October 15th, 2007

Chris Keeley

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (AP) -- Vernon Bellecourt, who fought against the use of Indian nicknames for

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (AP) -- Vernon Bellecourt, who fought against the use of Indian nicknames for sports teams as a longtime leader of the American Indian Movement, has died at age 75.


Bellecourt died Saturday at Abbott Northwestern Hospital of complications from pneumonia, said his brother, Clyde Bellecourt, a founding member of the militant American Indian rights group.

Just before he was put on a respirator, Vernon Bellecourt joked that the CIA had finally gotten him, his brother said.

"He was willing to put his butt on the line to draw attention to racism in sports," his brother said.

Vernon Bellecourt -- whose Objibwe name WaBun-Inini means Man of Dawn -- was a member of Minnesota's White Earth band and was an international spokesman for the AIM Grand Governing Council based in Minneapolis.

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Chris Keeley

find her work too glib. Some gripe it smells of cash. And I know high-toned art folk who -- appalled

find her work too glib. Some gripe it smells of cash. And I know high-toned art folk who -- appalled by the vulgarity of blatantly consumerist hype-ridden celebrity -- wrinkle up their noses in the presence of her art. I don't, I tend to marvel.

A paragon of grace:

Annie Leibovitz, Capturing the Sheen of Celebrity and the Grit of Loss

By Paul Richard
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, October 15, 2007; C01


In this business, anyone assigned a famous-person story (like the one you are reading) would want Annie Leibovitz to take the pictures that will run with it to sell it to your eye. Not because she's lots of laughs, or easy to work with, or suave, which she isn't, but because she's tops.

At making popular public portraits, nobody is better. Half, but only half, of "Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005" at the Corcoran Gallery of Art proves she's the best we've got.

Its other half is thick with loss. Her show is cracked in two.

She's had other exhibitions here. No doubt she'll have more. Maybe that's because her insistently approving portraits of the famous have the sheen of public monuments (of which Washington has many) and maybe it's because they ladle out big helpings of high-fashion celebrity (of which we don't have much). Also the photographer is a local girl made good. Leibovitz (her name ends "vitz," not "witz") grew up as an Air Force brat in suburban Silver Spring. Think how far she's come. First she went out West to study painting in San Francisco. Then, in 1970, she started shooting rock-and-rollers for the pages of Rolling Stone. Now, at 58, she's got a place in American art.

The painter Gilbert Stuart, who worked downtown and put his presidents on the currency, and the sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who put his on Mount Rushmore, are among her predecessors. So are the Hollywood directors who lit Marilyn and Liz, and so is Andy Warhol, who brought their stardom into art. They, too, made popular public portraits. But theirs were for then, hers are for now.

Uma Thurman, Cindy Crawford, Nicole Kidman, Demi Moore. When Leibovitz shoots glamorously beautiful women they look more glamorously beautiful than they ever have. Likewise for the glamorously beautiful men. At the Corcoran, Brad Pitt is a bed animal in leopard-print pants and Leonardo DiCaprio is a Mediterranean demigod with a bird around his neck, Leo and the Swan).

Leibovitz's Queen Elizabeth II couldn't be more regal. Leibovitz's Johnny Cash (she shot the singer's family picking guitars on the porch) couldn't be more country. Her Mikhail Baryshnikov seems to float above the sea, a paragon of grace.

Once upon a time, lots of painters painted demigods, though not many do so now. The shining figures whom she photographs seem more than mortal, too. They have magic. They distill our dreams. She distills the distillation.

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Chris Keeley

Stealing Life

The crusader behind “The Wire.”  -  by Margaret Talbot

On a muggy August afternoon in Baltimore, trash scuttled down Guilford Avenue, the breeze smelling like rain and asphalt. It was the last week of shooting for the fifth and final season of the HBO drama “The Wire,” and the crew was filming a scene in front of a boarded-up elementary school. Cast members had been joined by forty or so day players—mostly kids from the neighborhood. Earlier, the episode’s director, Clark Johnson, had been giving some of the kids the chance to say “Cut!,” and they’d bellowed it like drunks at a surprise party. Now, when Johnson yelled “Cut,” the kids swarmed around a video monitor to look at themselves in the last shot, pointing and laughing. “He just said it was good,” one kid complained. “Why we gotta do it again?” Johnson, who was wearing what he called his “lucky cowboy hat,” stepped away to talk to one of the professional actors. Another man—a bald white guy, unprepossessing in jeans and a T-shirt—remained by the monitor, and he answered the kids: “Hey. He’s the director. You don’t believe him? He kinda, sorta knows what he’s doin’.” The bald guy was David Simon, the show’s creator: a former Baltimore Sun reporter who figured that he’d spend his life at a newspaper, a print journalist who has forged an improbable career in television without ever leaving Baltimore. The kids listened politely to Simon and ran back to their places.

Each season of “The Wire” has focussed, with sociological precision, on a different facet of Baltimore. The previous season featured a story line about the city’s anarchic schools, told partly through the character of Roland (Prez) Pryzbylewski, a young cop turned schoolteacher. Simon recalled, “On the first day, the kids were all cutting up and yelling. It was like the first day of school. You know how they kicked the shit out of Pryzbylewski emotionally on the show? The kids were doing the same to the assistant directors. One poor A.D. was, like, ‘Please! This is too fuckin’ meta.’ By the end of the year, we had a good crew of young actors, but in the beginning it was, as we say in Baltimore, like herding pigeons.” While Simon was telling this story, Jermaine Crawford, a fourteen-year-old who joined the cast last season, came over to hug him. The scene being filmed would mark the final appearance of Crawford, whose character, Dukie, comes from a family in which all the adults are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Much of the new season, which will begin airing in January, will take place at a downsizing newspaper called the Baltimore Sun. Johnson, back at the monitor, began teasing Simon for giving so many of his old Sun colleagues small parts on the show. Among the dozens of people who have recurrent parts or cameos are Simon’s former editor, Rebecca Corbett, now an editor at the Times; the former Sun political reporter Bill Zorzi, now a writer for “The Wire”; Steve Luxenberg, the editor who first hired Simon as a reporter at the Sun; and Simon’s wife, Laura Lippman, a crime novelist who used to be a Sun reporter.

“It was like a frat house the other day, with all your newspaper pals around here,” Johnson told Simon. “What, you think somebody in Iowa’s gonna be watching and go, ‘Look, honey, it’s Bill Zorzi!’?” Warming to his riff, he added, “You ever try playing off these people who’ve never acted before? Somebody yells ‘Action,’ and they stand here like this”—he made a blank fish face.

Johnson is an actor as well as a director. He played a detective on “Homicide,” the NBC cop series based on Simon’s 1991 book by the same name, about murder in Baltimore, and in the new season of “The Wire” he plays Gus Haynes, a city editor who tries to hold the line against dwindling coverage, buyouts, and pseudo-news. In the season opener, Haynes provides a bitingly funny introduction to newsroom culture. He complains about a photographer who invariably gooses the poignancy of fire scenes by positioning a charred doll somewhere amid the debris. (“I can see that cheatin’ motherfucker now, with his fucking harem of dolls, pouring lighter fluid on each one,” Haynes fumes.) And he patiently explains to a junior reporter one of those house rules which arbiters of newspaper style cling to with fierce persnicketiness: a building can be “evacuated,” he instructs, but you cannot evacuate people. “To evacuate a person is to give that person an enema,” one of the old-timers chimes in. “At the Baltimore Sun, God still resides in the details.”

The Sun allowed its name to be used on “The Wire,” but stipulated that no current employees could appear in it; the newspaper’s offices have been re-created on the show’s hulking soundstage outside the city. This arrangement suited Simon fine—he bitterly accepted a buyout offer from the paper in 1995, feeling that it was squandering talent under new management. “The Wire,” Simon often says, is a show about how contemporary American society—and, particularly, “raw, unencumbered capitalism”—devalues human beings. He told me, “Every single moment on the planet, from here on out, human beings are worth less. We are in a post-industrial age. We don’t need as many of us as we once did. So, if the first season was about devaluing the cops who knew their beats and the corner boys slinging drugs, then the second was about devaluing the longshoremen and their labor, the third about people who wanted to make changes in the city, and the fourth was about kids who were being prepared, badly, for an economy that no longer really needs them. And the fifth? It’s about the people who are supposed to be monitoring all this and sounding the alarm—the journalists. The newsroom I worked in had four hundred and fifty people. Now it’s got three hundred. Management says, ‘We have to do more with less.’ That’s the bullshit of bean counters who care only about the bottom line. You do less with less.”

Some of the dialogue from the fifth season is taken word for word from the Sun’s newsroom. Simon recalled, “There was this writer, Carl, who every day would eat the same thing for lunch: cottage cheese. One day, somebody walked by and saw him staring down into his cottage cheese, poking it with a spoon and saying to himself, ‘Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck.’ That’s in there.”

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Chris Keeley

Wire part 2

Reporting attracted Simon early on. Bernard Simon had started out as a journalist—before he went to work in public relations, he’d been the managing editor of the N.Y.U. student newspaper, and a stringer for the Hudson County Dispatch—and he had friends who were reporters. One was Irving Spiegel, who was known as Pat, because, as a religion reporter for the Times, he spent so much time in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Simon described Uncle Pat to me in an e-mail: “He could play concert piano, and composed verses of the ‘Metropolitan Desk Opera,’ a never-ending farce of the Times that he would perform at parties, goofing on co-workers and bosses. He could recite Shakespeare in Yiddish. He had a way of seizing the floor at parties and ranting comically at imagined affronts and outrages. As a young child, I thought he was typical of newspapermen in his élan and brass. I expected to meet lots of people like Uncle Pat. It was a different place and time, I guess. Between knowing Pat and my father taking me to see a revival of ‘The Front Page’ at Arena Stage when I was eleven or twelve, I was sold a bill of goods.”

David Mills, now a television writer in Hollywood, worked with Simon on the Diamondback, the University of Maryland paper, and remembers that Simon produced great humor pieces. Mills said, “He had a full-blown writing personality as an undergraduate. He was always getting parking tickets, so he did these rambling, profane, angry pieces about the student ticketers, his nemeses.” He continued, “Though people don’t talk much about the humor in ‘The Wire,’ it’s there. You drop somebody into an alien environment—a closed society like the homicide cops or the drug culture—and the key to working your way into that culture is to understand the jokes, which David does. It’s crucial, because, if it weren’t there, the work would be too depressing. It’s crushing subject matter, but not necessarily to the cops—they’re making jokes while they’re looking at dead bodies—and not to the people shooting dope, even. They’re not necessarily walking around saying, ‘Woe is me.’ There’s a grim humor that springs out of that life.”

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Chris Keeley

Simon makes it clear that the show’s ambitions were grand. “ ‘The Wire’ is dissent,” he says. “It is

Simon makes it clear that the show’s ambitions were grand. “ ‘The Wire’ is dissent,” he says. “It is perhaps the only storytelling on television that overtly suggests that our political and economic and social constructs are no longer viable, that our leadership has failed us relentlessly, and that no, we are not going to be all right.” He also likes to say that “The Wire” is a story about the “decline of the American empire.” Simon’s belief in the show is a formidable thing, and it leads him into some ostentatious comparisons that he sometimes laughs at himself for and sometimes does not. Recently, he spoke at Loyola College, in Baltimore; he described the show in lofty terms that left many of the students in the audience puzzled—at least, those who had come hoping to hear how they might get a job in Hollywood. In creating “The Wire,” Simon said, he and his colleagues had “ripped off the Greeks: Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides. Not funny boy—not Aristophanes. We’ve basically taken the idea of Greek tragedy and applied it to the modern city-state.” He went on, “What we were trying to do was take the notion of Greek tragedy, of fated and doomed people, and instead of these Olympian gods, indifferent, venal, selfish, hurling lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no reason—instead of those guys whipping it on Oedipus or Achilles, it’s the postmodern institutions . . . those are the indifferent gods.”
Chris Keeley

Magic mushrooms are big business in the Netherlands

Magic mushrooms are big business in the Netherlands

A woman harvests magic mushrooms in a grow room at the Procare farm in Hazerswoude, central Netherlands, Friday Aug. 3, 2007

The Dutch government is banning the sale of all magic mushrooms after a series of high-profile incidents involving tourists who had taken them.

The decision will take effect within several months, said a spokesman for the Dutch justice ministry.

A major Dutch producer of the psychedelic mushrooms said he stood to lose millions of euros as a result.

The Netherlands is famed for its liberal drugs policy, with marijuana openly sold in licensed cafes.

Magic mushrooms, more properly known as psilocybe, contain the psychedelic chemicals psilocybin and psilocin.

"We intend to forbid the sale of magic mushrooms," said justice ministry spokesman Wim van der Weegen.

"That means shops caught doing so will be closed."

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