2008 - %3, August

New (Leaked) Music: The Verve - Forth

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 5:11 PM PDT

mojo-photo-verveforth.jpgPeople think I'm an arrogant jerk, but I really do try to be nice. Honestly. My friends go crazy for Coldplay, and I try to focus on Brian Eno's epic production; buddies want to watch Roger Waters for three hours, and I'm a good sport and hang around. But The Verve has caused perhaps insurmountable rifts between me and my hipster pals. They love The Verve, and I think that other than the inspired sampling on "Bitter Sweet Symphony," Richard Ashcroft and co are dull as doorknobs, whiny, plodding, a fine example of Britishness covering up lack of ingenuity. Like Sigur Ros, they're lumped in with a genre populated by good and great bands, but they just don't measure up. The Verve split in 1999 after Urban Hymns brought them worldwide fame, but recently have come back together for a few live shows. Forth is their first album together in ten years, which leaked onto the intertubes this week.

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Poor McCain, Even Jackson Browne and Mike Myers Are Against Him

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 4:33 PM PDT

mojo-photo-mccainwaynebrowne.jpgCan't somebody throw the guy a bone? John Mellencamp said "uh-uh," Chuck Berry said "sorry," even fellow politician John Hall (he wrote "Still the One") said "no dice." Only the Rich part of Big and Rich seems to care. Well, it turns out that the McCain campaign is just shooting the moon now, culturally speaking, throwing copyrighted material into their ads willy-nilly like a demented mash-up hooligan. I guess the Republican presidential nominee should take it as a compliment that people are still paying any attention, since a couple more artists have sued to make him stop. First up, Jackson Browne is none too happy about "Running on Empty" being used in ads for the senator, apparently without a license, filing suit against McCain and the Republican Party. A McCain campaign spokesman denied they had anything to do with it.

But they've got a bad track record: just a few days before, Mike Myers demanded the McCain campaign remove the "Wayne's World" clip from their "celebrity" anti-Obama ad. The campaign's Michael Goldfarb tried to make a joke out of it, blogging that "apparently, we are not, in fact, worthy." Ha, but overlooked is the fact that they put one of the most recognizable moments in Saturday Night Live history in a TV spot, and didn't think to call anybody? Could they possibly just be playing a cynical political game, breaking the rules intentionally just to get some coverage? Nah, they wouldn't do that. Well, hey, John, you kooky culture jammer, if you want to use some of my mashups in your commercials, you go right ahead. I'm sure the original artists whose rights I never bothered to get wouldn't mind…

Michael Ledeen Leaves AEI

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 4:03 PM PDT

Neoconservative historian and writer Michael Ledeen has left the American Enterprise Institute, his intellectual base for almost two decades, Mother Jones has learned. The decision for Ledeen, a veteran of the Iran contra affair, and AEI to part ways "has been in the works for a while" an associate who confirmed the recent departure describes. (Ledeen is no longer listed among the think tank's scholars).

For those who follow foreign policy events at the think tank, one might have noticed that Ledeen has been absent for the most part from many of AEI's public events for the past several months. From afar, one sensed that Ledeen may be too controversial for AEI's other scholars to want him to be the public face of the think tank in particular on Iran issues, an observation the associate described as reasonable. (See this and this for background). Ledeen did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

And yet, while AEI's in house team of foreign policy hands (Frederick Kagan, Danielle Pletka, etc.) has noticeably restrained itself from as aggressively publicly promoting a military option on Iran as might be expected, still it is home to those such as former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton who says whatever he wants -- almost always predictably disparaging of a diplomatic solution to any crisis from North Korea to Iran. And as a longtime loyal home for many who were associated with the most hawkish positions of the Bush administration (Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Lynn Cheney and formerly her husband), it's hard to imagine that it was any extreme ideological position which would have prompted the departure. And Ledeen was described as always a good fundraiser for the think tank. So his departure is somewhat perplexing.

Ledeen is not alone in being scarcer at the influential think tank of late. Former Reagan administration Pentagon official Richard Perle is often in France and rarely makes public appearances at AEI any more; but there's no talk of Perle leaving AEI, although his role there is largely "emeritus" the associate described. Ledeen is now the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a small Washington think tank headed by former Republican National Committee spokesman Cliff May.


Update: Turns out Ledeen already mentioned the move from AEI to FDD at his own blog, Faster, Please!:

... I always thought it was stupid to go to Alaska in August. I love August in Washington, I adore hot and humid and so Washington is a dream come true for me. Plus, no Congress, which means much less traffic, and you can get tables in restaurants. Plus, I moved my office from AEI after twenty happy years, to Cliff May's rising Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. It seems a good fit, it puts me in the same sandbox as Andy McCarthy and other terrific people, and I love the email address: michael(at)defenddemocracy.org I mean, that's what I'm all about.
So I've been packing and unpacking and cleaning out my files, throwing out two decades' worth of notes, urgent to-dos that ended up at the bottom of a pile, highlighted clips, you know. And finally it got done. Just in time to start a new book and sign up for a new parking lot. I'll be a better blogger for it.

In noting this post on Ledeen's move, Steve Clemons offers a priceless anecdote about how you can never really leave any of these think tanks.

World, Shut Your Mouth: The Horror of Public Radio Call-In Shows

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 1:12 PM PDT

mojo-photo-calleryells.jpgMuch of the time, public radio is a calm, thoughtful oasis in the fart-joke maelstrom of commercial FM broadcasts. But at a certain point in the daily schedule, most public radio stations suddenly turn from interesting to irritating, filling time with that most lazy and obnoxious of programs: the call-in show. It's a high-minded ideal, letting the actual public on to "our" radio stations, but unfortunately, in every case, the public that presents itself is yammering and paranoid, either astonishingly bigoted or pathetically whiny, and the shows are unlistenable embarrassments. Why do public stations waste 1/6 of their day on them?

The other day, NPR's long-running Talk of the Nation attempted to address the issue of gays in the military. One caller drawled that "those people" knew the rules when they joined, so they deserve what they get, while another sobbed through an endless, baffling story about breaking up with her girlfriend or something, and I never figured out if she was actually in the military or not. All these shows are like this: hosts seem frazzled and nervous, dreading each call, stammering interruptions when the monologues get too crazy. And why hasn't anyone figured out how to signal a caller that they're now on the air without 60 seconds of am-I-on-yes-you're-on-do-you-mean-me-yes-go-ahead back-and-forth?

The Rooskies Are Out to Get Us!

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 11:20 AM PDT

I noted in an AFP story about how Obama's vacation hasn't hurt his poll numbers that "59 percent of Americans regard Russia's actions in Georgia as a threat to US national security."

Seriously? I'm shocked by this. We have the strongest military in the world, albeit a bit overstretched at the moment, and the fanciest weapons in the world. We don't need to be afraid of a bunch of thugs performing a ritual chest-beating by pushing around their neighbors.

Here are my potential explanations.

(1) A wide swath of people will always have some degree of fear of an aggressive other and when egged on by a leading poll question will say answer in the affirmative to a query like this one. In this explanation, over 50 percent of people would have answered in the affirmative in regards to a similar situation 20, 30, or 40 years ago.

(2) America is spooked. Eight years of terror warnings, supposedly imminent threats, unchecked terrorist watch lists, draconian security measures, rouge rogue nations getting or pursuing nuclear bombs, and stuff like this has turned us into a bunch of pusillanimous ninnies. We're jumping at shadows.

(3) Everyone or most everyone in the 59 percent mentioned above was born before 1980 and thus has strong memories of the Cold War. These people, unlike their younger countrymen, will always be distrustful of the Russians and ascribe devious but nonsensical motives to them.

If you were liberal arts student in college, you know the answer is some combination of (1), (2), and (3).

Also, I should add that Americans think lots of bizarre things. A poll from the late '90s showed that 65% of Americans think an alien spaceship crashed at Roswell in 1947. Further, 80% think the government is hiding knowledge of space aliens.

The Return of Foreclosure Phil

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 8:30 AM PDT

Phil Gramm, booted from the McCain campaign for calling struggling Americans a "nation of whiners" in a "mental recession," is back in the mix.

Reportedly, Gramm was seated in the front row of a McCain speech at the Aspen Institute. Gramm told the press, "I am a supporter of John McCain. I am helping him with fundraising. We have a fundraiser today and I will be with him today and tomorrow."

And John McCain responded, "Phil Gramm and I and Wendy (Gramm) and Cindy and I go back many, many years, and I'm always grateful to see my friend, Phil Gramm. Thank you, Phil, for all your friendship and support."

I think it's safe to say everyone has kissed and made up. That's only possible because the media, the McCain campaign, and the American public believed the problem with Gramm was a few intemperate remarks. But that's not true. Gramm believes in a radical form of economics that bulldozes the concerns, needs, and rights of everyday people in favor of corporate profits. He is, in large part, responsible for the foreclosure crisis facing America.

He doesn't need to be taking a few weeks off from the campaign. He needs to be taking a few years off from public life altogether.

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John McCain Has More Odd Things to Say About Russia/Georgia

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 8:14 AM PDT

This Russia-Georgia conflict is really producing some weird comments from John McCain. You probably saw his statement that "In the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations." Now he's saying this:

My friends, we have reached a crisis, the first probably serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War. This is an act of aggression.

I just don't know what is going on in John McCain's brain. The Iraq War is undoubtedly a crisis. It was a crisis for the military, which was underprepared for the fight, lost thousands of young men and women, and is now so spent it cannot address problems elsewhere in the world. It was a crisis here at home, because of how much money it cost the American people ($3 trillion, by one estimate). And it was a crisis of credibility. Black sites, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, rendition, warrantless wiretapping... Iraq and the greater war on terror has led to an implosion of our moral authority abroad. John McCain may not consider all that a crisis, but I sure do.

Oh, and PS — 9/11?

Oh, and PPS — McCain wants to throw Russia out of the G8. Take a moment to learn how insane that is.

The Campaign Goes Christian

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 7:35 AM PDT

The first joint appearance of the general election season is tomorrow night. You've probably heard nothing about it. You'll probably hear nothing about it.

Barack Obama and John McCain will both travel to Lake Forest, CA, tomorrow night for the Saddleback Civil Forum at Saddleback Church, one of America's preeminent megachurches. (Today is the last day of the Obama family's Hawaiian vacation.) The candidates will sit down with Rick Warren, Saddleback's pastor and the author of The Purpose-Driven Life, to talk about global poverty, HIV/AIDS, and climate change. The topics will be a welcome departure, from Obama's point of view, from the standard "values voters" issues of abortion and gay marriage.

The forum should be interesting for two reasons. First, it will be an opportunity to test my theory that Obama should do well in head-to-head events with McCain, and that, as such, regular town hall events would have been good for Obama, in contradiction to what the Obama camp apparently believes.

Solar Superhighways

| Thu Aug. 14, 2008 9:16 PM PDT

800px-Indiana-rural-road.jpg Researchers are developing a solar collector to turn roads and parking lots into cheap sources of electricity and hot water. "Asphalt has a lot of advantages as a solar collector," says Rajib Mallick of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. "For one, blacktop stays hot and could continue to generate energy after the sun goes down, unlike traditional solar-electric cells.

Plus there's already gynormous acreage of installed roads and parking lots. They're resurfaced every 10 to 12 years. The solar retrofit could be built into that cycle. No need to transform other landscapes into solar farms. Or maybe not as many.

Furthermore, extracting heat from asphalt would cool the urban heat-island effect, cooling the planet a wee bit. Finally, solar collectors in roads and parking lots would be invisible, unlike those on roofs. Cuz we all know how attractive roads are.

On the Charts: Mamma Mia, M.I.A., Conor Oberst, The Verve

| Thu Aug. 14, 2008 2:40 PM PDT

mojo-photo-charts0814.jpg

Various combinations of the letters "m," "i" and "a" did pretty well on the Billboard US charts this week, plus we can all celebrate the fall from #1 of the eardrum-rupturing "I Kissed a Girl." Hooray! First, on the album chart, the Mamma Mia soundtrack jumped to #1, which is a little weird since the movie is currently a weak #6 at the box office, just behind the Traveling Pants sequel. Well, as we all know, people like ABBA. The rest of the Top Ten consists of standard fare like Miley Cyrus, Kid Rock and Coldplay, although Omaha's got reason to celebrate this week, as favorite son Conor Oberst's self-titled album debuts at #15, while The Faint's Fasciination sneaks into the Top 50 at #46. Take that, Boise!

On the singles chart, Rihanna dominates, as her terrible adventure-in-autotune robo-electro number "Disturbia" climbs to #1, while the marginally better "Take a Bow" sticks around at #4. Lesson: America likes Rihanna. But holy Clash samples, ladies and gentlemen: M.I.A. is now officially a Top 5 Artist in the U. S. of A., as "Paper Planes" jumps 11 spots to #5 on the strength of online sales inspired by Pineapple Express commercials. It's like I've woken up in some strange bizarro world; what next, a #1 hit for Portishead? The track is down a bit on iTunes today, from #2 to #5, so this may be its chart peak, but hey, we'll take it.

After the jump: Richard Ashcroft explains sightlessness.