Blogs

'Ghost Punk' Alive and Well in Brooklyn

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 1:40 PM EST
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My infatuation for the week? Brooklyn's noisy, three-piece band These Are Powers. Their 2007 Hoss Records debut, Terrific Seasons, is loud and creepy, and I mean that in a good way.

The band describes their sound as "ghost punk," I'm guessing because the music is intense, dark, and ominous, and influenced by (as they put it) spiritual mysticism, supernatural phenomena, and the prophecies of a UFO-obsessed cab driver. They also call their sound "future primitive" (whatever that means), which, combined with incomprehensible echo-heavy vocals, make this album sound like background music for a chase scene in a bizarre horror flick.

I can see how that might sound awful, but it's not. It's mesmerizing; and probably best seen live, if these video clips are any indication. Try to imagine a combination of early Sonic Youth mixed with some Bauhaus and a lot of sarcasm.

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Now I Feel Dumb For Actually Paying For the Radiohead Album

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 1:40 PM EST

In Rainbows

And those British Pounds are like real money and stuff. As everybody who has internet access knows, Radiohead recently released their latest album In Rainbows as a digital download via their own website, allowing buyers to name their own price. While the band themselves still aren't talking about how many people downloaded the album (or how much they paid), a consumer research firm did a study and found that a large majority paid, well, zip:

Some 62 percent of the people who downloaded "In Rainbows" in a four- week period last month opted not to pay the British alt-rockers a cent. But the remaining 38 percent voluntarily paid an average of $6, according to the study by comScore Inc. …The results of the study were drawn from data gathered from a few hundred people who are part of comScore's database of 2 million computer users worldwide. The firm, which has permission to monitor the computer users' online behavior, did not provide a margin of error for the study's results.

Interestingly, the percentage of American fans who paid at all was slightly higher than the non-U.S. average (40% to 36%), and amusingly, the average amount paid by people who did pay was way higher in the U.S., $8.05 compared to $4.64 outside the U.S. I'm going to take a guess the exchange rate came into play there: I bet there were quite a few fans like myself whose casual entering of a number that seemed like a nice compromise—say, £5—were in for a bit of a shock when their credit card bill came back saying that turned out to be $10.43. Even those of us with impending European tours who are keeping their eye on the now-so-low-it's-barely-visible dollar (€1.46 today!!) (er, wait, I mean, €1 is $1.46 today. See this is part of the problem right here, Americans can't do math) succumbed to mathematical habit; I mean, paying somebody 3 of anything for an album just seems mean, even though £3 is like $6.25, which isn't bad for ten 160kbps mp3s from a band who doesn't need the money. Ah well, consider it my contribution towards the downfall of the record industry.

Sam Brownback Endorses John McCain

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 1:04 PM EST

As you can tell, lots of activity amongst the Religious Right today. Just got an email from the McCain campaign confirming the Brownback endorsement. Here's some of the text from the Kansas Senator and leading social conservative.

[John McCain] is the only candidate who can rally the Reagan coalition of conservatives, Independents, and conservative Democrats needed to defeat Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat in the general election next year... While I respect all of the Republicans running for president this year, John McCain is the only choice to lead our country in the global fight against Islamic fundamentalism...John McCain also represents the values that are the core of our Republican party. He has spent a lifetime standing up for human rights around the world, including a consistent 24 year pro-life record of protecting the rights of the unborn.

This is surprising. McCain has little to no support amongst Brownback's base, Christian evangelicals. He took 1.4 percent of the vote in a straw poll of that subgroup in October. Will Brownback's endorsement boost that number? I'm skeptical.

If McCain is the winner here, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are the losers. I said when Brownback dropped out of the presidential race that the biggest beneficiary was Huckabee, the Arkansas Governor, because Brownback's departure made Huckabee the only remaining social conservative in the race. I guess that didn't matter to Brownback. Nor did the fact that Mitt Romney is all about family. Who knows with the Republicans this year?

With Robertson, Giuliani Wins the Nutcase Primary?

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 12:28 PM EST

What a day for Rudy Giuliani. After Mitt Romney was recently endorsed by Paul Weyrich, a founding father of the religious right (and the Heritage Foundation) and John McCain got the thumbs up from Senator Sam Brownback, a social conservative champion, Giuliani nabbed one of the biggest fish in the Christian right ocean: Pat Robertson. And unlike Brownback or Weyrich, Robertson has a television network.

By accepting Robertson's big wet kiss, Giuliani is excusing (or tolerating) Robertson's long record of religious bigotry. As I wrote back in 2000 when Robertson endorsed George W. Bush, Robertson once

said Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists represent "the spirit of the Antichrist." He also maintained that "liberal Jews" were mounting "an ongoing attempt to undermine the public strength of Christianity." He has repeatedly called Hinduism "devil worship."

Media Matters also has kept track of Robertson's rhetoric of bigotry.

But there's something else about Robertson: He is nutty. I'm not merely referring to his belief that God sent a hurricane toward Disney World because the theme park had held a Gay Day. His conspiratorial view of global politics is--how to put it?--insane. He once claimed that President George H.W. Bush was doing the bidding of Satan. Literally. Here's how I described it years ago:

In 1992, Robertson published a bizarre book called "The New World Order." In this barely coherent tract, Robertson claimed there was a global (if elusive) conspiracy involving the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, other policy elites, secret societies and New Agers.
The goal of this nefarious coalition was to impose a new world order that would wipe out national sovereignty, foment a "complete redistribution of wealth," and bring about the "elimination of Christianity." The key to penetrating the plot, Robertson argued, was to see that the Gulf War [of 1991] that had been waged and won by President Bush was, in fact, "a setup."

Turkey, Iraq: Border Trade to the Rescue?

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 11:52 AM EST

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Turkish oil trucks awaiting entry into Iraqi Kurdistan.


This morning's New York Times includes an excellent piece by Richard A. Oppel, Jr., reminding us that things are not always as they appear. Oppel reports from Dohuk, the largest city in western Iraqi Kurdistan, where rising economic prosperity (much of it based on proximity to Turkey) might prevent full-scale war. From reading press reports, one might believe that Turkey and Iraq are on the edge of a catastrophe. Responding to recent attacks on its soldiers by members of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that enjoys sanctuary in the mountains of northern Iraq, Turkey has massed tens of thousands of troops along the border. The Turkish Parliament has already granted its approval for the military to cross over in pursuit of PKK rebels. For their part, Iraqi Kurdish leaders are positioning Kurdish peshmerga fighters to meet Turkish troops. War, it would seem, is only a matter of time.

Technological TMI

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 11:48 AM EST

Wanna know how many calories sex with the hubby, versus sex with the mailman, burns?

Over at Slate, Amanda Schaefer tried out a gadget that allowed her to incessantly track exactly how her body was responding to food and exercise. As if we weren't self-absorbed and techno-obsessed enough. Those of us with low self esteem and border line OCD might do best to steer clear:

This week, I discovered how many calories I burn climbing stairs, riding trains, sleeping, and having sex. The data come courtesy of a plastic device called the bodybugg, which is currently strapped to the underside of my right arm, like an oversized ladybug about to nuzzle the armpit. The bodybugg is designed to measure the number of calories burned minute by minute over the course of a day, in order to help people lose weight (or gain—it's apparently popular with bodybuilders).
Bodybugg is part of a new wave of personal monitoring gadgets that promise to track various aspects of our health, fitness, or risk of disease. Nike + iPod, for instance, uses sensors in sneakers to track a runner's time, distance, and calories burned. An experimental alarm clock works with a headband that monitors sleep stages, promising to wake you up in a lighter phase so you feel less groggy. A specialty shirt, currently in clinical trials in Europe, is packed with sensors that monitor heart rate and breathing. A toilet now on the market in Japan tests urine streams for glucose, gathering data that could be used to monitor diabetes. These gadgets threaten to serve up more data than we know what to do with, not to mention make us ever more self-absorbed. But they also dangle the hope of better understanding and better health. What's it like to spy on one's own body 24/7? I decided to find out.

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Irrelevant Pat Robertson Endorses Rudy Giuliani

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 11:40 AM EST

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Not only is it incredibly weird that socially conservative Pat Roberston is endorsing the socially liberal Rudy Giuliani, it's weird that Giuliani would accept Robertson's endorsement. Robertson, after all, said that people like Giuliani were responsible for 9/11, an event close to Giuliani's heart. Remember this?

JERRY FALWELL: The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'.
PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur.

What is it about the right that allows them to embrace nutjobs who say horribly offensive things long past the point they lose touch with reality?

Anyway, the Robertson endorsement is big for Giuliani, because it shows that some evangelicals, instead of abandoning the Republican Party if Giuliani gets the nod, are willing to support the former Mayor because of his perceived strengths on national security and his record in New York.

More after the jump...

Men Will Be Fathers

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 11:26 AM EST

A federal appeals court has dismissed, as frivolous, the "Rowe v. Wade for Men" test case. It was:

... filed by a men's rights group on behalf of a man who said he shouldn't have to pay child support for his ex-girlfriend's daughter. [Matthew] Dubay, 25, had said ex-girlfriend Lauren Wells knew he didn't want to have a child and assured him repeatedly she couldn't get pregnant because of a medical condition. He argued that if a pregnant woman can choose among abortion, adoption or raising a child, a man involved in an unintended pregnancy should have the choice of declining the financial responsibilities of fatherhood. U.S. District Judge David Lawson in Bay City disagreed, rejecting Dubay's argument that Michigan's paternity law violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause because it didn't extend reproductive rights to men.

Isn't "his ex-girlfriend's daughter" also his daughter?

It's indefensible that some woman get pregnant on the sly or are simply half-assed about birth control, but it's also indefensible to make women solely responsible for birth control and the support of child, however planned or unplanned. If there was some way to make the laggard solely liable for the emotional and financial well being of the innocent child which results, fine. But there isn't. I feel for men who become unintentional fathers or whose partners chose abortion over their objections. Among the many reasons I'm glad I'm a woman is the control I have, and fiercely exercise, over my reproductive life. Still, my concern for unwilling fathers is levened by the fact that they could have put as much energy into getting a condom and some foam involved as they do their penises. If you can't pull off the former, but can the latter, go into it knowing you're playing Russian Roulette. The court got this one right:

State courts have ruled in the past that any inequity experienced by men like Dubay is outweighed by society's interest in ensuring that children get financial support from two parents.

Do we really have another alternative?

OSHA: Where Good Laws Go To Die

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 10:16 AM EST

sherron_watkins_gal.jpg In 2002, when Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley act to tighten up corporate governance standards in the wake of Enron, it included a measure to protect and encourage corporate whistleblowers, people like Enron's Sherron Watkins. Business grudgingly accepted the law, while reformers like Taxpayers Against Fraud called the statute "the single most effective measure possible to prevent recurrences of the Enron debacle and similar threats to the nation's financial markets."

Apparently, though, the reformers didn't read the fine print: Big business groups managed to get enforcement of the new law vested with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a notoriously toothless agency in the Labor Department. Not surprisingly, OSHA hasn't given whistleblowers any more protection than it has to poor workers in meatpacking plants.

In a new law review article out this fall, University of Nebraska professor Richard Moberly calculates that in the first three years after Sarbanes-Oxley, only 13 out of 491 employees who filed complaints with OSHA found any sort of relief for their claims of retaliation and other repercussions resulting from blowing the whistle. Only six succeeded on appeal. Moberly concludes that, among other things, OSHA has no idea what it's doing and that—surprise—even if it did, the agency was underfunded and couldn't really handle the workload. The whistleblower provision is one of those great examples of big business touting its commitment to reform by supporting a tough new law while virtually ensuring that it will never actually have to reform anything.

"I Can Be President": Fake Signs at the Clinton Campaign?

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 11:32 PM EST

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You see some weird things on the campaign trail. The other day, I was walking through a Holiday Inn when I stumbled upon Bill Richardson and John Edwards working out in the same exercise room, no more than ten feet apart, staring straight ahead and not speaking. Talk about a "Welcome to Iowa" moment.

Another thing I've seen, and this is probably unique to Iowa, not campaign trails everywhere, is roadkill. I don't mean that in any figurative sense. I don't mean the best intentions of the Founding Fathers have been turned into roadkill by the vulgarity and corruption of modern American politics. I mean dead animals with their carcasses on the shoulder and their blood splattered all over the highway. Never have I seen so many dead animals, nor dead animals so large, nor so much blood on the road. It's like someone is playing a game of Grand Theft Auto on Iowa's highway system.

How's that for insightful political commentary?

But today at a Hillary Clinton campaign stop (I've got an article on my experiences with the Clinton campaign coming out tomorrow), I saw something that might take the cake. The Clinton campaign has pre-made signs that have the words "I Can Be President" written on them in a sloppy, childlike script. The signs are all written with red and blue paint, and all of them appear to be painted in the same hand. At today's event in a weird fake barn, I saw a staffer holding one, a woman in the audience holding one, and two more sitting along the wall.

My suspicion is that the signs are made by the campaign staff and are intended to be handed out to adorable five-year-old girls who then sit in the crowd or behind the senator during events, to make sure the networks get a camerafull of the hope Clinton's campaign inspires in young girls across America. The signs may be made to look childlike so it appears supporters brought the signs from home. Except when no young girls show up to your event (as none did today), you're stuck with pre-made signs sitting along the wall.

Political reporters are so ho-hum about the artifice of campaigns that not one seemed to care or even notice.

The one sign that made it's way into the hands of an audience member is visible in the photo above. The senator's head is the white dot in the middle of the shot.