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Can We Talk? The 'Cos and Black Conversation

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 4:20 PM EST

It's hard to tell whether what Bill Cosby is continuing is a crusade or a tirade, but so far, critics are voting for the second. As usual, average black folks are caught in the crossfire.

In May 2004, Cosby addressed the gala 50th commemoration of Brown v Board (full text here) in a capacity-crowded Constitution Hall in DC. Rather than celebrate the victory and its attendant successes, "America's Granddad" railed at length against a black sloth, nihilism, poor parenting and moribund morality that he believes worse than racism ever was. Here's a taste:

We cannot blame white people. White people -- white people don't live over there. They close up the shop early. The Korean ones still don't know us as well -- they stay open 24 hours....
50 percent drop out rate, I'm telling you, and people in jail, and women having children by five, six different men. Under what excuse? I want somebody to love me. And as soon as you have it, you forget to parent. Grandmother, mother, and great grandmother in the same room, raising children, and the child knows nothing about love or respect of any one of the three of them. All this child knows is "gimme, gimme, gimme." These people want to buy the friendship of a child, and the child couldn't care less. Those of us sitting out here who have gone on to some college or whatever we've done, we still fear our parents. And these people are not parenting. They're buying things for the kid -- $500 sneakers -- for what? They won't buy or spend $250 on Hooked on Phonics.

Let's just say the speech got noticed; three and a half years later, he's still pugnaciously facing off with his detractors who think Cosby is further entrenching racist stereotypes and victim-blaming. The blowback seems only to energize him.

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Livin' It Up in the Hotel Islamofascism?

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 3:56 PM EST
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The Eagles have always annoyed me ("Hotel California" ranking as the number one depressing song ever to be played at parties), but I can't let a right-wing critique of the boring 70s band go without a fight.

Warner Todd Huston this week dissed The Eagles' new album, Long Road Out of Eden, in his blog on the website NewsBusters: Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias for "attacking the integrity" of the United States and forgetting to mention the "Islamofascists trying to blow us all up" in their lyrics. Sure, it's important to be cognizant of terrorist activity, but what lyrics could possibly rhyme with the word "islamofascism?"

First of all, since when do we expect concise political commentary from The Eagles? Personally, the band's songs are more likely to conjure up yawns from me than activism. Second of all, why is Huston wasting almost 2,000 words on an essay dissing a laid-back, folk-rock-pop band that hasn't released a studio album in 28 years? Surely there are other bands, artists, and organizations out there with much more influence and a bigger following who are much more worthy of some conservative backlash.

Bipartisan Effort To Strengthen War Powers Act

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 3:40 PM EST

A bipartisan group of six congressmen—Jones (R-NC), Delahunt (D-MA), Abercrombie (D-HI), Brady (D-PA), Gilchrest (R-MD) and Ron Paul (R-TX)—have introduced a bill strengthening the 1973 War Powers Act. This is an important development for those who care about boring old things like democracy, yet it's gotten little attention online and almost none in the regular media.

To learn more, start with an impressively honest column by George Will and Chris Weigant's useful analysis. You can also check out the bill itself, press releases from Delahunt and from Jones, and well as stories from the Sun-Journal in North Carolina, Voice of America and CNS News.

Heroes Back on Track

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 2:50 PM EST

mojo-photo-heroes1106.jpgIt's been a rough couple weeks for the "little X-Men that could," as NBC's breakout hit from last season seemed to wilt under the pressure of being, well, NBC's only breakout hit from last season. The first episodes so far this season have been both confusing and kind of dull, with our heroes scattered around the world (and throughout time), one of them even affected with amnesia in, well, a place people are often affected with amnesia, actually: a bar in Ireland. I'd come close to giving up on the show, to be honest, but a scene two weeks ago hinted at intriguing directions to come: a new villain, Maury, the father of Matt the mind-reading policeman, emerged with the ability to trap you in a literal nightmare, oblivious to the outside world. The two nightmare scenes had a minimal beauty and elemental terror, hinting at how the show has often achieved surprising, unique moments.

Imagine What They'll Do to Avoid Retina Scans!

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 2:27 PM EST

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Since 2004, U.S. border guards have been fingerprinting everyone caught illegally crossing into the U.S. and checking the prints against terrorist watch lists and criminal records. The program has rooted out a few criminals, but it's also had an unexpected side-effect.

According to USA Today, border guards have caught a number of people who've burned off the tips of their fingers to hide their identities. One enterprising money launderer caught illegally crossing the border had recently had skin from his feet grafted onto his fingers. He was still limping when he was apprehended. Most of these folks have been criminals, but at least one woman caught by border guards had undergone plastic surgery on her fingertips so she could be reunited with her daughter.

The government might want to think twice about such unintended consequences before it moves ahead with plans to integrate retina scans into passport documents, or Tom Cruise's eye transplant in Minority Report might seem truly prescient!

Tuesday's on the Ones and Twos With Music News Day

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 1:55 PM EST

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  • A 43-year-old man of African-American descent has been charged with defacement of property at the Tupac Amaru Shakur arts center in Atlanta that included hanging a noose around the statue of Tupac. He has not been charged with a hate crime. The vandalism also included flyers bearing rants about other rappers, Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, so it turns out the guy is just, well, a little nuts. And not all nutty protesters can be as fun as our 12 Galaxies guy.
  • Roseanne Cash, the 52-year-old daughter of Johnny Cash, is set to undergo brain surgery for a "rare but benign condition" and is canceling the rest of her tour. Her label released a statement saying that the singer is expected to make a full recovery.
  • The White Stripes have apparently been busy, posting on their website that they've been working on a new video, three new songs that include a "special collaboration," and a new version of a track from Icky Thump. Well, yes, that's what bands do I guess, but they're the White Stripes.
  • Jimmy Page broke his pinky in a fall in his garden, it turns out. Rock 'n' roll!
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    Chalabi: Curveball Not Our Fabricator

    | Tue Nov. 6, 2007 12:22 PM EST

    On Sunday, CBS' 60 Minutes revealed the identity of Curveball, the Iraqi defector who falsely claimed first to German and then U.S. military intelligence that Iraq was producing mobile biological weapons labs. Rafid Ahmed Alwan, aka Curve Ball, made bogus claims -- later repeated by Colin Powell -- to the Germans from whom he was seeking asylum, which he has reportedly since received. In response to the CBS report, the Iraqi National Congress sent this statement today:

    The release of the name of Iraqi defector known as Curveball by CBS News 60 Minutes is the final evidence that there is no link between this person and the Iraqi National Congress. The INC can state categorically that there has never been any person at any level of the INC who is related to anyone named Rafid Ahmed Alwan.

    It's worth noting that the Robb Silberman commission determined that one of the confirming sources for Curveball's fabrications about mobile bio weapons labs was shepherded to the Defense Intelligence Agency by none other than the INC. As the commission reported:

    Pakistan Unleashes Teams of Lobbyists on Washington

    | Tue Nov. 6, 2007 11:54 AM EST

    Talk about hired guns. The Politico reports on Pakistan's lobbyists roaming the halls of Congress to try to preserve US foreign aid to Pakistan -- some $10 billion mostly in military aid since 9/11.

    "The focus is on the Hill right now," said Mark Tavlarides, a former national security aide in the Clinton administration whose firm, Van Scoyoc Associates, is paid $55,000 a month from the Musharraf government — a significant boost from the $40,000 the firm earned before July.

    Other Pakistani entities have retained other firms:

    Former Intel Officials Urge Senate Judiciary to Hold Mukasey Nomination

    | Tue Nov. 6, 2007 10:34 AM EST

    waterboarding.gifOn Friday, four former JAG officers—two of them admirals, two of them generals—sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, urging him to consider Michael Mukasey's nomination in light of his failure to go on the record about the legality of waterboarding. "This is a critically important issue," they wrote," but it has not, and never has been, a complex issue, and even to suggest otherwise does a terrible disservice to this nation. All U.S. Government agencies and personnel, and not just America's military forces, must abide by both the spirit and letter of the controlling provisions of international law. Cruelty and torture—no less than wanton killing—is neither justified nor legal in any circumstance." Today, as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on Mukasey's nomination, a group of 24 former intelligence officials—among them, Valerie Plame Wilson—fired off their own letter to Leahy and ranking member Arlen Specter, calling on them to hold the nomination of the president's AG pick until he clarifies his position on the controversial interrogation practice. "Judge Mukasey's refusal to comment on waterboarding, on grounds that it would be 'irresponsible' to provide 'an uninformed legal opinion based on hypothetical facts and circumstances,' raises serious questions," they wrote, noting that the "conundrum created to justify the nominee's silence on this key issue is a synthetic one."

    It is within your power to resolve it readily. If Mukasey continues to drag his feet, you need only to facilitate a classified briefing for him on waterboarding and the C.I.A. interrogation program. He will then be able to render an informed legal opinion. We strongly suggest that you sit in on any such briefing and that you invite the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to take part as well. Receiving the same briefing at the same time (and, ideally, having it taped) should enhance the likelihood of candor and make it possible for all to be—and to stay—on the same page on this delicate issue.

    If the White House refuses to allow such a briefing, your committee must, in our opinion, put a hold on Mukasey's nomination. We are aware that the president warned last week that it will be either Mukasey as our attorney general or no one. So be it. It is time to stand up for what is right and require from the Executive the information necessary for the Senate to function responsibly and effectively. It would seem essential not to approve a nominee who has already made clear he is reluctant to ask questions of the White House. How can a person with that attitude even be proposed to be our chief law enforcement officer?

    Despite the strongly worded letters, it seems likely that the Judiciary Committee will greenlight Mukasey later today, without learning his stance on waterboarding, given that two key Democrats on the committee (Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein) broke ranks with five of their colleagues last week, announcing that they would back the nominee. So, after a full Senate vote, we could be looking at AG Mukasey as early as weeks end.

    Update: By a margin of 11 to 8, the Judiciary Committee just cleared the way for Mukasey to up for a full Senate vote. Schumer and Feinstein were the only Dems to vote yay.

    Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - Reviewing Metacritic's Best-Reviewed Albums of the Year

    | Tue Nov. 6, 2007 3:10 AM EST

    Well, Riffers, this will be my last Top Ten for a few weeks as I'm leaving for a European Tour this coming weekend; yes, that's right, Europeans will apparently part with their hard-earned euros (and zloty and koruny!) to watch me play CDs. Zut alors. So for this Top Ten, I figured I'd start the long, tortuous process of winnowing down a year-end "Best Albums" list by taking a look at the Metacritic Top Ten Best-Reviewed Albums of the Year.

    Metacritic is a site that tallies up reviews from around the world of cultural criticism with a somewhat fallible mathematical formula, assigning points from 1 to 100 based on the grade given in the review. They've been adding up the points for the year so far, and their list is interesting both for its errors and its accuracy (for instance, hip-hop is noticeably absent from the top ten). Here's their list with my thoughts and where each album might end up on my personal year-end list.

    Robert Wyatt10. Robert Wyatt – Comicopera
    The 62-year-old former drummer for Soft Machine famously lost the use of his legs in an accident in 1973, and found his voice as a solo artist in the '90s. Comicopera is airy and jazzy, and Wyatt sounds delicate and emotional, almost like the reincarnation of Nick Drake. The album's themes revolve around protest; protest against war, against civilization in general. It's often quite beautiful and affecting, but also a bit scattered.
    PB sez way lower

    Battles9. Battles – Mirrored
    Prog rock is back, and it's got techno in it! The New York combo sound distinctly British here in their ability to combine rock intensity with electronic experimentalism, and the album was appropriately released on Warp Records, home to Aphex Twin. But despite all that, it's immensely listenable, with lead single "Battles" taking on a kind of Gary Glitter-style swagger and ending up in Diplo DJ sets mashed up with M.I.A.
    PB sez same

    Panda Bear8. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
    Good vibrations indeed, this reverb-laden tribute to the major-chord psychedelic pop of Brian Wilson has something in common with the Magnetic Fields: it achieves its traditional-sounding warmth via decidedly non-traditional methods. This is basically the solo project of Animal Collective's Noah Lennox, yet the sound is full and rich with harmonies.
    PB sez kinda lower

    LCD7. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
    A triumphant and grief-stricken album of plain-spoken dance music, Silver so perfectly defines its own place that it's hard to imagine how we lived in its absence. Band leader James Murphy digs in the crates of classic disco, Talking Heads, and New Order, and created an album that holds together as such, despite the standout brilliance of many of its singles. The unlikely centerpiece, "Someone Great," has entered the pantheon of melancholy electro classics like "Don't You Want Me," with its mechanical blips coalescing into a majestic tribute to a lost friend.
    PB sez way higher

    Les Savy Fav6. Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends
    The indie-punk band has built a reputation as a blistering live act, and this album captures an intensity that's infectious. The Fav were doing angular guitar rock before Bloc Party knew how to walk, and Friends has moments of "this is how it's done" greatness. "What Would Wolves Do" is the highlight, a ticking, melancholy track with soaring guitar lines reminiscent of early U2, but they also wander a bit into muddy ballads.
    PB sez way lower