or those i
love. and petittions have been going around for years trying to get
the u.s. sponsored taliban out of power. shit is complicated, and i
don't know what to think.

but i know for sure who will pay.

in the world, it will be women, mostly colored and poor. women will
have to bury children, and support themselves through grief. "either
you are with us, or with the terrorists" - meaning keep your people
under control and your resistance censored. meaning we got the loot
and the nukes.

in america, it will be those amongst us who refuse blanket attacks on
the shivering. those of us who work toward social justice, in
support of civil liberties, in opposition to hateful foreign

i have never felt less american and more new yorker, particularly
brooklyn, than these past days. the stars and stripes on all these
cars and apartment windows represent the dead as citizens first, not
family members, not lovers.

i feel like my skin is real thin, and that my eyes are only going to
get darker. the future holds little light.

my baby brother is a man now, and on alert, and praying five times a
day that the orders he will take in a few days time are righteous and
will not weigh his soul down from the afterlife he deserves.

both my brothers - my heart stops when i try to pray - not a beat to
disturb my fear. one a rock god, the other a sergeant, and both
palestinian, practicing muslim, gentle men. both born in brooklyn
and their faces are of the archetypal arab man, all eyelashes and
nose and beautiful color and stubborn hair.

what will their lives be like now?

over there is over here.

7. all day, across the river, the smell of burning rubber and limbs
floats through. the sirens have stopped now. the advertisers are
back on the air. the rescue workers are traumatized. the skyline is
brought back to human size. no longer taunting the gods with its

i have not cried at all while writing this. i cried when i saw those
buildings collapse on themselves like a broken heart. i have never
owned pain that needs to spread like that. and i cry daily that my
brothers return to our mother safe and whole.

there is no poetry in this. there are causes and effects. there are
symbols and ideologies. mad conspiracy here, and information we will
never know. there is death here, and there are promises of more.

there is life here. anyone reading this is breathing, maybe hurting,
but breathing for sure. and if there is any light to come, it will
shine from the eyes of those who look for peace and justice after the
rubble and rhetoric are cleared and the phoenix has risen.

affirm life.
affirm life.
we got to carry each other now.
you are either with life, or against it.
affirm life.

Published in In Motion Magazine November 7, 2001.


Second Life Anyone?

Second life is an online internet world which allows you to create a fun avatar, whether a fuzzy bunny or ripped weight lifter, and participate in all sorts of activities. Appearing very much like Sims these people participate in discussions, take classes, go to work conferences, sell and buy virtual items with real money, and build whatever their creativity allows them to. The creeping reality is the interest of companies to create a second life presence, and the profit which may evolve from such an intricate playoff of the real world. Hotel businesses are popping up along with entertainment and even fashion industries. The main draw to me though, was your limitless ability to create. You are given tools and basic geometrics to build whatever you please, to understand and use these tools allows you to build works of art that are impossible to create in the real world. Many limitations of the real world fall away in Second Life, some very interesting discussion can be viewed on, http://www.ugotrade.com/category/second-life/. The architecture, the ability people are given in this world that they lack in the real world (e.g. ability to walk), the learning opportunity, the global connectivity, the idea of artificial general intelligence and artificial life are just a few. Also the Park school offers classes, check it out, kimgregson.com.


News Flash: College "More hanky than panky," says Post

This article on the Washington Post's website was pretty funny. Saying that tons of sex doesn't happen in college is a bold stance -- radical, even. Somehow, either through wishful thinking, urban legend, or actual experience, the popular perception of college -- as American as apple pie and breast implants -- is that it's a hedonistic cesspool of drugs, liquor, and indiscriminate lovin'; convincing people otherwise is about the same as saying the moon is made of ham.

I will, if I may, offer a rebuttal:
First of all, it seems like the Post's argument against collegiate no-pants dancing isn't especially well-researched: "By e-mail and instant message, we canvassed some friends for our blog," write our heroes. Far be it for me to judge complete strangers, but I don't think it's entirely outside the realm of possibility that the lack of sex noted by these "friends" has more to do with their -- let's say "personal shortcomings" -- than with the actual amount of bumping taking place on the average college campus.
Some highlights:
  • "The average for the engineering school is probably like once a semester" [my emphasis].
(I don't think I need to point out the cruel irony here. Based on most of the engineers I know, the engineering school is a hell of a poor choice for a case study of sexual aptitude; might as well get statistics on steroid use by canvassing the Special Olympics.)
  • "Either I missed out or everyone else in college isn't having sex at all."
(To whom it may concern: hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think it's very likely that you did, in fact, miss out -- just as you apparently missed out on Proper Syntax Day in high school.)

And the finale:
  • "At night people just go back to their rooms and finish their homework, or maybe heat up a Hot Pocket" [my emphasis].
...dear sweet bleeding Jesus H. Christ. Who the hell are these people?

The article goes on to cite some figures from Zogby, the gist being that only (only?) 60% of students in the U.S. are sexually active, and that about half the student populations of Harvard, Princeton, and M.I.T. still haven't gotten down and dirty. I'd venture that this is partly due to the fact that the average student at those three schools is already so close to a stress-induced coronary meltdown that anything more strenuous than holding hands and talking about Linux might be fatal.
The article notes that the statistics haven't been "adjusted for homosexuality," which brings the numbers down a bit; it's also worth keeping in mind that these numbers reflect people who aren't having sex, but doesn't account for why. I'm sure at least a third of that 40% aren't abstaining because of morals or chastity: these people would love to be banging like screen doors in a hurricane, but just can't seem to make an opportunity for themselves. For example, I'd be willing to bet that the guy at the party who introduces himself to girls by asking them where they live while breathing heavily -- you know, That Guy; everybody knows of at least one -- is squarely in that national 40% demographic, but not because he chooses to be.

I particularly enjoyed the "landmark study" which reported that the average student has 1.35 hook-ups per semester. I'm not sure what .35 of a hook-up would be, but I'm sure it makes for a fascinating and thoroughly awkward story.

For me, this was the clincher for how lopsided this article is:
  • "I've kind of got a girl right now, but we're both too busy to actually have sex" [my emphasis].
I may be completely off-base here, but judging from my own personal experience since coming to college, this whole thing seems unnatural to me. My friends shag like rabbits on Ecstasy. I've heard reliable stories about threesomes and full-on orgies. For some of the people I hang out with, 1.35 hook-ups is a quiet Tuesday evening -- forget a whole semester. As far as being "too busy to actually have sex," anybody who said that would be met with strange looks and hysterical, uncertain laughter. Too busy to study, maybe; too busy to drink -- slightly less believable, but still possible; but too busy to have sex? That kind of talk will get you tarred and feathered in my corner of the world. Maybe I just hang out with a crowd of deviant sex-crazed degenerates, but even so, I don't think the average college student is as cold and lonely as the article would like us to believe.

This just in: maybe it's worse than I thought. According to Durex, the whole country is in a coital recession. Granted, this article is just a glorified condom ad, but if this data is even close to accurate, then we're getting beat out by -- Mother of babbling God! -- the Canadians. With their guys averaging 23 sexual partners in a lifetime -- Good Lord, can that be accurate?! -- to our measly 13, and Canadian females' average of 10 also one ahead of American woman's 9, the Great White North is making us look like... well, like a bunch of engineering majors.
So are the English.
Oh, and the Mexicans.
...and here we've been thinking we were responsible for global warming.

The moral of this story is that we've got a lot of work to do. As college students, the future leaders of the world, it's our obligation -- nay, our duty -- to lead by example and get our Great Society back on top. If you know what I mean.


Nebraska Senator Sues God (Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit listed as Possible Witnesses)

Okay, so while Jesus and the Holy Spirt have nothing to do with the trial, it's very true that a Nebraska Senator, Ernie Chambers, is filing a lawsuit against God, claiming that God has acted as a terrorist agent, causing fear and the death of millions of inhabitants on earth. Furthermore, he's charging God with intentionally causing "fearsome floods...horrendous hurricanes, and terrifying tornadoes."
While this is, to a certain extent, very amusing, the senator tries to make a very interesting point, which, from the sites I've read, most people have missed. Many people immediately were hung up on the fact that Ernie Chambers is a known athiest who often bashes Christians, or actually took Chambers lawsuit seriously, believing he was actually suing God. However, Chambers comes forth to address the frivolity of many lawsuits today. He says that he's responding to another lawsuit, where a woman named Tory Bowen is using a Nebraska Judge for barring the words "rape" and "victim" from use at trial.
While personally, I don't think this is the best lawsuit to retaliate to (the subject of rape being a very sensitive one in the legal system) Chambers is attempting to make a good point: lawsuits are, and have been for years, hitting a zenith in absurdity. We're all familiar (if not, have at least heard of) the Lieback v. McDonald's case, where a woman sued McDonalds because she spilled hot coffee on herself and claimed she wasn't warned the coffee would be hot.
It may be ridiculous to say that this is an absolute new development (I don't know enough about law to know if ridiculous cases date back to the dawn of time), however it's good that someone of the legal system is taking the platform to point out the hilarity of many lawsuits today. Often it seems as if they are abusing the law, taking advantage of the system to benefit themselves. However, the danger with saying this is that lawsuits in some way have always been just that. When does a lawsuit leave the realms of reality and enter the territory of ridicule and ludicrousness? It's a hard line to draw, but, if nothing else, this latest development in the legal world will force people to take another look at the system and the humorous - yet dangerous - place it sometimes finds itself in.

Further Reading:

Nebraska State Senator Sues God

For another angle on the subject, listen at:

NPR: Senator Sues God


From Nablus: Supermen are angry, too

You must be Superman to be a real man in Palestine...
You must use all your senses 24-hours a day in order to stay...
You must hear the gunfire, then the screams that fade away...
You must see the blood, again and again, and still see red...
You must hold the barbwires in your hand and smile for the elderly woman trying to bypass the Israeli checkpoint...
You must smell the teargas and cry as if there aren't enough tears in this "Holy Land'...
You must taste the humiliation and eat Nabulsi sweets all in the same day... And...
And still think of the olives and thyme...
And think of ways to end this endless crime...
Oh my beloved... do we still have time...
To hold hands and kiss... and raise our children in a cosmic bliss...
- Saed Jamal

I met Saed Jamal, a professor at An-Najah University, while I was in Nablus this weekend with a group of other students doing research for the Right to Education campaign at Birzeit. He recited his poem “Palestinian Superman” to us Saturday evening, while we ate and smoked nargeelah on the roof of a restaurant and tried to ignore the gunfire coming from the streets below.

Saed is charismatic and charming and obviously brilliant. He was an excellent host. He started by finding something interesting about each of our names or our backgrounds or interests, and from then on, he directed the flow of the conversation, telling stories, answering questions and putting everyone at ease. When he arrived at our hostel the next morning with breakfast, he charmed us again, rattling off all our names without hesitation.

Still Saed is one of those Palestinian supermen, and, as he explained to us, the point of his poem, of course, is that they don’t really exist. You can’t always hold barbed wire with a smile on your face, and even in the course of a couple hours, we discovered that Saed is generous and magnetic and also angry.

In the context of Nablus and Saed’s life, these are not contradictory. The impulse to downplay negativity to put people at ease can only go so far in some places without becoming ridiculous. And so it is in Nablus - the home of more than a quarter of the second intifada's dead - that even the jolly, reassuring host displays hopelessness and outrage. Without them, maybe, he could never have seemed sincere.

Our conversation that evening was punctuated by gunfire. A few of us attributed it, probably correctly, to a wedding celebration. But that wasn’t much comfort to Saed, who is sick and tired of the normalcy of that sound in Nablus. At night, people there must try to sleep through almost daily Israeli incursions and also fighters and revelers firing in the air. It’s too much gunfire, Saed says. It’s sick.

Like so many in Nablus, Saed knows too well the consequence of a bullet. He was shot in the chest at a demonstration in the first intifada, and once he recovered, his wounds were the evidence that landed him in an Israeli jail.

Then in October 2002 soldiers drove up to his home, where Saed’s mother, a well-known peace activist sat on her porch. Fourteen bullets later his mother was dead and he and his father were both injured. (The Christian Science Monitor wrote about his mother's death in 2003.)

Saed and his family tried to fight for an investigation and some sort of justice. But when he first called the army, they refused to come investigate, citing security concerns. They told him to come to the Hiwara checkpoint near Nablus and file a complaint there. Sa’ed wouldn’t have any of it. When does the victim ever go to the investigator, he asked the soldier. You came into my house and killed my mother. Come put a tank on each end of my street and investigate the crime scene.

To this day no investigation has been completed.

Now Saed is trying to come to the United States, where he’s been invited by a university. But his visa application has gone unanswered, perhaps because his mother’s death has marked him as somehow connected to terrorism.

“I want them to tell me that it’s because my mother was assassinated so that I can take off my shoe and swim across to the United States and shove it in the mouth of George Bush,” he said. “But they just don’t say anything.”

And so for now Saed is still in Nablus, where, like everyone, he hears gunfire and sees blood and eats sweets and fights for the kind of life worthy of a man like him.


Paris, ad nauseam

No, not that one!

Sadly enough, as an incoming editor for the Ministry of Cool (and all-around internship goofer-offer), I must put in my two cents on the media carnival that has been Paris Hilton's less-than-five-star accommodations. In the past month, we've seen (or have been forced to suffer through) closely reported, widespread coverage of the waifish celebutant's stay at the Los Angeles County Correctional Facility.

If her above-the-law treatment wasn't enough (just when we thought Paris was in jail, she was briefly released because of her debilitating claustrophobia), we have been subjected to some of the most vapid news stories seen since...oh yeah, Anna Nicole Smith.

In fact, Hilton has easily surpassed both Smith's legal battles and, more recently, iPhone hype, inspiring a whole new world of meta-journalism, which I am now a part of. This includes writing about Hilton...and writing about writing about Hilton...oh, and writing about writing about writing about Hilton...and now this blog...need I do the math?

Actually, peoplepress.org have done it for me. Their findings on the week of June 4 news coverage show that Paris's whirlwind release-return to jail was the fifth heavily covered story of the week. And now, with hype commentators ranging from Judge Judy to O.J. Simpson there seems to be no end in sight for reporting on reporting on reporting.

I would like spotlight MSNBC reporter Mika Brzezinski for her hilarious attempt to burn (yes, with a lighter) her copy of the story.

My favorite part of this clip is when Brzezinski's co-anchor, amidst all the fuss, blurts out,
"Lord, why is she such a journalist."

Oh right! He meant journalist pejoratively.

Well, that's all from the world of frivolously groundbreaking news. Please read Emily's blog posts below to absolve yourself from these sinful observations on observations.

Yours truly,
Mike Berlin, non-journalist

p.s. I love US Weekly, they banned Paris from their magazine. Read about it here and here
p.p.s. Need more Paris Critique?


From Ramallah: Who wants peace?

Yesterday Tony Blair was named the Quartet’s envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Israelis say they are happy with this appointment, and so does the PA, but many Palestinians – and everyone whose opinion I trust on the Middle East – are dubious, to say the least. The war in Iraq and Blair’s behavior during the wars in Lebanon and Gaza last summer are two strikes against him, not to mention the perception here and everywhere that, as my Arabic teacher said yesterday, “Blair is Bush’s tail.” Robert Fisk’s reaction to the news is definitely worth reading.

Some people are talking about the events of the last few weeks as presenting a new opportunity for peace. I wish I could agree. What kind of peace would this renewed effort bring?

Last weekend I went to Bethlehem and stayed at Ibdaa’ Cultural Center in the Dheisheh refugee camp nearby. We met with a group of teenagers from the camp who are participating in a blogging program that tries to link Palestinian refugees in different camps to one another and provide teenagers with a means of self-expression. (The same organization also runs a really great English language site about refugees.) Five other PAS students and I sat in on a planning meeting and then had a discussion with the eight teenagers and three young women about my age, who were leading the meeting.

We talked about whether the blogging project could change anything, about the occupation and about peace. These 14 and 15-year-olds are not hopeful about the future of Palestine and have no illusions that their blogs can do anything to help their situation. They don’t believe there will be peace between Israel and Palestine anytime soon, and they cite two reasons: Israel doesn’t want peace, and the rest of the world – particularly the Unites States – doesn’t want peace.

A 15-year-old girl qualified that analysis for us. There are many Israelis who want peace, she said, but the Israeli government doesn’t. Likewise, a boy told us he understood the difference between the American people and the American government. It’s the American government that is to blame for what is happening to his people, he said.

But that argument only goes so far. As convenient as this dichotomy is for promoting goodwill between Palestinians and Americans and Palestinians and Israelis, the sad truth is that to a great extent the American and Israeli governments are representing the wishes of their people.

One of the group’s leaders – an Arab Israeli – argued this point to the students. Israelis want security, she said, and that hardly resembles peace for people in the West Bank and Gaza. Just look at the wall, she said. More occupation means security – the facade of peace – for Israelis, but more violence and suffering for the Palestinians.

I went to a panel yesterday in Jerusalem about the role of the international community in the peace process, and Shlomo Ben-Ami, the former Israeli foreign minister, made a similar statement. Israel and Palestine cannot produce an agreement themselves, he said, because the political realities in each of their countries will not allow it. “The Israel that I know – not the Israel of my dreams, but the Israel that I know – has much more in common with Hamas than with the PLO,” he said. Israelis in general, he believes, are not ready to make the concessions that are necessary for peace.

So what would peace here look like, and whose is it to give? For a long time, the peace process here was based on the idea of “land for peace.” Israel would return land to the Palestinians in exchange for “peace” – as though peace was something in the Palestinians’ power to give.

“Peace,” of course, meant that the Palestinian resistance would stop. The resistance to the occupation, then, was expected to end before the occupation itself. Hope as we might, that couldn’t and didn’t happen. But even if it had, would there have been peace? Is peace just an end to Palestinian bombings and Palestinian demonstrations (which, judging by the IDF’s response, Israel also sees as a threat)? Stop complaining about your situation, we seem to say to the Palestinians, and then we can talk about where and how you might live. Stop trying to resist us, and then we will stop oppressing you. That strategy seems neither just nor pragmatic.

There is inherent violence in the occupation, and whenever we talk about peace we have to understand that. The wall and the checkpoints are violent, not only because they are strangling the Palestinian economy and preventing travel to school, work and to visit family, but because they are a constant reminder of humiliation and powerlessness. (One of the leaders of the blogging group told us that she was hospitalized once for depression, which she attributed to the stress of going through three checkpoints a day for four years in order to go to school. Writing, she said, has finally helped her cope.) Real peace requires an end to occupation. What exactly that will look like for the Palestinians and Israelis and what kind of state or states will exist here remains to be seen. But if we say we want peace, we have to want freedom, rights and land for Palestinians.

I’m not sure how sincere America or Israel is in its desire for that kind of peace. For Palestinians, because they are the occupied, peace is ultimately the only means through which they will get their rights. Israelis need peace, too, but it’s harder for the occupier to see this. Israel has other tools at its disposal to get what it wants. The wall and the settlements take land and resources without peace. The checkpoints bring a sense of security without peace. Israel and the United States have the ultimate power over the situation, and that makes it both more necessary and less likely for them to make the concessions that are necessary for peace.

In the meantime, the occupation and the resistance continue. The IDF this week conducted major operations in Gaza and Nablus, against both Fatah and Hamas, in which at least two civilians were killed. (Al Jazeera notes that the Nablus incursion also prevented students from taking their final exams.) These incursions occurred despite strong condemnation from the Palestinian Authority, to which Israel and the U.S. have so eagerly pledged their support.

As Saeb Erekat, the head negotiator for the Palestinians, said at the panel yesterday, “The Middle East is going down the toilet faster than people think.”


From Ramallah: What happened last week?

I've been thinking about my last post and trying to get a better grasp on the significance of what has happened here over the last few weeks. As I wrote about before, I’m intuitively a little uncomfortable with the media coverage I’ve been seeing. It seems to exaggerate the sense of tension and the significance of specific actions taken by Fatah and Hamas. But I feel strange saying that, because clearly developments over the past few weeks are hugely significant.

I was talking to Martin, one of my friend's roommates, yesterday about what he thought. Martin's a Brit who just made a short documentary about Marwan Barghouti and seems to be tuned into the political situation. Most Palestinians, especially those in Ramallah, are happy that Hamas is out of the government, because it means that Western aid will return. What they have learned over the past year and a half, Martin said, is that if they elect the wrong party, they will be isolated and essentially starved into submission. If they elect the party supported by Israel and the U.S. they will not see their political goals realized – or even pursued, really – but their government will be able to pay salaries and they’ll be able to eat. Fatah was voted out in 2006, because the Palestinian people didn't trust them. Many Palestinians welcome the new Fatah-controlled government not because that perception has changed but because every other option is unbearable.

What happened this week, then, was the confirmation of the Palestinians’ powerlessness. They tried, through a democratic process, to replace a corrupt party that had failed them in the Oslo peace process, and things only got worse. Now the hope of a two-state solution is essentially gone, and so too, perhaps, is the hope that Palestinian politicians can bring any of the things the Palestinians want – an end to the occupation, settlements and assassinations, release of prisoners, etc.

This is just one of many reasons why the actions of Hamas and Fatah over the past few weeks matter, and so it makes sense that the media are following them closely. But it’s the sense of chaos they presented that, I think, missed the point and exaggerated the government's power. Chaos in this weak government does not translate into chaos in the West Bank generally. Life here over the past few days doesn’t feel chaotic at all, and my sense is that’s because the Palestinian government has so little power, and, although the fatal bullet may have come this week, the hope of a viable state had been dying for a long time.

There is so much going on here apart from the Palestinian government that has an enormous impact on the lives of Palestinians and the prospects for peace. Where is the coverage of civil society and the effects of the occupation? Americans know so little about Palestinians, yet so many of us have such strong feelings about how the Israel and the United States should treat them.


Report from Ramallah - Part 1

Upfront editor Emily McNeill is in the West Bank for the summer, studying Arabic at Birzeit University and learning about life in Palestine under occupation. Whenever possible she'll be blogging for Buzzsaw about her experiences there. Questions or comments? Post them here or email her directly at emilymcneill@gmail.com.

From what I can tell, today is the calmest since I’ve been in Ramallah. I did some errands around the city this afternoon, and the streets were full of people who seemed to be going about their business as usual. Thursday night and yesterday the streets were quiet, and people I’ve talked to say the atmosphere was unusually tense.

The media, though, seem to have come to the opposite conclusion, and in some ways they’re certainly right. The political situation remains very unstable and today Fatah fighters made their most visible move against Hamas in Ramallah and Nablus. But some of the coverage – particularly the images – suggests a very different environment than what I see around me. Not surprisingly the media is captivated by images of men wearing masks and carrying machine guns.

I was buying some juice in Al-Manara (the central circle in Ramallah where a lot of demonstrations take place) when a lot of these masked gunmen were gathered there. Mostly they were just milling around holding their weapons while crowds of people either walked by them around the circle or stood watching. Cameramen were set up around the circle following fighters around and sticking cameras in their faces. It was a ridiculous scene, and it reminded me of the little I’ve read about Walter Lippman. I looked him up on Wikipedia when I got home and found this quote: “The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act.”

The images these journalists were collecting in Al Manara “signalize” the event of the day – Fatah’s moves against Hamas in Ramallah. They illustrate perfectly a sense of tension, unrest and violence and are the ideal images to accompany tonight’s reports on the turmoil in the Palestinian government. But while that turmoil is real, these images are caricatures. Take a step back and the men in these images are a small – though unsettling – piece of a much larger picture. Ramallah, a city of 40,000 people, is going about its business today while gunmen show off for TV.

I’m not arguing that the images of gunmen are irrelevant. These men are on the streets of Ramallah, and the fact that they’re flexing their muscles and harassing Hamas is significant. But the obvious question is whether the coverage encourages a real understanding of the situation in the West Bank today, and if not, what factors does it ignore and what stereotypes does it reinforce? Even if we could agree on the answers to those questions, how could journalists go about producing material that was further from "news" and closer to "truth?"

It's complicated. But, like so many people have said before, I find myself wishing today that it wasn't just the pictures with shock value and the people perceived to have power that were making it onto the front pages.



It's a crime you haven't read the new issue of buzzsaw yet ...

So, the new issue is out. Copies are littered around the Commons and the college. It's the crime/Hurricane Katrina issue. I don't suspect it'll go online until the fall (or later in the summer at least), so you'll want to nab one up like the fast-disappearing print periodical it is. -APF

Striving in Greater Hopes
At first glance, you wouldn’t expect the petite frame of Cyrille Robes to produce such a powerful and soulful voice, but then again the Long Island, NY based band Striving in Greater Hopes (S.I.G.H) has grown accustomed to surprising people. Fusing melodies and catchy lyrics, S.I.G.H produces music that is both hard hitting and raw. S.I.G.H’s aggressive approach to song writing and their mixture of so many different genres, including metal, pop, hard rock and punk, really gives most, if not every listener something to enjoy. Cyrille’s melodic voice perfectly balances the heavy rock riffs of the rest of the band. With their sound echoing bands such as Incubus, Evanescence and Killswitch Engage, S.I.G.H’s metal-driven pop rock is nothing short of entertaining. Their sound remains fresh and unique by combining various styles of diverse bands, yet still adding their own spices into the mixture. Bassist and back up singer, JayR Castillo, accompanies Cyrille’s graceful and upbeat singing with his energetic screams throughout different tracks on their self-titled EP. With their fast riffs and thoughtful lyrics, Striving in Greater Hopes creates unforgettable music. If it’s not their fusion of genres that will get you hooked on each track, it’s the catchy choruses. Each track on their EP has a chorus that will inhabit your mind for days on end and song titles like “Ignoraphobia” and “Schandenfreude” are sure to get your attention even before listening.

S.I.G.H’s 4-song EP rocks from start to finish. Each track has its own unique style, and each band member’s talent brings something important to their sound. Jeff Lyons sets the pace on the drums, JayR brings the groove on the bass, guitarist Jason Mueller and Ithaca College senior Daniel Buquicchio add the killer riffs and Cyrille brings it all together with her amazing voice. With all of their own original material and growing fan base, S.I.G.H continues to tour all around the North East with scheduled concerts almost every week. Check out their music and tour schedule. Catch a show if you’re in the area. You won’t be disappointed. -Jackie McBrien


A Night at the Drive-In

If Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, the exalted directors of Grindhouse, know anything, they know crappy movies. Through some postmodern loophole, they are Hollywood’s chief purveyors of comic book crud passing off as art. With Grindhouse, their intent is not to simply pay homage to their dollar-bin influences, but instead downright emulate them; and I don’t think any other directors could have done the job better.

The result is two “mini” (ninety minute) movies and a smattering of horror-movie-parody trailers that were lovingly directed by such schlock-and-gore fans as Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Eli Roth (Hostel). Everything is exactingly in sync with a seventies drive-in double bill; even the film stock has been washed out and aged. In terms of atmosphere, Tarantino, Rodriguez and their cohorts are geniuses; one leaves feeling sociable and giddy.

The first feature, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, culls all of the clichés from the now-hackneyed zombies-on-the-rampage genre: a small town setting, a well-intentioned hero with a past, military complicity, a liberal volume of blood spray, and an apocalyptic ending. This segment is not particularly memorable, but it was so overwrought and so full of cheesy dialogue that it never lost my attention; disposable movies such as this should just wash over you. The cast has all the right stock players – people that never have and never will become stars, and have since given up trying. Some, like Michael Biehn (the protagonist in the original Terminator plays a gruff sheriff here), and a tired Bruce Willis, are jokes in and of themselves.

Tarrantino’s flick, Death Proof, despite being full of horny girls and mean muscle cars, actually betrays its roots at times. An early scene at a bar, for example, could be the set-up for a more substantial film. To my surprise, the middle actually sagged. Tarantino, the writer, got indulgent; his attempts at characterization go nowhere and – worse – lack his trademark wit. There’s a very long take that spins around a group of girls at a table that seems like something out of Grand Illusion and not Vanishing Point. And there is a whole lot of build up for a stunt that seems comparatively unimpressive. But the movie zings when Kurt Russell is on screen as an old TV stuntman who likes to use his “death proof” car as a murder weapon for unsuspecting women. He goes between being a smooth but world-weary charmer while he’s on the winning side and an apoplectic wuss when he’s on the defensive. He finally harasses the wrong girls – themselves Hollywood stunt people – who decide to get back at him and then some.

Their car chase/dog fight is probably the best that I’ve ever seen on the big screen; I’d put it next to The French Connection without flinching. One friend likened watching it to getting high; the choreography, coupled with the feminist revenge fantasy – because you really want to see the murderous old chauvinist finally get his comeuppance – really leaves you feeling elated. It’s the perfect high note for Grindhouse to end on.

The beauty of this movie is that it's wholly loyal to what it’s doing; Rodriguez and Tarantino never try to elevate the material into what some critics mistake for “art.” This is empty, compelling popcorn entertainment, and the perfect movie-going experience. And unlike movies, such as 300, it's thoroughly witty and without a nauseating flair for propaganda.

-Elliott Feedore

more music. . .

In addition to the previously discussed FREE events this weekend (two awesome buzzsaw shows, click here if you don't know), there's an assemblage of other activities. Directly after our Friday- Robot Ate Me- show there'll be a dance party fundraiser for the Ithaca Opera Project right at No Radio. Bob describes it as follows:

Friday, April 20th at 10 pm
Dance Party
Love-In vs. Freak-Out
No Radio Records
312 E Seneca St

Also, the same night there's a 10pm Fanclub show at the Lost Dog with Ike Yard,"NYC electro / no wave / industrial band from the early 80s." Check out Natasha at the Times' story on that.

If you still want more music after the mass of concert-parties this weekend, this Sunday Mara Levi will be playing a free show at Felicia's Atomic Lounge (508 W State St) at 7pm. She's from DC and plays pretty cool singer-songwritery stuff.



These shows will also serve as the collective release parties for the first-ever Buzzsaw Haircut Compilation CD.


Whale + Synthesizer =Awesome

Wholphin, the McSweeney's DVD magazine, posted a video by Nicholas Thorburn of The Islands featuring a song from the last album, Return to the Sea, along with some awesome whale footage. The story is pretty sad, but the whole package puts an interesting spin on what was originally kind of a snoozer of a song.

Check it out here:


Buzzsaw Concert Announcement: UPDATE


Both shows are POSSIBLY FREE OR POSSIBLY $3, all-ages, start before 7pm, and at No Radio Records (
312 E Seneca St, Ithaca, NY)

Friday, April 20
The Robot Ate Me
Run Chico Run
Sorry Safari
This Fantastic

Saturday, April 21
Tiger Saw
Stanley & the Livingstons
The Tundra Toes
Machine Gun Joe

(the potential fee would be to aid buzzsaw in its effort to fundraise the required percentage of its budget necessary for future funding)

p.s. And as a supplement to the preceeding post, here is my favorite Kurt Vonnegut passage, also my favorite page of text ever written:

So this book is a sidewalk strewn with junk, trash which I throw over my shoulders as I travel in time back to November eleventh, nineteen hundred and twenty-two.

I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old me who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
* * *
Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.
-Vonnegut, Kurt. Breakfast of Champions. New York: Dial, 1973.

Vonnegut and the Ithaca Issue

The Ithaca Issue has been out for about a week, and most of it is now online as well. Check it out, and let us know what you think. (You can read what the editors have to say about it here.)

In other news, Kurt Vonnegut died last night. He's a favorite of the Buzzsaw editors and so I thought I'd share with you my favorite passage in all the literature I've read (which, admittedly, is not that much). It comes from Vonnegut's 1969 classic, Slaughterhouse-Five.

He went into the living room, swinging the bottle like a dinner bell, turned on the television. He came slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter plans flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn't in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.



Essex Green Interview

A long, long once-upon-a-time-ago, Buzzsaw Haircut interviewed The Essex Green, a stellar indie-pop act that played a highly entertaining, if not a bit poorly lit, set at Cornell on March 3. We talked with Chris Ziter, guitarist and vocalist, about the trials of being in a long-distance band, the stigma of being labeled a "60s" act, and a couple other topics, some of which got inevitably lost and misplaced in the passage of time between the actual interview and our transcription thereof. Enjoy.

Buzzsaw Haircut: So how has living in Cinicinati changed being in the band [as the rest of the members live in New York City]?

Chris Ziter: As a band we've always lived near each other, and our rhythm section, our bassist and drummer, have either been local folks or people that have lived in other countries. We never really necessarily settled on certain people. So we were always project-based as a band -- we would pick times for getting together to either work on live songs for a tour or songs for recording. So in a sense that's pretty much the same, we just have plan it out a little bit more when we get together. With recording, we try to write the songs separately and then bring it all together. It changed a little bit more from a friendship point of view, not running into each other as often, but from a work point of view, it hasn't affected it that much.

BH: Can you talk about the songwriting process? How does it work putting an album together, with all three songwriters writing independently?

CZ: Jeff Baron, the lead guitarist, and myself went to college together and we were in a local band at the University of Vermont. We started playing music together our senior year in college in a local band with four members who all wrote songs, and we'd each record them on 4-tracks. So the idea of writing songs separately and recording demo versions of them, then playing them for the other band members and having everybody work together on what becomes the live version is just something we've done from pretty much day one. And once we started Essex Green and Sasha was in it-- she'd played with our old band for a little while, and she was watching how we were doing things and that's just the way we've always made music. It kind of taps into the personal side of every songwriter in the band and they spend some time with the song, then they bring it to the table and it gets shaped around before we go into the studio.

CUT::This is where this interview gets interrupted by an old woman in Biloxi, Mississippi discussing her work helping people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She tells many great stories::CUT

(BH's assumed question: What's it like working with Merge [Records]?)

CZ: In general, they're just really, really top-notch people. A great independent label. It's really one of the last major, true indies; no major label money coming in from anywhere. We have a lot of respect for how they do business. But there is handicaps that come with any independent label -- that they can't spend a ton of money that a major label would be spending on marketing and what have you. So our PR is limited, and we have to kind of pull stuff out of our own pockets to supplement that if we want. They've been great as far as us being proud to be on that label with their roster, and people definitely notice us because we're on [Merge]. I think we get a certain amount of respect just based on that.

BH: Do they have people working to get your stuff on commercials and movies, or does that come about by people just hearing the band?

CZ: They do a lot of hard work that we certainly couldn't do ourselves. [For example], they give us some advance money for recording. They have a lot of really great bands on their label and they're very busy people just trying to make it, and when a band like the Arcade Fire comes along they can finally get some sort of payback for all the hard work they put in. But in general, it's the same as being in a band, people are doing it for different reasons and they're just trying to make ends meet so they can keep doing what they love to do.

BH: How would you describe a typical audience?

CZ: It's strange, you know, we've gotten really into opening for either bigger acts or contemporary acts that have just started to gain some popularity. And that's one of our favorite things to do because you expose yourself to a lot of different audiences. A lot of cases we can come out of that really positively. Our audience is definitely the indie crowd, but it can really range from really young to much older people because our music has that range from the different levels of songwriting that are happening. And our kind of preference for 60s-style production and arrangement. It's generally pretty much a mix, hard to pin it down.

BH: Do you feel like the 60s comparisons that critics like to latch onto help or hurt the band?

CZ: We get pegged for the 60s thing more than we certainly talk about it. That's the kind of music we like listening to, but when we're writing the music and then recording it and arranging it, we're doing it based on what we want to hear. It's not like we think, "Oh, this sounds like The Zombies," or "This sounds like The Kinks or whatever." We're not thinking along those lines and we don't actively associate ourselves with being a 60s band or a 60s interpretive outfit or anything like that. We get pegged that a lot, I don't know if that has to do with our name. In one periodical we got pegged as a Kinks revisionist band solely on the fact that our name is close to the kink's
Village Green Preservation Society. It's just wierd how people kind of want to put that stamp on you, and I suppose the Elephant 6 label might of helped do that. And I have no problem with it. Our music, we feel, is more complex than that. On the last record it ranges from 60s and 70s [influence] to some stuff that has an 80s sound going on. It's a mix, I dont think it helps or hurts us necessarily.

BZ: So you think the people who listen to your music just listen to the record? That's really something they're thinking about?

CZ: It might be. The one thing we really associate with the 60s is the arrangements of the songs and the production. We're going for a specific sounding amp and specific sounding keyboard and stuff like that, and we choose those olders sounds rather than a lot of synthy stuff. But that's just the kind of music we like listening to and the kind of things we like to hear, so i can see why people consider that in our music, but, outside of that, I think it's a little more complex.

BH: What are your future expectations for the band? Are you guys working on another album, or just songwriting for now?

CZ: We've been friends for a really long time, I hope and expect that we will continue to make music for a long, long time, even into older ago or whatever. [I hope that] as we all get older, we get families and consider moving various places like I have in some ways, it's gonna be the way we all keep connected to each other. Obviously I'd love to have a break-out record and love to be able to play some big festivals and tour with some really big acts and stuff like that. But we've had some really great, big shows and we've done really well in certain countries, like Sweden, so we're really lucky.

BH: So are you guys working on another album for 2007 or just concentrating on weekend tours?

CZ: We did a lot of touring in 2006 for our record, and we just toured with Camera Obscura a couple of weeks ago, and I'm on my way to New York for these shows we're doing this weekend. And everybody's just kind of writing. I think starting next fall we'll probably get together and start the process of recording. We're all into the idea of going about this record a little bit differently by spending more time in an actual studio and not recording as much by ourselves, so we can both get the record done quicker and get more a live feel, because we've really enjoyed the live stuff we've been doing.