Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New Strokes Album Rivals The Band's Best

By Eli Winter
HOUSTON, Texas, U.S.A. – The Strokes have never been known for their predictability.
Comedown Machine, their new album released today, proudly reaffirms that idea. With this latest record, you hear the New York band evolving, slowly but surely, from their scruffy, apathetic threads of a decade ago to some nice, shiny, New Wave clothes from the 1980s.
A quick refresher on the history of The Strokes – their debut EP started a bidding war to sign the band to a major label, which RCA Records won out. Their debut album, Is This It, released in 2001, as expected, received a huge amount of praise and many placements on best-of-the-decade lists.
Their second album two years later, Room on Fire, attempted to expand their sound slightly with the incorporation of some elements of reggae and guitars-that-sound-like-keyboards.

Their third, First Impressions of Earth released in 2006, saw the band’s edgy, frantic side, with 14 songs that were generally very energetic or very lethargic.
The most recent album before Comedown Machine was Angles, released two years ago after a five-year hiatus.
Angles saw the band going in many different directions at the same time, despite their frontman Julian Casablancas’ forced separation from the group - which made the album a love-hate affair, and which I also wrote about here.
All these different styles of songwriting and recording seemed to have one main result: No one was entirely pleased. No one.
Comedown Machine appears to have had the same outcome – it’s proven a divisive listen among critics, but I see it as one of the band’s best works.
It’s only natural for the band to evolve, but natural selection is a gradual process. With this album, The Strokes are moving closer to their next consistently critically successful smash.
The songs on Comedown Machine go all over the place, from sounding like the ‘80s band A-ha’s hit song, “Take On Me” to organ-driven classic rock, from angry, angsty, scuzzy garage rock to lounge music and even a little bit of chillwave.
Yet The Strokes are able to unify all these sounds together in a way that keeps you on your toes. You don’t know what to expect, but you don’t mind it, because while some songs play, you can dance the anxious anticipation off.
A good example of a song that keeps your toes tapping is “Tap Out,” the first song on Comedown Machine. To prove its danceability, it’s already been mashed up with the infamous Duane meme (as in Duane, from “Barbie Dance Club,” that Duane.)
If you’re more of a listener than a dancer, as I am, though, you won’t miss a beat, pardon the pun. There’s such a range of sounds in this one song – guitars that sound like staccato synthesizers, the organ which adds a classic rock vibe to the chorus, the double-tracked vocals of Julian Casablancas – that you could listen to it a thousand times and hear something new every time.
“One Way Trigger” has a pretty big palette as well, with falsettos from multiple band members, more guitars that sound like synthesizers and even an acoustic guitar – listen for it, it’s there – all combined to make one of The Strokes’ more intense songs.
Not all of the songs on this album are like that. “All The Time,” their first single from the album, is very much guitar-driven, and the only bad thing about it is the maddening 30 seconds of silence at the end.
“Welcome To Japan” features The Strokes trying their luck at impulsive, random humor (“Didn’t know the gun was loaded/Didn’t really know this/What kind of asshole drives a Lotus?” and “Oh, welcome to Japan!/Scuba-dancing!/Touchdown!”) which goes well with the slightly off-kilter nature of the song.
“50/50” has Casablancas at his angriest, howling with ferocity at all the critics out there, “Don’t judge me!”
“Partners In Crime” shows The Strokes try their hand at some offbeat, Pavement-inspired rock, but without the fuzz and feedback of the ‘90s lo-fi legends.
But just because a song isn’t as danceable doesn’t mean The Strokes have blessed it with the old and gold sounds of their debut. No, no, far from it. In “Chances,” we hear Casablancas pull out his falsetto as the rest of the band pulls out their electronics.
“80s Comedown Machine,” while not as slow-core sad as “Call Me Back,” and not as synth-styled as “Games,” still appears to have influence from all those songs – and proves a relaxing listen, which is good, because if you fall asleep during that song, “50/50” will be the alarm that jars you out of your bed.
Its title notwithstanding, “Slow Animals” can be considered a build-up song, with each layer of instrumentation adding to the carefully orchestrated chaos. Despite its frenetic beginning, “Happy Ending” spoils its climax for the listener, but is still one you’ll like to hear. The album’s closer, “Call It Fate Call It Karma,” is oddly soulful and at ease.
It’s as if the band is relieved that their album’s all done, yet they still sound happy, as happy as one can be while listening to mellow, Little Joy-esque, sad bar jukebox songs inspired by Tom Waits. The feeling of calm and tranquility is one we haven’t heard in a while, and it’s not the worst one to hear, either.
While Comedown Machine can be somewhat straggling, The Strokes put it all together well. This is another melting-pot album of theirs, but unlike Angles, this effort is more cohesive, and the best part is, they actually sound happy doing it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pakistan's White Ribbon Campaign Awards Contest Honors YJI Reporter Arooj Khalid

Arooj Khalid
Arooj Khalid, a senior reporter for Youth Journalism International who's tackled many tough subjects from her home in Lahore, Pakistan, recently was recognized by the White Ribbon Campaign Pakistan for her journalism.
Khalid, who is 16, was recognized in the first White Ribbon Media Awards.
The awards honor journalists whose work supports the cause of women's rights in Pakistan. Founded in 2006 by the Women's Empowerment Group, the White Ribbon Campaign's mission is to create awareness, especially among men and boys, of injustice towards women and violations of women's rights in Pakistan.
Most recently, Arooj wrote for YJI about a 12-year-old girl who worked as a kitchen maid.
Youth Journalism International offered enthusiastic support for her entry in the White Ribbon Campaign's competition. Congratulations, Arooj!

The certificate Arooj Khalid received from the White Ribbon Campaign

The Boring Museum Lecture That Wasn't: Author Applegate Brings History To Life

Yelena Samofalova / youthjournalism.org
A newsboy hawking papers greets visitors to "The Guilded Age of Hartford" exhibit at the Mark Twain House and Museum.

By Alan Burkholder
Junior Reporter
HARTFORD – I’m not a history buff by any stretch of the imagination. I find that listening to tales of the past just leaves me wanting to get up and go do something more interactive, like finish that novel I’ve been writing or mocking a B-movie on television, or basically anything that doesn’t leave me sitting by myself and feeling bored out of my skull.
As such, I was rather skeptical about attending a lecture by Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Debby Applegate, detailing the life of abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher. If you don’t know who Henry Ward Beecher is, you’re not the only one.
Yelena Samofalova / youthjournalism.org
A display in "The 
Age of Hartford" 
exhibit at
Twain House and
Before the main event, I spent most of my time in the exhibition. There wasn’t much that captured my interest, other than the fact that the exhibit was apparently still under construction, since one of the pedestals contains not a glass case with an ancient document underneath, but a pile of worker’s tools and other miscellaneous equipment.
I could have spent time looking at the antique bicycle with the giant wheel in front, or the open copy of “The Gilded Age” that taunts the viewers with their own inability to read it, but instead I took time to inspect a roll of curly-moustache-print duct tape (which before then, I did not know existed.)
Yelena Samofalova / youthjournalism.org
An antique bicycle is on display in 
Age of Hartford" 
exhibit at the Mark 
Twain House
and Museum.
After wandering around and accomplishing absolutely nothing, I took a seat in the auditorium. Before too long, Katherine Kane, director of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, which brought Applegate to speak, and Cindy Lovell, the new director of the Mark Twain House and Museum, each said a few introductory words.
Then came Applegate, author of The Most Famous Man in America, The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher. As soon as she got onstage, she apologized in advance for talking about the three “no’s” of conversation:  Sex, Religion and Politics.
As she began telling her tale, it quickly became apparent that Applegate was not a traditionalist when it came to giving lectures. I came into the hall expecting a long, drawn-out monotone ramble. What I got was a stand-up routine in lecture’s clothing about a man who became famous enough to become a “footnote of history,” as Applegate put it.
Yelena Samofalova / youthjournalism.org
Biographer Debby Applegate speaking at the Mark Twain House and Museum last week about her latest book, The Most Famous Man in America, The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher.
Applegate painted a vivid picture of the firebrand Beecher, detailing his rise to prominence by way of his amazing public speaking skills as a preacher. After awhile, I began to notice that Applegate’s performance was strikingly similar to what she was describing, and it made me feel like I was there, listening to the late, great Beecher give one of his rousing, yet controversial sermons.
This lecture was not played safe at all. Applegate took every opportunity she could to say something that would have made a gentleman’s monocle pop off in shock. She took something I had little prior knowledge and enthusiasm about and turned it into one of the funniest and most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had in a museum.
It’s not always completely fair to judge something by how it sounds. Something that sounds boring could, in fact, be one of the most interesting things you’ve ever heard about. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Belfast Flag Flap Disrupts Irish Peace Path

By Peter Kelly
Junior Reporter
BELFAST, Northern Ireland – The unceremonious scenes that unfortunately dominated Northern Irish headlines in the end of last year were, for so many, a sorry and unwanted reminder of the dark, old days of The Troubles – a time the Northern Irish people thought they had left behind.
The local Stormont government voted on December 3rd to limit the number of days that the Union flag flies over Belfast City Hall. That’s when Protestant unionists took to the streets in protest.
The protests had originally set out to be peaceful demonstrations but inevitably spilt over to violence and caused serious detrimental effects to the country.
Nearby businesses were forced to close and took a serious hit. Most noticeably, the Christmas continental market was forced to extend its stay to regain income. Roads became shut off and trains were cancelled, and the overall economy of Northern Ireland is reported to have missed out on roughly 20 million pounds.
Businesses were at a loss of just under 15 million, while policing the protests cost a further 7 million pounds. Moreover, since December, approximately 150 people were arrested and charged with offenses connected to street disorder, and injuries to police officers are in the hundreds.
The horrific scenes of rioting cast an undesirable resemblance to the days of the Troubles, and the people of Northern Ireland can take two important lessons from it all.
Firstly, and somewhat disappointingly, is that the two main parties of the Stormont government can unfortunately continue to bully and manipulate both sides of the community.
It was Sinn Fein who propositioned the removal of the union flag, which was irrefutably an action from which they can seem to keep up a nationalist agenda, and appeal to the republican voters. It all simply should have been dealt with in a more sensitive manner.
On the other side of the coin, it was the Democratic Unionist Party that pressured the loyalist communities onto the streets in protest, boiling sectarian blood even more and influencing the inevitable development of violence.
This is regrettably an illustration of the two main parties’ persistent ability to employ sectarian politics to ensure a majority vote, and crucially, it’s where the main problem of Northern Ireland lies.
For as long as the people of Northern Ireland are governed by parties that can fuel sectarian tension for the requirement of votes, then there will always remain the potential for the return of the scenes we unfortunately had to endure over the past months.
Northern Ireland needs a government that will cater to both sides of the community and steer the country in the direction of a collective national identity, which is what the vast majority of Northern Irish people seek.
Protests have unfortunately continued into March, with yet another police officer injured as a result of rioting on Sunday, March 17, but the Northern Irish people continue to remain positive. This is where the second and more importantly, positive, lesson comes in: that the Northern Irish people will not accept being clawed back into the dark days by the narrow-minded actions of the few.
On Jan. 6, more than 1,000 people turned out for a peace demonstration in Belfast in opposition to the violence, highlighting quite clearly that the Northern Irish public will not stand for a return to sectarian divisions.
A “Backin’ Belfast” campaign was launched in January as a response to the violence and bid to thrust the Northern Irish people back to the shops in the city center. The campaign was a great success with the Northern Irish Retail Consortium recording an encouraging increase in Belfast shoppers during the month of February. This demonstrates the resiliency of the public to not let the protests intrude on their everyday life, and highlights the success that such positivity can bring.
With the protests sadly continuing nearly four months after the initial flag bill was passed, Belfast however remains a commercial hub bursting with culture, attracting millions of visitors each year.
It is undoubtedly the majority from within the country who condemn the recent violence and want Northern Ireland to continue on its path of peace. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Madrid Has History, Art, Temples And Fun

Dina El Halawany / youthjournalism.org
Bullfighting at Las Ventas in Madrid

By Dina El Halawany
Junior Reporter
MADRID, Spain – Madrid is one of the most fascinating cities you can ever visit. Since the moment our plane landed there, I was spellbound by its beauty.
No matter how long you stay in Madrid, you'll never run out of places to visit!
To begin with, there are numerous historical places; such as The Royal Palace which is certainly one of the main tourist destinations. It's an architecture masterpiece, surrounded by a wonderful garden known as 'Sabatini garden.'
Dina El Halawany / youthjournalism.org
The Royal Palace in Madrid, surrounded by
the Sabatini garden
Besides the Royal Palace, there are the royal theater, the well-known Alumenda Cathedral and the Museo Nacional del Prado, or the Prado museum, which was founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture, but it also contains important collections of other types of works.
I was impressed by the Temple of Debod which is actually an ancient Egyptian temple that was rebuilt in 
Dina El Halawany / youthjournalism.org
   Retiro Park and the statue of King Alfonso XII
Madrid is also known for having the most outstanding, breathtaking parks in the world. The Retiro Park is 
the most popular park in Madrid as it is incredibly spacious and marvelous. It includes an artificial lake and 
the statue of King Alfonso XII overlooks it.
Dina El Halawany / youthjournalism.org
Flamenco dancing is sometimes part of the dining experience in Madrid
For entertainment, there are countless shopping centers, including the chain of 'El Corte Ingles' which is 
located all over Madrid. There is also the well-known Zoo Aquarium de Madrid which includes about 500 different species of animals. It offers visitors an entertaining dolphin show; with the animals well guided by six 

Dina El Halawany / youthjournalism.org
The dolphin show at the Zoo Aquarium de Madrid

Sunday, March 17, 2013

San Francisco Wine Tasting Benefits YJI

Event organizer Shaina Zura, left, and co-host Talon Bronson.

The gallery before the event 
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Shaina Zura, who spent some of her teenage years as a reporter with Youth Journalism International, pulled together the organization's first major West Coast benefit event on Saturday.
The adults-only wine-tasting party, held at Spoke Art, a San Francisco gallery, offered a variety of wines from around the world, cheeses and other refreshments.
A silent auction including goods and services donated by Bay Area businesses added to the success of the evening.
The San Francisco party, one in a series of "I Love YJI" fundraising events, followed others held in Durban, South Africa, Kabul, Afghanistan and in Central Connecticut, where YJI is headquartered. More events are in the works.
Zura, who wrote news stories for YJI as a high school student in Connecticut in the late 1990s, got a little help at the wine tasting benefit Saturday night from Talon Bronson, a YJI writer from Portland, Oregon.
Bronson, 21, was visiting the Bay Area and took time out to lend a hand with the event.
"It was a truly inspiring night," said Zura.

Wine expert Kellie Michelle Coahran spent the 
evening behind the wine table, explaining about 
the wines available for tasting and pouring.

One part of the gallery served as the focal point. The wine, cheese and other refreshments were displayed on the table to the left. Silent auction items and bidding sheets were on the table in the back.  
Interest in YJI's work and enthusiasm for the organization was evident throughout the evening.
Participants got a chance
view great art as well
 as enjoy
a variety of wine 
and cheese.

Plenty of informational material,
such as brochures and fact 
sheets that explain about YJI,
available at the benefit.

Participants checked out the details on silent auction items that ranged from mobile phones to massage, high end cosmetics, tarot card readings and dog training sessions.
Friends gathered at the gallery to spend some time together and support YJI
Event host, organizer and YJI alum Shaina Zura, right, surveys the crowd.

Spoke Art donated its beautiful 
gallery space for Youth Journalism
International to hold its  biggest 
West Coast event yet. We're grateful
to the gallery for its generosity.
Lots of people turned out for the wine tasting benefit and a good time was had by all.

San Francisco fashion is truly cutting edge, as evidenced by this man's handsome pin.
Our beautiful hostess, Shaina Zura, tapped friends, friends of friends and San Francisco businesses for help with the wine tasting event and was delighted at the outpouring of community support.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Table Mountain: Views Of Beauty And History

Julianna Espinosa / youthjournalism.org
A view from Table Mountain, South Africa

By Julianna Espinosa
Junior Reporter
CAPE TOWN, South Africa – As we climbed up on the side of Table Mountain in a translucent cable car, we gazed in awe of the beautiful sight.
The Mountain is about 3,550 feet tall, and makes for a gorgeous view.
As I reached the top, I could see many different landscapes. There were areas of grassy shrubbery as well as mountainous cliffs to look down.
There’s a lot to do there, too – hike up the mountain, go rock climbing or mountain biking.
When I ventured along the mountain, I just took in the view.
The most breathtaking view was the one of Robben Island. Now a museum and heritage site, Robben Island formerly housed a notorious prison that held anti-apartheid activists, including Nelson Mandela, who later became the nation’s first democratically elected president.
To behold such a sight in South African history was incredible.
This was the experience of a lifetime, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys beautiful scenery and the great outdoors. 
Julianna Espinosa / youthjournalism.org
A view from Table Mountain

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

San Francisco Art Gallery Hosts YJI Benefit

Nipping at the heels of “I Love YJI” events in Durban, South Africa; Kabul, Afghanistan, and Connecticut, the next bash will be a wine tasting benefit in San Francisco, California, for adults only.
For Bay Area people, it’s simply not to be missed.
Hosted by YJI alum Shaina Zura, the wine tasting benefit will be held from 7-10 p.m. on Saturday, March 16, at Spoke Art, a cool gallery at 816 Sutter St., San Francisco.
Shaina, who participated in YJI as a Connecticut high school student, has remained a committed and involved alum and has put together quite a party. Thanks to generous donations from the Bay Area community, there will be wine and food and some awesome items up for auction as well as lots of information about YJI. If you are in the area, please come!
Shaina is asking people who attend to give at least $10 at the door, and we hope that won’t be a burden. After all, you’ll be helping to give a voice to young writers, artists and photographers all around the world.
YJI alum Talon Bronson will be on hand from Portland, Oregon, to talk about his experiences in the organization, too.
Please help us spread the word!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Partying For YJI On Three Continents

Nicole Megan Gounder / youthjournalism.org
Lucy-Sarah Raymond Gounder, after all the baking was finished, paused a moment by the beautiful table at the party in Durban. 
 Youth Journalism International not only has the greatest students on the planet, but the best alumni in the world.
Just after Valentine’s Day, alum Nicole MeganGounder, and her wonderful mom, Lucy-Sarah Raymond Gounder, kicked off a new initiative from their home in Durban, South Africa, an “I love YJI” event.
The same day, a similar gathering took place in the United States and a few days later, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The idea is to introduce YJI to people who don’t know much about it, but might like to learn more, and there’s no one better to do that than someone like Nicole, who is now an Ambassador for YJI and a judge in our annual Excellence in Journalism contest.
Nicole, a photographer, recently described what involvement YJI meant for her:
“It was a major stepping stone in keeping me focused throughout my tertiary education, and help me attain my Bachelor of Arts degree, double majoring in Media and Marketing,” she wrote. “YJI gave me the foundation I needed in my academic writing, and it all stemmed from me joining when I was in first year.
For their Durban event, the Gounders made lovely cupcakes, curry and other treats, some of them in YJI’s signature colors.
Nicole Megan Gounder / youthjournalism.org
Baking the cupcakes in YJI colors for the Durban party

Nicole Megan Gounder / youthjournalism.org
Curry at the party in Durban!
Nicole Megan Gounder / youthjournalism.org
Handsome Durban reveler
models a YJI hat.
Nicole Megan Gounder / youthjournalism.org
A rainy day didn't dampen the party spirits in Durban.
Nicole Megan Gounder / youthjournalism.org
In Durban, there was plenty of YJI support!
Nicole Megan Gounder / youthjournalism.org
YJI colors inside the cake above, in Durban, and the cake pops, below.
Artist Joe Bun Keo co-hosted the Connecticut event.

A world away in Connecticut, YJI co-founders Steve Collins and Jackie Majerus and alum Joe Bun Keo, also a YJI Ambassador and contest judge who has been part of the YJI family since he was a high school freshman in 2001, hosted an event together.
Partying for YJI in Connecticut

Having a good time in Connecticut

"YJI transcends journalism, it is the purest form of open communication,” said Joe, an artist who is active in the Hartford area arts community.
“I had great conversations with individuals who were involved with teaching the deaf and educating the impoverished. YJI is a global hub. I felt like I was travelling the world within words, light snacks and drinks," Joe said. "YJI is social networking at a level where mobile devices can be put aside for handshakes and hugs. A YJI party is a time to make lifetime connections."
Two-footed creatures and four-footed creatures enjoyed the Connecticut event.

The Connecticut event included a variety of food from different parts of the world.
Relaxing at the Connecticut party with co-founders Steve, left, and Jackie, center.
Jackie said, “We had a great time talking about YJI with friends who didn’t know much about it, and making some new connections, too.”
A few days later, Edrees Kakar, a YJI alum who serves on the organization’s board of directors, held his own YJI gathering in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Edrees Kakar, center, hosted a YJI event in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Best of all, there are more parties in the works.
“We’re thrilled that we’ve already had events on three continents,” said Steve. “It’s wonderful that our alums got the party started. It’s the beginning of a great new tradition for YJI.”