2008 - %3, March

SXSW Dispatch: Lyrics Born is Funky McFunkerson

| Sat Mar. 15, 2008 8:46 PM EDT

lyrics-born.jpgI haven't slept much so far at SXSW—or, "South By," if you're nasty. There is just an ungodly amount of things to see, hear, and do here. It's over-saturating even my high tolerance for over-stimulus. And I mean that in the best possible way.

So by the end of Day 1 here, I learned that the key to success is to chill. Trying to run around and do everything just ain't gonna happen. Having a plan with room for deviation is the way to go. With that newfound wisdom, Day 2 here was a good one:

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SXSW Dispatch: Blog Talk is Boring Talk

| Sat Mar. 15, 2008 4:38 AM EDT

I decided today that blog talk—that is to say, discussion of the importance, relevance, or social meaning of the blog—is totally boring, and time would be better spent knitting sweaters or baking cookies.

A Tribute to Senator Metzenbaum

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 6:07 PM EDT

From Jeffrey Klein, former Mother Jones Editor-in-chief:

Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum called me into his office late one morning in January of 1981. Several months earlier I'd written a cover story for Mother Jones predicting what the first four years of a Reagan administration would look like. As luck would have it, I'd gotten a jump on the national press corps, who initially thought this aging B actor didn't have a prayer of being elected president. But because Mother Jones was based in San Francisco, we knew that it was the country that needed to pray.

A sidebar in the Mother Jones' story had caused the sudden resignation during the Republican convention of Reagan's foreign policy advisor, Richard Allen. We'd exposed that Allen, while serving on Nixon's payroll, had simultaneously worked for Richard Vesco, then the world's biggest swindler.

Friday Top Five: '80s-Style Remixes, Songs About Alderan, French Techno

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 6:05 PM EDT

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1. The Ting Tings – "Great DJ" (Calvin Harris Remix) (mp3 via Check the Availability)
While the British duo's recent SF live show was enjoyable enough, it was also a bit disconcerting due to the prominence of the backing tape. But this remix by an '80s-loving producer turns "Great DJ" into an epic floorfiller, without a care in the world.

2. James Combs – "Barely Contained" (buy on iTunes)
LA singer-songwriter Combs balances a tense, PJ Harvey-like arrangement with a dreamlike whisperiness on this swaying, triple-time track. It's great, but one wonders, is it a conflict of interest when a KCRW producer gets KCRW's "Today's Top Tune"?

3. Neon Neon – "I Told Her on Alderan" (mp3 via Pop Tarts Suck Toasted)
Who knew that when you put together a Super Furry Animal and Boom Bip, they'd sound like the Cars and sing about Star Wars. Actually, that would have been as good a guess as any.

After the jump, yes it offends me, and French techno that sounds like American hip-hop!

Dumpster Diving with the Defense Department

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 5:47 PM EDT

Ah, the Friday document dump, where governmental bad news goes to die.

You have to love the hubris behind the federal assumption that, because it's Friday at 5 pm in Washington, DC, all the politerati have gone home for the weekend, abandoning their listservs and laptops for—what, the beach?

For those of you who don't already subscribe to all 20-plus Pentagon email alerts, here are three of this afternoon's offerings:

—A 29-page report on "Sexual Assault in the Military," conducted by the Defense Manpower Data Center, which found that "34 percent of active duty women and 6 percent of active duty men indicated experiencing sexual harassment, while 6.8 percent of women and 1.8 percent of men indicated experiencing unwanted sexual contact." Download the PDF here.

—A video of today's House Armed Services committee Mental Health hearing "to look into how the military is dealing with stress on the force." Watch the hearing here.

—An announcement that "approximately 3,500 U.S. servicemembers will be deploying to Afghanistan this summer."

Happy diving.

"Kristen" Is a Blameworthy Slut? Yawn.

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 5:30 PM EDT

Today in a Salon video post, Farhad Manjoo calls the MySpace dimension of the Eliot Spitzer scandal "interesting and kind of fascinating and cool."

Really? I'm not so sure MySpace makes this scandal any different than the old ones. At the end of the day, the media is doing exactly what they always do: backhandedly blaming the object of a politician's lust for bringing about his downfall with her sluttiness.

At the risk of alienating my friends in the Facebook Generation, here's the thing: I could give a crap about the "true identity" (if that's what a MySpace page is) of the young woman whom Eliot Spitzer paid for sex, let alone the fact that she once sang "Respect" in the shower at her boyfriend's house.

And now, as Feministing points out, we're also supposed to believe that she's into it. That Dupre is under the impression that this turn of events is going to make her into the superstar she's always wanted to be.

Simmer down, Kiera, commenters will undoubtedly say. Who wouldn't want to know about the sordid details of an admittedly beautiful woman involved in a high-class prostitution ring? Well, I think it's more complicated—and insidious—than that.

When I read the New York Times piece about Dupre, my first thought was, she sounds totally annoying. I found myself blaming her for her irritating narcissism ("I am all about my music and my music is all about me. It flows from what I've been through, what I've seen and how I feel"), and her delusions of grandeur. This girl sounds insufferable, I thought.

And all of a sudden I had forgotten a key point: Dupre didn't do anything wrong. Spitzer did.


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Credit Card Industry Kicks Consumers Off Congressional Panel

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 4:30 PM EDT

Politico-ad.jpgIn 2000, Illinois resident Marvin Weatherspoon (right) got a Bank of America credit card that he used to consolidate $12,000 in home repair bills, thinking the 4.5 percent introductory interest rate would help him get out of debt faster. Instead, though, eight years later, he has paid the bank more than $15,000, yet has reduced his principal balance by only $800. The reason? Even though he's paid his bills on time, Bank of America inexplicably raised his interest rate, first to 19.99 percent and then to 25 percent, where it is today.

Weatherspoon came to Washington yesterday to tell his story at a hearing on the Credit Card Holders Bill of Rights, a bill sponsored by New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) that would restrict the kind of arbitrary interest rate increases Weatherspoon got hit with, among other things. But as it turned out, Weatherspoon never got to testify. The ever-powerful credit-card companies successfully bounced all of the consumers off the panel, leaving only academics and credit card executives to speak publicly.

At the outset of the hearing before a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, Maloney explained that "there have been fairness concerns raised about having consumers testify this morning without a waiver that allowed their credit-card issuers to respond publicly." Translation: The credit card companies wanted the consumer witnesses to make their financial records public so the banks could "rebut" their complaints, i.e., trash them in the press.

SXSW Dispatch: 17 Hours in Austin

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 4:30 PM EDT

thurston.jpgAustin during SXSW is a whirlwind of tattoos, cigarette smoke, amplifiers, bratwurst, fliers, long lines, nonstop (loud) music, bad pizza, and a ton of local volunteers who are super friendly but don't often know the answer to your questions. It's chaotic, noisy, and exciting, and it never takes breaks. Here's how my first 17 hours here went:

A Top Clinton Aide Fights a Blast from the Past

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 3:59 PM EDT

Jamie Rubin called me a few days ago, and he was upset. A top foreign policy aide in the Hillary Clinton campaign and a past assistant secretary of state for public affairs, Rubin believed he had been slimed by the Obama campaign, and he suggested I had been an unwitting party to the sliming.

Here's what happened. Days earlier, the Clinton campaign had held a conference call to blast away at remarks recently made by Samantha Power regarding Senator Barack Obama's Iraq policy. That morning, Power, a talented journalist, academic, and human rights advocate, had resigned as a foreign policy adviser to Obama after a newspaper reported she had called Hillary Clinton a "monster." And during this conference call, Clinton's senior foreign policy aides insisted that Power's comments about Obama and Iraq suggested that Obama was not truly committed to withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. During that call, Rubin, as I wrote afterward, "derided Power as Obama's foreign policy 'Svengali or guru' and claimed her remarks about Iraq were proof that Obama cannot create an efficient and effective foreign policy team, calling the episode 'amateur hour' for the Obama campaign."

Rubin and the Clintonites' interpretation of Power's statements about Obama and Iraq was debatable, and their assault on Power struck some (read: me) as overkill and ugly.

Shortly after that conference call, the Obama campaign circulated a Washington Post clip to reporters that made it seem as if Rubin himself had his own "amateur hour" moment in 2004, when he was working for John Kerry's presidential campaign. The newspaper reported that Rubin had apologized for having misrepresented Kerry's position on Iraq by stating that Kerry would have probably launched a war against Saddam Hussein had Kerry been president in the preceding four years. (The George W. Bush campaign was enthusiastically using Rubin's statement to claim there was not much difference between the two candidates on Iraq.) The Post published a statement from Rubin: "To the extent that my own comments have contributed to misunderstanding on this issue...I never should have said the phrase 'in all probability' because that's not Kerry's position and he's never said it. That was my mistake."

A-ha! the Obama campaign was saying: Rubin's now slamming Power for an action similar to one he committed in 2004. In an article on the get-Power conference call, I reprinted a portion of this Post story.

After reading my piece, Rubin was livid at the Obama gang. Why? Because the Post story was false. Or sort of. At least enough so that it was, in Rubin's view, not fair for the Obama camp to be disseminating it.

Is There Satanic Symbolism in the GOP's Logo?

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 3:00 PM EDT

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Something's wrong with the Republican logo. The stars are upside down. Five-sided stars that point upwards—like those on the Democratic donkey and the American flag—traditionally symbolize the forces of good. An overturned pentagram, however, represents the goat's head of Satan and the forces of evil—and there are three on the Republicans' elephant.

The GOP's stars weren't always upside down; some say the change occurred around 2000. When I called up the RNC to ask about the logo's history, staffers invariably said, "we'll have to get back to you on that" and never did. "Huh, that's interesting," said one, who clearly hadn't noticed Satan hiding in plain view.

"I have a feeling some neo-pagan democratic designed this logo," wrote a commenter on the conservative web site Free Republic. Besides like-minded rants that the design is a huge slap in the Grand Old Party's face, some online chat-room goers speculated that the inverted stars are linked to secret society symbolism.

In any case, the stars have not only turned for the Republicans: A Hillary Clinton website featured a photo of an American flag with upside down pentagrams at the time of the New Hampshire primary.

—Caroline E. Winter