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Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - 8/13/07

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 12:07 AM EDT

This week, lilting Europop seems to be the theme, sort of. Northern climes represented include the lovely Sweden and the dashing Denmark! But there's other stuff here too: mopey indie rock, ribald hip-hop, and zoomy techno. Come to think of it you can probably just read last week's.

mojo-photo-guzman.JPG10. Isabel Guzman – "When You Were My Friend"
(listen on her MySpace page)
The first of two Swedish women with snazzy hairdos on the Top Ten this week, Guzman is the up-and-comer, and her voice has a deep, almost guttural quality; mostly, though, this song is about the flawless dance-pop production. Like the best of Madonna, it manages to grab all the latest, coolest effects from electronic music and put them to good use.

mojo-cover-brunettes.JPG9. The Brunettes – "Small Town Crew" (from Structure & Cosmetics on Sub Pop) (mp3 via the Sub Pop site)
This New Zealand duo have been described as "twee," but it seems to apply only in the best possible sense: delicate, sparkling acoustic pop, with the barest waftings of melancholy. But then the lyrics take a darker twist ("if only I could have you here/I'd love to smack you around the room") and the instrumentation fills out, giving the song a cinematic feel.

mojo-cover-juniorsenior.JPG8. Junior Senior – "Can I Get Get Get" (from Hey Hey My My Yo Yo, out 8/14 on EMI)
(mp3 via You Ain't No Picasso)
While the exuberance of 2003's "Don't Stop" may have settled down a bit, the infectious Jackson 5-style grooves are still in effect. The rhymes are a little silly… and I just had the realization that Junior Senior might be the Flight of the Conchords of Denmark, which actually makes me like them a little more.

mojo-cover-newyoungponyclub.JPG7. New Young Pony Club – "The Get Go" (from Fantastic Playroom on Modular)
(grab an mp3 at Cause=Time)
I have to admit, I wrote this London combo off after getting sick of their omnipresent first single, "Ice Cream" (seen any Intel commercials lately?) but it turns out they have a lot more to offer, and a much deeper understanding of post-punk possibilities. This song features a Joy Division-reminscent bassline, but a more mellow, straightforward dance beat—unlike fellow Brits Klaxons or Bloc Party, NYPC aren't afraid to groove.

mojo-photo-50cent.jpg6. 50 Cent w/ Justin Timberlake – "AYO Technology" (from Curtis, out 9/11 on Interscope) (buy it at iTunes)
So much trouble! First there's all the delays with the album release date, and 50's, um, anger management issues . This single was originally so explicit that the label refused to release it, and it's still pretty, um, ribald, but whatever: Timbaland outdoes himself on production once again. While a syrupy-slow beat counts time, what sounds like an old Nintendo jacked up on too much juice goes mental with blippy hyperspeed arpeggios. Have I asked for Timbo to get a MacArthur genius grant yet? Well, I assume he doesn't need it.

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Baghdad Beautifies Its Blast Walls

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 10:39 PM EDT

Dozens of Iraqi artists have been painting murals along miles of concrete blast walls throughout Baghdad, and the American military is paying a portion of the bill. To learn more, read this post on Mother Jones' arts and culture blog, The Riff.

Baghdad Beautifies Its Blast Walls

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 10:38 PM EDT
baghdad_wall.jpg

Dozens of Iraqi artists have been painting murals along miles of concrete blast walls throughout Baghdad. The artwork is an attempt to beautify 12-foot high structures designed to protect buildings from truck bombs and insurgent attacks. The walls have also been the source of intense debate because they divide the city into Sunni and Shiite areas.

Parts of the walls are now adorned with artistic renderings of kings, queens, warriors, ancient writings, and other references to ancient Mesopotamian civilization.

Financed by the American military, Iraq's Ministry of Works and Social Affairs, and aid organizations, artists are making about $15 a day for their work. They named themselves "Jamaat al-Jidaar," which means "The Wall Group."

Avenues for creative expression are difficult to come by for Iraqi artists. Some have resorted to painting renditions of wedding and baby photos of American troops, or have simply fled the country. For the artists still there, the blast walls are a chance at steady income and the opportunity to create art on structures that, once demolished, will be cause for celebration.

Rising Temps Will Stunt Rainforests

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 8:44 PM EDT

In case you think the climate naysayers trotting out their tired 10-year-old studies are in the forefront of science — this is for you. Just one example of the overwhelming quantity and quality of science being published on the many facets of climate change. A new study in the prestigious journal Nature finds that global warming could cut the rate at which trees in tropical rainforests grow by as much as half. This is based on more than two decades' worth of data from forests in Panama and Malaysia. The effect has so far been largely overlooked by climate modellers, and it could severely erode or even remove the ability of tropical rainforests to remove carbon dioxide from the air. Rising temperatures have reduced growth rates by up to 50% in the two rainforests, both of which experienced climate warming above the world average over the past few decades. If other rainforests follow suit, the pristine Amazon could conceivably stop storing as much carbon. This would be bad for all of us, no matter where we live. JULIA WHITTY

Butterflies Suffering From Changing Climate

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 8:10 PM EDT

Well, this is sad news. Expanding forests in the Canadian Rocky Mountains are slowly isolating groups of alpine butterflies from each other. A new study from the University of Alberta suggests this isolation may lead to the extinction of some species. Global warming is raising the altitude of treeline, and this problem is exacerbated by a policy not to initiate prescribed burns for forest management. Consequently, meadow-loving butterflies, such as the Apollo, are suffering, as forests encroach on mountain meadows. "The risk of local extinction and inbreeding depression will increase as meadows shrink, the population sizes decrease and the populations become more isolated," said Jens Roland, lead author. "The gene pool of this species is getting more and more fragmented, and gene flow is reduced, which means these populations are more vulnerable." One particularly cold winter or summer season may be enough to wipe out an entire meadow of Apollo. The paper appears in today's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. JULIA WHITTY

New Jose Gonzalez Video Inspired By Jim Woodring

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 7:18 PM EDT

I posted a link to a new Jose González track last Monday at the top of my Top Ten, and now a video is making the internet rounds for another new song, "Down the Line."

The video, directed by Andreas Nillson, is apparently part of this "sins" theme González has described as providing fodder for the upcoming album, In Our Nature, and Nillson's video makes the connection sort of explicit. In it, a pig-man creation does a lot of (mostly) humdrum things; I guess we're all pigs, is the point? The porcine fellow was, it turns out, inspired by Manhog, a far more compelling comic creation of Seattle artist Jim Woodring.

mojo-photo-manhog.JPGWoodring's work hurts my head, but I can't look away. While Manhog's unlucky adventures in his surreal world are noteworthy, he's not even the most affecting aspect of these stories, of which the word "comics" seems unworthy. Souls become visible, toaster-shaped pets save your life, and the universe is a terrifying, beautiful riot of life and color, all seen through the innocent eyes of Frank, a Sylvester-like cat seemingly brought in from some other comic strip. The wordless panels are often funny, but more often deeply disturbing, so I hesitate to recommend them without a caveat—maybe have a close friend nearby the first time you open one of his books?

Check out Woodring's blog here, and don't say I didn't warn you.

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Jose Padilla Trial: Dirty Bomb, What Dirty Bomb?

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 6:00 PM EDT

The government concluded its case against Jose Padilla today. Gone is any real talk of the dirty bomb that Attorney General John Ashcroft made such a splash with just as the administration was taking heat from the 9/11 Commission for ignoring the warnings of Coleen Rowley and others (go to our Iraq War Timeline and look at June 2002). After spending 3 1/2 years in solitary confinement without access to an attorney, Padilla's been charged with attending an Al Qaeda terror camp, and thus being part of a conspiracy to murder. Via Reuters:

The main evidence against Padilla is what the government calls an al Qaeda application form bearing his fingerprints, birthdate and similar background. It was recovered in Afghanistan and says the author speaks English, Spanish and Arabic, graduated from high school and trained as a carpenter, as Padilla did.
It used a name prosecutors contend was Padilla's alias, and lists as his sponsor a man whose name was in Padilla's address book when he was arrested.
Padilla's defense is expected to argue his fingerprints could have got on the form when investigators handed it to him to examine after his arrest.

Attention trilingual journeymen carpenters everywhere: Watch your back! Now Padilla may have been an Al Qaeda wannabe or even the real deal. But it seems unlikely we'll ever get to the bottom of that given that

Padilla was held without charge for 3-1/2 years before being indicted in a civilian court in November 2005 on charges that do not mention any bomb plot. The bomb allegations came from alleged al Qaeda operatives who have said they were tortured during interrogation before being sent to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Anything Padilla might have told interrogators in the military brig about such a plot would be inadmissible because he was denied access to an attorney for most of the time he was there.

Just an update from the war on terror. You can find all of Mother Jones' extensive coverage of the Padilla case here.

Rove a Genius? Please

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 5:40 PM EDT

In light of the big retirement announcement, the media has spent the day gushing over Karl Rove. But it's worth asking some tough questions. Besides the fact that he got an intellectual lightweight with no particular qualifications for the office elected to the presidency, what has Karl Rove done? That is, what will he be remembered for post-2000? Andrew Sullivan takes a crack:

The man's legacy is a conservative movement largely discredited and disunited, a president with lower consistent approval ratings than any in modern history, a generational shift to the Democrats, a resurgent al Qaeda, an endless catastrophe in Iraq, a long hard struggle in Afghanistan, a fiscal legacy that means bankrupting America within a decade, and the poisoning of American religion with politics and vice-versa.

Too much blame? One could argue that Rove always got too much credit, and this is simply the flip side of the coin. Regardless, there's no way to spin this man's legacy as a success. Sullivan's not done. "Rove is one of the worst political strategists in recent times," he writes. "He took a chance to realign the country and to unite it in a war — and threw it away in a binge of hate-filled niche campaigning, polarization and short-term expediency." Conservatism is not entrenched in the American identity, as Rove had intended. It is a dying breed in many parts of the country, and increasingly unpopular even in its former strongholds.

Dan Froomkin of the Post agrees, writing that Rove "leaves his party in worse shape than he found it, with his boss profoundly discredited in the eyes of the American people." Froomkin also writes that part of the blame for this failed administration will "accrue to Rove for choosing to use national security as a wedge issue."

And that's the key point. Rove, a campaigner, was handed the keys to the White House car in every instance. Remember when faith-based initiatives czar John DiIulio resigned in disgust and said, "What you've got is everything and I mean everything being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis"? When you actually govern with the exclusive aim of building partisan advantage, you are inevitably headed for disaster. The United States of America's priorities are not the same as the GOP's priorities, and while the goal of the presidency is to further the former, this administration was always interested in the latter. Throw in hubris, incompetency, and an obstinate unwillingness to hear outside views, and you've got one of the worst presidencies in the history of the Republic. Quite a genius, that Karl.

rove_bush_old300.gif

Photo courtesy of Time, where they've captured Rove through the ages.

Late update: Not surprisingly, Harold Meyerson agrees with me.

[Rove] and Bush overlooked the epochal growth of economic insecurity in America. They refused to see that the very economic changes they celebrated had made Americans understandably nervous and pessimistic to an unprecedented extent about the nation's long-term economic prospects. And so, as employers were abandoning their provision of retirement benefits to employees, Bush and Rove called for abandoning the government's commitment as well. At a time when ordinary Americans' incomes were stagnating, and when growing numbers of Americans understood that they were in some nebulous competition with millions of lower-paid workers in other lands that the government seemed powerless to mitigate, Bush and Rove proposed legalizing the undocumented immigrants who had flowed across the border.
Could there have been a more profound misreading of the American temper?

Public Enemy Want You to Sell Their New Album

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 3:25 PM EDT

mojo-photo-publicenemy.JPG
Seminal hip-hop group Public Enemy will make their new, unfortunately-titled album, How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Have Sold Their Soul, available, um, for sale, on personal home pages and profiles, as well as independent online stores. No word on whether those sites will themselves be soulless. CMJ reports the band will utilize online "music broker" Musicane, which apparently lets fans participate in distributing digital material, receiving a commission for their trouble. A quick perusal of the Musicane website shows material by Jason Mraz and Henry Rollins; the latter, for instance, offers a six-part spoken word album, "Eric the Pilot," for $4.99, and the opportunity to "resell this product and make 10%."

Public Enemy's new album has received mixed reviews at best; remember, all their ground-breaking work came between 1987 and 1991, a brief but overwhelmingly intense blast of brilliance and creativity that seemed both inextricably linked to its historical moment and too good to last. By their 1994 album, Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age, they'd already ceased to be relevant, musically or politically. But how hilarious was the Comedy Central roast of Flavor Flav this weekend? I love roasts.

Istanbul Collision Foreshadows Worse to Come

| Mon Aug. 13, 2007 12:31 PM EDT

According to news reports (here and here), a Turkish passenger ferry has collided with a Ukrainian-flagged cargo ship in the Marmara Sea, off the coast of Istanbul. Passengers sustained minor injuries, and according to Turkish authorities, maritime traffic in the nearby Bosporus Straight was unaffected. End of story? Not quite.

I traveled to Istanbul in 2005, in part to investigate the growing weight of international maritime shipping through the Bosporus, which runs through the heart of the city and divides it between Europe and Asia. Whatever might be said of today's accident in the Marmara, we should expect worse.

The Bosporus, which connects the Marmara Sea in the south to the Black Sea in the north, is among the most difficult stretches of water in the world for ship captains to navigate. During any given passage, they must execute about a dozen significant changes of course to avoid slamming into Istanbul's heavily populated shores. Strong and unpredictable currents can push and pull ships off course. Sudden dense fog and blinding rains are common.

The tankers that face these hazards are some of the oldest and worst maintained currently afloat. Recent oil spills off the coasts of France and Spain have caused European countries to tighten their controls. Many of the older ships that cannot meet the new standards have been shunted off to poorer, less developed countries, like those that line the shores of the Black Sea. The average oil tanker based there is now over twenty years old, more than twice the average age of similar vessels working out of European and American ports.

As these tankers pass the Bosporus, they are forced to play dangerous games of chicken with countless numbers of smaller merchant ships, passenger ferries, commercial fishing boats, naval and coast guard vessels, and leisure craft that crowd the Bosporus on a typical day. To many of the people of Istanbul, the constant presence of crude-laden tankers just offshore is barely worth a second thought. To be sure, there are occasional protests, including an annual demonstration by local environmental groups that fills the strait with small boats and prevents tankers from passing for a few hours. But overall, the city seems fairly resigned to its fate, placing its trust in the hands of foreign captains working for foreign companies under foreign flags. To visitors, too, the ships are less objects of concern than part of Istanbul's exotic charm, a constant reminder of the city's unique place in the world.

But tankers are not decorations; they are complex machines, and like all such things, they are prone to failure, often catastrophic failure. They explode. They run aground. They collide with other ships. They lose their steering and strike businesses and houses on the tightly crowded shore, killing or maiming the people inside. Or they do some combination of these things. The list of possible failures doubles as a virtual catalogue of accidents that have actually occurred on the Bosporus in recent years. As traffic grows more intense, so too does the risk of more and perhaps more serious accidents.