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Demonstrations back in February resulted in violent clashes between protesters and government forces. (AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Issues Travel Restrictions On Venezuelan Officials

by Eyder Peralta
Jul 30, 2014

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The State Department on Wednesday announced it was revoking visas for a number of Venezuelan government officials the U.S. says have violated the human rights of the Venezuelan people.

"We have seen repeated efforts to repress legitimate expression of dissent through judicial intimidation, to limit freedom of the press, and to silence members of the political opposition," Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement.

If you remember, the Venezuelan government deployed its military to pacify protests that erupted back in February.

The State Department did not name the individuals it was sanctioning, nor did it say how many will be affected by the restrictions. Harf explained:

"With this step we underscore our commitment to holding accountable individuals who commit human rights abuses. While we will not publicly identify these individuals because of visa record confidentiality, our message is clear: those who commit such abuses will not be welcome in the United States."

The Wall Street Journal quotes congressional aides briefed on the matter saying the sanctions affect "high-ranking Venezuelan military, National Guard and police officials."

The paper adds:

"The sanctions would come just three days after the U.S. failed in its efforts to secure the extradition of Gen. Hugo Carvajal, Venezuela's former intelligence chief who is wanted in the U.S. on drug charges and had been detained on the Dutch island of Aruba.

"Last week, Mr. Carvajal, whose nickname is El Pollo, or 'the chicken,' was detained on the Dutch island of Aruba for four days, generating angry accusations from Venezuela's government that he had been 'kidnapped,' and warning Aruba would suffer economic consequences.

"He was set free Sunday when the Dutch government determined that Mr. Carvajal, who had been named, but not yet recognized as consul in Aruba, had diplomatic immunity. The Dutch decision reversed an earlier ruling by Aruba authorities who found Mr. Carvajal had no such immunity and was liable to arrest."

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An overhead shot of the performance of John Luther Adams' Sila at New York's Lincoln Center Friday evening. (Courtesy of Lincoln Center)

A Breath Of Inspiration: John Luther Adams' New 'Sila'

Jul 30, 2014

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Composer John Luther Adams has been enjoying enormous success. He won this year's Pulitzer Prize for his expansive, unsettling and darkly beautiful orchestral piece Become Ocean, which will be released in the fall in a recording by the Seattle Symphony. His monumental 2009 percussion piece Inuksuit has been recorded and staged several times now across the country and abroad, from Tennessee to Portugal — a success almost unthinkable in the age of one-and-done premieres.

The ideas that have long compelled Adams have found a new home and expression in his outdoor work Sila: The Breath of the World, which was premiered at Lincoln Center Friday evening, with a repeat performance the following night. (I attended both the Friday afternoon dress rehearsal and the second concert.) The twin hallmarks of Adams' work — a deep concern with the interactions between humans and the environment, an undeniable though wholly nonsectarian mysticism — are fused through masterly command of musical texture and pacing.

Jointly commissioned by two of Lincoln Center's signature summer series, the Mostly Mozart Festival and Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the premiere of Sila fulfilled goals of both: to engender the creation of new works and to use the organization's outdoor space more creatively, a welcome recent development for concertgoers familiar with the campus only through entering and exiting its temples of culture. Arrayed around what is broadly called the Hearst Plaza, the 81 performers in Sila were dotted across a grass lawn, among a grove of trees and even in a pool of water.

Sila is a piece intended to be played by 16 to 80 or more musicians grouped into five separate ensemble choirs of woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings and voices, who may perform the work in any combination, either simultaneously or successively. There is no conductor, and each musician chooses his or her own pacing through the score, as long as each sustained tone or rising phrase "lasts the length of one full exhalation," according to Adams' notes.

The piece is set within 16 "harmonic clouds" grounded on the first sixteen overtones of a low B-flat. Does that sound anarchic, or overly academic? Hardly. The music shimmers and shifts in magical and beautiful ways. And Sila is as much performance piece as sonic work. The long, luxurious phrases were underscored by choreographer Mark DeChiazza, who had the performers make slow, sweeping tai chi-like gestures that seemed to halt time.

As in other Adams works, and most famously in his Inuksuit, audience members also participate in shaping their own experiences. Where a listener chooses to sit, stand or meander alters the sonic experience, and each person's experience is different. I chose to rotate my listening spots every 10 or 15 minutes.

String players were stationed along the edge of a small grove of trees, by a post under the overhang of the Lincoln Center Theater. The winds, brass and timpani players standing on a grassy hill that descends from the entrance to The Juilliard School might as well have been sounding in a far-off field, though they were only a few dozen feet away. At the southeast corner of the space, the metallic hum of bowed cymbals dominated for a while; at the northeast, it was the clink of glasses and clatter of plates at a restaurant's outdoor tables. And in the middle of a pool at the heart of the performance space, singers stood knee-deep in water.

Led by musical director Doug Perkins, some of the country's foremost new music specialists played the premiere. They were culled from flocks of Adams devotees from across the country — members of Chicago's eighth blackbird, Philadelphia's The Crossing choir and Michigan's Grand State Valley New Music Ensemble among them. They performed alongside such New York denizens as the JACK Quartet, TILT Brass and Bang on a Can's Asphalt Orchestra and many of the city's notable freelancers (including John Altieri, the conductor/tuba player from NPR Music's recent 100+ BPM project.) Their gathering for Sila was a testament to the enthusiasm Adams' music has generated among performers.

At the first full performance, audience members were not allowed to walk along the main pathway on the long side of the pool, between the string players and a line of percussionists, though many sat there (as I did, briefly, during the dress rehearsal). By Saturday night, Adams had given his benediction for listeners to walk through there, and this major artery was soon clogged up. About 30 minutes into the piece, the experience was half meditation labyrinth, half the familiar slog of navigating an uptown 1 train during rush hour.

But something else transpired as well. Absent a stage, the traditional walls between musicians and listeners dissipated absolutely. That intimacy created a marvelous cocoon of shared experience and silky, ethereal layers of sound. The physical closeness did create its own perils: On Saturday, I saw a couple of people in alarming proximity to the musicians and their instruments snapping selfies mid-performance.

Yet even those interruptions couldn't permeate the quiet, deeply contemplative nature of Adams' elegantly wrought and mesmerizing work. The composer translates the Inuit title of the piece this way: "Sila is the wind and the weather, the forces of nature. But it's also something more. Sila is intelligence. It's consciousness. It's our awareness of the world around us, and the world's awareness of us." Even with the buzz of Manhattan so close, Adams and his musicians created a work of music, and of theater, that encouraged listeners to look both deeply inward and out into an imaginary expanse far beyond Hearst Plaza.

Sila ends with performers blowing through megaphones — no notes sounding, just long exhalations of breath you had to lean in closely to hear. Just as Saturday's performance was drawing to its close, a breeze visited, creating new waves of ripples in the pool.

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Sylvan Esso's Amelia Meath (Courtesy of the artist)

Sylvan Esso Performs 'Wolf' Live With Megafaun, Lambchop, Others

Jul 30, 2014

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Last fall, Sylvan Esso's Nick Sanborn was commissioned by Duke University and Alverno Presents in Milwaukee to put together a special concert with some of his favorite artists and collaborators. The result was a two-night stand that featured Sanborn and Sylvan Esso singer Amelia Meath performing alongside members of Sanborn's other band, Megafaun and Meath's former band, Mountain Man, as well as the group Field Report and Lambchop's William Tyler. Together they shared mostly acoustic versions of a number of Sylvan Esso songs, including this cut from the band's self-titled, debut record, "Wolf."

Shot in black and white, it's a surprisingly intimate and arresting arrangement of a song originally scored with throbbing electronics.

Sanborn tells us via email that the performances, called "Lend Me Your Voice," were designed to explore "the concept of the sideman musician and how another musician's vision is supported."

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The Great American Desk. (istockphoto.com)

Desk Desk Evolution

Jul 30, 2014

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Linton Weeks

With the disappearance of the desktop computer and the downfall of the deskphone, could we be seeing the demise of the office desk?

"We still need a place on which to set all that digital stuff," says Henry Petroski, a civil engineering professor at Duke University and author of numerous design books, including The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors: A Tale of Architectural Choice and Craftsmanship.

Henry says his iPad is too heavy to hold comfortably."And I don't have a large enough lap for all the other devices." So for Henry, an office desk is an extension of his lap. For others, it's a repository for inboxes and outboxes and books and paper piles and a smattering of old business cards grown dusty and dogeared from neglect.

And now the Great American Desk - trying to be all things to all people — is going through an identity crisis. And a multi-faceted metamorphosis.

Recent desk developments include:

* The Superdesk — a sweeping platform that flows through the Barbarian Group office in New York.

_____

* The Kinetic Desk — from Stir "senses your presence" and encourages you to sit and stand throughout the day.

_____

* The Pull-Up Bar Desk — is just one of the un-official innovations at the the Brooklyn Boulders Active Collaborative Workspace in Somerville, Mass.

_____

Did this new Age of Deskovery begin, perhaps, with predictions of a "paperless office" in the 1990s? "The paperless office was said to arrive with the desktop computer," Henry Petroski says. "I am still waiting..."


The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers - Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers - of NPR. @NPRtpj

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A hodgepodge of languages share space on library shelves. (Courtesy of Queens Library)

Want To See The World? Try A Library In Queens

by Cristina Silva
Jul 30, 2014

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Cristina Silva

The aggressive vibrato of the bandoneon hung in the air. While the tango singer spoke of romantic spats, hopeless drunkards and lonely whores, an elderly Argentine couple clasped hands.

The haunting music would have made for a steamy evening if not for the setting. The celebration of Argentine tango took place not in some hip Latin club on the Lower East Side or in a dark corner of a Buenos Aires cafe, but in a drab basement room with plastic chairs and gray walls in the Jackson Heights branch of the Queens Library.

New York's Queens borough is among the most ethnically diverse counties in the nation, its immigrant-filled neighborhoods teeming with taco joints, Dominican beauty salons and women in headscarves. It's no surprise, then, that the borough's library system has also strived for unparalleled diversity.

The library system's 62 locations boast more than 800,000 foreign language books, thousands of foreign language DVDs and CDs, and six language specialists tasked with finding the most popular materials in Urdu, Polish, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, French and Spanish, among other languages. It also regularly hosts cultural events, such as the tango performance in Jackson Heights, to draw in immigrants unaware of how libraries or library cards work — or at least how they work in Queens.

Chinese romance novels are always popular, as is the Korean version of Twilight. The library system also caters to Albanians, Croatians and Serbians in Ridgewood, Tagalog speakers in Elmhurst, Woodside and Broadway, Farsi in Kew Garden Hills and Pashto and Dari in Flushing.

"We are the most diverse borough and we want to celebrate that," said Bridget Quinn-Carey, the library's COO.

Nearly half of all Queens' residents were foreign-born in 2010, according to U.S. Census data, with most hailing from Latin American and Asian nations. Among New York City's five boroughs, Queens has the highest number of residents who consider themselves as speaking English less than "very well," at 28 percent. Of those, 42 percent speak Spanish and 31 percent speak an Asian or Pacific Island language.

The library launched its New Americans Program in 1977 to provide services to the area's many immigrants. The staff's most significant challenge, apart from budget limitations and figuring out how to catalog book titles that don't use the Roman alphabet, is keeping up with the breakneck pace of New York real estate trends and demographic shifts. Employees rely on neighborhood clues including ethnic newspapers and produce sold at corner bodegas to keep library shelves stocked with the most useful material.

A decade ago, the library's Corona location demanded materials catering to Dominicans and Italians. Now, the neighborhood is primarily Mexican and Ecuadorian, said Vilma Daza, the Corona library manager. A dedicated following arrives at the library each day to read foreign-language newspapers, including the popular "Thinkana," a Bangla newspaper circulated in New York.

The library also offers citizenship and basic skills classes designed to help people assimilate more easily.

"It's very important because all those kids are growing up over here, so we need to have better communities, we need to enrich their lives, we need to make changes so this community will be successful tomorrow," Daza said.

Once an immigrant group reaches a mere 2,000 people, the library will attempt to offer services pertinent to that culture. International crises after spur the need for new library material. For example, the system's collection of Haitian Creole books grew to more than 5,000 titles after Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake.

Of all the languages the system offers, one is particularly in demand among foreign-born library patrons. On a recent registration day, more than 100 people lined up starting at 5 a.m. to nab one of 30 classroom slots available in Corona. Thousands of other immigrants flocked to similar classes across the Queens Library system in 2013.

The language they were all so eager to learn?English.

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