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Motown's First No. 1 Hit, "Please Mr. Postman," Released 53 Years Ago

| Thu Aug. 21, 2014 6:01 AM EDT

The knockout girl group song "Please Mr. Postman," by the Marvelettes was released on August 21, 1961. Later in the year it went on to become the first Motown single to hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.

 

Motown wouldn't hit the #1 position again until 1963, when Little Stevie Wonder's "Fingertips, Pt. 2" reached the top. From that point on, Motown was a non-stop hit machine with at least one #1 hit on the charts each year through 1974. 1970 proved to be Motown's best year–they dominated Billboard with seven top hits.

The Marvelettes followed "Please Mr. Postman" with "Twistin' Postman," in an effort to cash in on their own song and the popularity of "The Twist." That song hit #34 on the pop charts, and was followed by their bigger hits "Playboy" and the current oldies radio staple "Beechwood 4-5789." Like a lot of groups of the era, the Marvelettes had a hard time cracking the charts once the British Invasion hit States.

 

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Should Pregnant Women Eat Zero Tuna?

| Thu Aug. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Food-safety experts at Consumer Reports crunched the numbers on mercury levels in seafood—and they have a new recommendation for pregnant women: Don't eat tuna at all.

The FDA recommends that pregnant and nursing women consume between 8 and 12 ounces of fish per week to provide proper nutrition for a baby's brain development and overall health. But some fish are very high in mercury, a neurotoxin that can lead to serious cognitive problems and birth defects in children and babies. And the mercury levels in oceans are rising—humans have tripled the mercury content in oceans since the Industrial Revolution—leading to further mercury absorption by predators like tuna.

Consumer Reports provides charts to help curb mercury levels during fish consumption. Courtesy of Consumer Reports

A team at the Consumer Reports National Research Center analyzed data from the Food and Drug Administration's chart on mercury levels in seafood and determined that consuming 6 ounces of albacore tuna in a week—the level recommended as safe by the FDA for pregnant women—would put a 125-pound woman over the Environmental Protection Agency's "safe" mercury threshold by more than two ounces.

Canned light tuna is thought to offer a lower mercury tuna option, but 20 percent of the FDA's samples of it contained almost double the average level of mercury that it's supposed to. Some samples had more mercury than the king mackerel—one of the FDA's top four high-in-mercury fish—which the agency advises pregnant women and children to avoid. Canned tuna constitutes the second most frequently consumed seafood product in the United States.

Some experts like Deborah Rice, a former senior risk assessor for the EPA, think that research since 2001 suggests that there is "no question" that the FDA and EPA's current limit for mercury consumption is "too high," she told Consumer Reports. The magazine is urging the FDA and EPA to recommend that pregnant women avoid eating any tuna—and to provide more safety information concerning tuna for pregnant women, children and people who eat a lot of fish (24 ounces of fish, around seven servings, or more per week).

Gun-Pointing Cop Who Threatened to Kill Ferguson Protesters Is Suspended

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 7:13 PM EDT
Police point guns at protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, early Wednesday morning.

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri, were relatively calm yesterday, especially compared to previous nights where heavily armed police have responded to protests with tear gas and arrests. But there was at least one police officer who took things a little too far. In this video, an unidentified officer points a rifle at journalists and others walking in the street and warns, "I'll fucking kill you." (NSFW language in the clip.)


Somebody off-camera asks for his name and the officer replies, "Go fuck yourself." Soon afterward, a county police sergeant comes and ushers the officer away. Earlier today the ACLU asked for the officer to be removed from Ferguson. The St. Louis County Police Department has announced that the officer has been suspended, according to the Washington Post:

Housekeeping Note

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 3:28 PM EDT

That's it for the day. I'm off to the hospital for yet another test that will undoubtedly show nothing wrong with me. But you don't know until you look, do you? See you tomorrow.

Do Liberals Rely Too Much on Guilt?

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 2:05 PM EDT

Tim F. makes an observation:

Spend some time following internet conversations about your liberal cause of the day (global warming, racial injustice, etc) and eventually someone will get to the nut of why the issue pisses many people off: they think activists want them to feel guilty and they don’t want to feel guilty. That’s pretty much it. A huge part of our failure to do anything about the climate disaster or racist asshole cops comes from people protecting their delicate ego.

Yep. But I'd take this a little more seriously, because it's probably something that genuinely hurts lefty causes. It's human nature to get defensive when you feel guilty, and it's hard to recruit defensive folks to your cause. If this were only an occasional problem, that would be one thing. But let's be honest: We really do rely on guilt a lot. You should feel guilty about using plastic bags. About liking college football. About driving an SUV. About eating factory-farmed beef. About using the wrong word to refer to a transgender person. About sending your kids to a private school. And on and on and on.

We all contribute to this, even when we don't mean to. And maybe guilt is inevitable when you're trying to change people's behavior. But it adds up, and over time lefties can get to seem a little unbearable. You have to be so damn careful around us!

I don't really have any useful advice about this. Maybe there's nothing much to be done about it. But egos, delicate or otherwise, are just a part of the human condition. We ignore them at our peril.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 20, 2014

Wed Aug. 20, 2014 1:40 PM EDT

After a training mission, F-15 Eagles of the US Air Force fly over wildland fires in Southern Oregon. (High-G Productions photo by Jim "Hazy" Hazeltine.)

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Let Us Now Psychoanalyze Famous Men (And Their Photographs)

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 12:12 PM EDT

Bob Somerby calls my attention to the following bit of psychobabble from Peter Baker and Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times. The subject is a photo released by the White House:

Mr. Holder, 63, is the one leaning forward, both in the photograph released by the White House and on the issues underlying the crisis in Ferguson, Mo. A child of the civil rights era, he grew up shaped by the images of violence in Selma, Ala., and joined sit-ins at Columbia University where protesters renamed an office after Malcolm X. Now in high office, he pushes for policy changes and is to fly on Wednesday to Ferguson to personally promise justice in the case of a black teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer.

Mr. Obama, 53, is the one seemingly holding back in the White House photograph, contemplative, even brooding, as if seeking to understand how events could get so out of hand. He was too young and removed to experience the turmoil of the 1960s, growing up in a multiracial household in Hawaii and Indonesia. As he now seeks balance in an unbalanced time, he wrestles with the ghosts of history that his landmark election, however heady, failed to exorcise.

Seriously? Take a look at other photographs of Obama when he's conferring with someone. Take a look at other photographs of any powerful person when they're conferring with an underling. The boss is the one who's free to lounge back and relax. The underling is the one who has to lean forward and make his case. This is standard body language. Obama uses it so often that in just the August "Photo of the Day" gallery alone, I count it in three out of four photos where Obama is conferring with other people.

Look, I've been there. You want to say something interesting. You need a hook. But come on. If you want to make the case that racial issues are more immediate for Holder than for Obama, go ahead. But don't pretend that a bog ordinary White House photograph tells you anything. That's just embarrassing. Before long you'll be hiring body language "experts" and handwriting "analysts" to help you with your leads. Here be dragons.

Barack Obama Loathes Congress as Much as You Do

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 10:56 AM EDT

Ezra Klein responds to a New York Times article about President Obama's chilly relationship with his fellow Democrats:

Obama does see socializing with Hill Democrats as a chore. But there's a lot that Obama sees as a chore and commits to anyway. The presidency, for all its power, is full of drudgery; there are ambassadors to swear in and fundraisers to attend and endless briefings on issues that the briefers don't even really care about. The reason Obama doesn't put more effort into stroking congressional Democrats is he sees it as a useless chore.

The Times article...never names a bill that didn't pass or a nominee who wasn't confirmed because Obama's doesn't spend more time on the golf course with members of Congress. The closest it comes is...not very close. "In interviews, nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers and senior congressional aides suggested that Mr. Obama's approach has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office."

This is ridiculous. There are no issues erupting at home or abroad where the problem is that House or Senate Democrats won't vote with the president. There's no legislation of importance to President Obama's legacy that would pass if only House Democrats had spent more time at the White House. I've listened to a lot of Democratic members of Congress complain about Obama's poor relationships on the Hill. Each time, my follow-up question is the same: "what would have passed if Obama had better relationships on the Hill?" Each time, the answer is the same: a shake of the head, and then, "nothing."

I'd probably give a little more credit to schmoozing than this. But only a very little. At the margins, there are probably times when having a good relationship with a committee chair will speed up action or provide a valuable extra vote or two on a bill or a nominee. And Obama has the perfect vehicle for doing this regularly since he loves to play golf. But for the most part Klein is right. There's very little evidence that congressional schmoozing has more than a tiny effect on things. Members of Congress vote the way they want or need to vote, and if they respond to anyone, it's to party leaders, interest groups, and fellow ideologues. In days gone by, presidents could coerce votes by working to withhold money from a district, or by agreeing to name a crony as the local postmaster, but those days are long gone. There's really very little leverage that presidents have over members of Congress these days, regardless of party.

Obama is an odd duck. It's not just that he doesn't schmooze. As near as I can tell, he has a barely concealed contempt for Congress. He doesn't really enjoy playing the political game, and not just because it's gotten so rancid in recent years. Even if Republicans were acting like a normal political party these days, I still don't think he'd enjoy it much. And yet, he spent years campaigning for the top political job in the United States. It's a little bit of a mystery, frankly.

What's in a Word: Trophy vs. Ribbon Edition

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 10:20 AM EDT

A recent poll from Reason magazine investigates the burning question of whether kids on sports teams should all get participation trophies, or whether it should only be the winners. Overall, 57 percent think only the winners should get trophies, but the detailed breakdown is kind of interesting. It turns out that society's winners generally think that only winners should get trophies. Society's also-rans tend to think everyone should be recognized.

I wonder how much of this has to do with the word trophy? For many decades, after all, the US military has awarded ribbons to anyone who participates in surface combat. This is a very egalitarian award. You don't need to have done anything special. You don't need to have won. You just need to have participated. Nobody complains about this, but then again, it's just a ribbon that shows you've been part of an actual combat action. It's not a trophy or even a medal.

So would people react the same way to giving every kid a participation ribbon? I'll bet not. No one would object. But many of them do object to trophies. It's funny how a cheap bit of gold-colored plastic stirs the passions so much, isn't it?

UPDATE: I have no personal experience with either surface combat or kids' sports. Those who do should feel free to school me in comments if I'm wrong about any of this.

UPDATE 2: Several commenters have pointed out that, in fact, participation trophies are mostly limited to very young age groups, like five-year-olds. This makes a kind of sense, since at that age winning and losing is mostly just a matter of chance anyway. Among older kids, though, the whole "participation trophy" thing is just a myth.

Is that true?

"I Pay Taxes out My Ass But They Still Harass Me": 11 Amazing Songs About Police Brutality

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Last Friday, just days after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, 29-year-old North Carolina rapper J. Cole uploaded the stirring tribute "Be Free" to his SoundCloud, dedicating it to "every young black man murdered in America." The song promptly went viral.

Protests against the shooting, and police brutality more broadly, already had been gaining steam as the police launched a highly militarized crackdown, and Cole's timely reaction—in visceral, heartfelt form—struck a chord among people who know what it's like to be profiled or harassed by law enforcement. As Cole writes in a blog post introducing the track, "That coulda been me, easily. That could have been my best friend."

Cole is hardly the only one speaking out: Artists as far and wide as Frank Ocean, Big Boi, Moby, John Legend, and Young Jeezy have taken to Twitter and the airwaves in recent days to express their dissent, and Cole is part of a long tradition of musicians who have done so in song. Here are eleven other amazing tracks on the topic of police brutality in America:

1. "Oxford Town," by Bob Dylan: Dylan wrote this tune in 1962 in response to a magazine solicitation for songs about the admission of James Meredith into the University of Mississippi, its first black student. Covered here by Richie Havens, it makes terse observations about a racist police force that don't seem too far off today: "Guns and clubs followed him down / All because his face was brown / Better get away from Oxford Town."


2. "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)," by The Rolling Stones: "You're a heartbreaker / With your .44," Mick Jagger sings of the New York police in this symphonic 1973 double-ballad from the album Goats Head Soup.


3. "Who Got the Camera?" by Ice Cube: Released on the heels of the Los Angeles riots provoked by the beating of Rodney King, Ice Cube narrates the experience of being a black motorist harassed by law enforcement. "Police gettin badder," he raps. But "if I had a camera, the shit wouldn't matter."


4. "Sound of Da Police," by KRS-ONE: "Whoop, whoop! That's the sound of the police!" goes the memorable hook off KRS-One's 1993 debut solo album, Return of the Boom Bap. "After 400 years, I've got no choices," he raps, noting the continuity between slavery and racist policing. "The overseer rode around the plantation," he raps, while "the officer is off patrolling all the nation."


5. "The Beast," by The Fugees: "Warn the town, the beast is loose," the Fugees sing over police sirens in this 1996 classic. Lauryn Hill, Pras Michel, and Wyclef Jean spit old-school rhymes from gritty "ghetto Gotham," where "I pay taxes out my ass but they still harass me."


6. "American Skin (41 Shots)," by Bruce Springsteen: "41 shots," goes the chorus to Springsteen's 2000 tribute to 23-year-old Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, shot at that many times by four NYPD officers who killed him outside his Bronx apartment in February 1999. "Well, is it a gun? Is it a knife? / Is it a wallet? This is your life," he sings, referencing the cops' purported rationale for the barrage, which began when Diallo reached for his wallet. Backed by the E Street Band, Springsteen mournfully reminds us that "You can get killed just for living in your American skin."


7. "Made You Die," by Dead Prez, Yasiin Bey, and mikeflo: Dead Prez's stic.man, consistently one of hip-hop's sharpest social commentators, opens this Trayvon Martin tribute with his characteristic community-mindedness: "Now let's put it all in perspective / Before the outrage burns out misdirected / What can we do so our community's protected?" The three other MCs join in to flow on what Bey calls a "young black world in a struggle for a survival."


8. "Don't Die," by Killer Mike: Killer Mike has long protested the corrosive effects of racist policing on black communities in his native Atlanta, where his own father was a cop. In this song off his 2012 release R.A.P. Music, Mike works through the nuances of that personal history, acknowledging that while police are often honest, working-class individuals, their institutional role can be insidious. "'Fuck tha police' is still all I gotta say," he concludes, paying homage to the NWA hit from the dawn of gangsta rap.


9. "Stand Your Ground," by Pharoahe Monch: Here Monch repurposes the name of the Florida law used to justify George Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin into a slogan for community organizers rallying in the killing's aftermath. "Get involved, get involved, get involved," the Queens rapper urges over roaring guitar riffs, soliciting support for the Martin family foundation in its effort to repeal the statutes.


10. "Amerika," by Lil Wayne: Lil Wayne is a rapper far better known for punch lines than political analysis, but he leaves the puns behind (mostly) in this somber single from last summer. In the video, riot police stand glaring in front of a flag whose stars "are never shining." Wayne's "Amerika" is a blighted landscape of foreclosed homes and teargas for which he modifies the patriotic anthem: "My country 'tis of thee / Sweet land of kill 'em all and let 'em die."


11. "Remove Ya," by Ratking: In this dance-y, grime-influenced track, the young rap experimentalists reflect on their daily experiences with cops in today's New York. The song is a upbeat call for community against adversity, featuring rapper Wiki playing off the well-circulated Nation recording of an NYPD officer's stopping and frisking a guy ("for being a fucking mutt"): "I'm a mutt, you a mutt, yeah, we some mutts." His companion Hak chimes in with memories of being arbitrarily stopped by an officer: "Hear the 'whoop whoop whoop whoop, stop don't move' / 'Hands on the hood, you gave me that look, wearing your hood.'"