2007 - %3, August

Friday a Wry Day for Music News

| Fri Aug. 31, 2007 2:15 PM EDT

R.E.M.

  • R.E.M. are putting the finishing touches on their new album with producer Jacknife Lee, their first since 2004. "Working rehearsal" shows in Dublin pointed towards a more straightforward, guitar-based sound on the new material, which Mike Mills confirmed to Billboard magazine, saying the band is using fewer overdubs and keyboards. The as-yet-unnamed album is set for release in 2008.
  • U2 are totally copying them! Their new album, also their first since 2004, is being rehearsed, according to producer Daniel Lanois, and set for a 2008 release as well. Lanois said Brian Eno is also involved in both writing and producing the material; some of the band's best albums, including The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby, were produced by this duo, although their most recent album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, was mainly produced by Steve Lillywhite.
  • Will Apple announce the arrival of the Beatles catalog to the iTunes music service on Wednesday, September 5th, at their "special event" in San Francisco? The ads say "The Beat Goes On," and Ringo's solo work was added to iTunes today.
  • The sad Amy Winehouse saga gets slightly sadder: Bookmaker Ladbrokes has lowered the singer's odds to win the UK Mercury Music Prize, for which she was the frontrunner. Bat For Lashes' Fur and Gold is now the favorite, with 9-4 odds, compared to Winehouse's 11-4.
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    Protesters in Berkeley: Up a Tree and Fenced In

    | Fri Aug. 31, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

    treesitter.jpeg

    Okay, so it's Berkeley, not a stranger to protests, but this week's tree shenanigans both play to the historic hippies-in-dreads protest image as well as highlight the era of strapped campuses cracking down on activism in the name of growth.

    In case you haven't heard, UC Berkeley students and city residents have been living in oak trees on campus for the past 10 months, protesting their razing for the building of a new sports complex.

    This week the protests have elevated to arrests, and even construction. Wednesday, campus police put up an 8-foot chain-link fence meant to both keep protesters inside the grove as well as to prevent conflicts when 72,000 people descend on the area for tomorrow's Cal football game against Tennessee.

    The sitters are now going it alone. No one can give them food or water, and once they leave the fenced area they are not allowed to return. This morning, one protester was arrested after putting his arm around a police officer and touching him with a lavender incense wand. "Why is he being arrested?" asked a student. "Battery," the officer replied.

    The $125 million sports complex will replace the seismically shaky (and already-cracked) Memorial Stadium, and it will also allow the cash-strapped university to bring in big name recruits, football and otherwise, which can translate into millions a year in revenue. This year Cal is ranked #12 in the nation going into the college football season, something that will bring the university millions in television revenue alone.

    Really though, Cal has bigger worries than tree sitters. The city has sued the school to halt construction because the new complex will rest squarely where the old stadium does, on the Hayward Fault. And when it comes to earthquakes, my money's on the oak trees to be left standing.

    Justice Department Starves the Jerry Lewis Corruption Investigation

    | Fri Aug. 31, 2007 1:08 PM EDT

    The WSJ's Scot Paltrow reports that the investigation of former House appropriations committee chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Ca) has been stalled by lack of funds. "In Los Angeles, a federal criminal investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis, a California Republican, stalled for nearly six months due to a lack of funds, according to former prosecutors. The lead prosecutor on the inquiry and other lawyers departed the office, and vacancies couldn't be filled. George Cardona, the interim U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, declined to comment on specific cases but confirmed that lack of funds and unfilled vacancies caused delays in some investigations."

    Nation Nabs an Exclusive: Maliki Gov't Overrun by Corruption, Unwilling to Change

    | Fri Aug. 31, 2007 11:53 AM EDT

    Capital Gamesman David Corn of The Nation has a noteworthy exclusive. Corn somehow got his hands on an internal report from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad that has this to say about the Maliki government:

    ...the Maliki government has failed in one significant area: corruption. Maliki's government is "not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anticorruption laws," the report says, and, perhaps worse, the report notes that Maliki's office has impeded investigations of fraud and crime within the government.

    The simple fact that there is corruption in Iraq isn't surprising, I suppose. But this exclusive isn't all-hat-and-no-cattle. The document Corn nabbed is 70 pages and it's loaded with details. Corn elaborates:

    The report depicts the Iraqi government as riddled with corruption and criminals—and beyond the reach of anticorruption investigators...
    "The Ministry of Interior is seen by Iraqis as untouchable by the anticorruption enforcement infrastructure of Iraq," it says. "Corruption investigations in Ministry of Defense are judged to be ineffectual." The study reports that the Ministry of Trade is "widely recognized as a troubled ministry" and that of 196 corruption complaints involving this ministry merely eight have made it to court, with only one person convicted.
    The Ministry of Health, according to the report, "is a sore point; corruption is actually affecting its ability to deliver services and threatens the support of the government." Investigations involving the Ministry of Oil have been manipulated, the study says, and the "CPI and the [Inspector General of the ministry] are completely ill-equipped to handle oil theft cases." There is no accurate accounting of oil production and transportation within the ministry, the report explains, because organized crime groups are stealing oil "for the benefit of militias/insurgents, corrupt public officials and foreign buyers."

    And from there it goes on, with indictments of ministry after ministry (click the link above to survey the full damage). Maliki is a big part of the problem, demonstrating "an open hostility" to externally-led (aka possibly effective) corruption investigations.

    Staffers leading corruption investigations "have been 'accosted by armed gangs within ministry headquarters and denied access to officials and records.' They and their families are routinely threatened. Some sleep in their office in the Green Zone. In December 2006, a sniper positioned on top of an Iraqi government building in the Green Zone fired three shots at CPI headquarters. Twelve CPI personnel have been murdered in the line of duty."

    So what does this all mean?

    Today is Karl Rove's Last Day on the Job

    | Fri Aug. 31, 2007 11:41 AM EDT

    August 31 is Rove's last scheduled day at the White House, so take a big smile into the holiday weekend. Mother Jones on the Rove resignation here, here, here, and especially here.

    Inspectors Find Iraq's Chemical Weapons... in New York City

    | Fri Aug. 31, 2007 11:06 AM EDT

    Just weeks before it is set to go out of existence, the UN Monitoring and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC)—whose inspectors scoured Iraq unsuccessfully in search of Saddam's stockpiles of WMD—has finally found something. Problem is, the discovery was made not in Iraq, but in its own New York offices.

    According to news reports (here and here), inspectors were archiving old files last Friday when they came upon an unidentified liquid. Subsequent testing, completed Wednesday, revealed it was a small sample of the deadly chemical agent phosgene, apparently removed from Saddam's Muthanna chemical weapons facility in 1996. Inspectors were at a loss to explain how it could have gotten to New York, not to mention how it would then have been forgotten and left in a filing cabinet. The UN has said it will investigate the matter.

    The phosgene was discovered in UNMOVIC's 48th Street storage unit, about a block away from UN Headquarters, along with with "an Iraqi Scud missile engine, Russian gyroscopes and 125 cabinets filled with sensitive information on Iraq's past weapons programs." The materials, including the chemical agent, were originally gathered by the agency's predecessor, the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM).

    The FBI and New York police collected the phosgene yesterday. It was flown by helicopter to a U.S. military laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland. Environmental testing of UNMOVIC's storage facility revealed no contamination. According to Russian weapons expert Svetlana Utkina, who works with UNMOVIC, accidental release of the phosgene would have been deadly for those exposed. "Your lungs would collapse immediately if you inhale this substance," she told reporters. Inspectors reportedly found about a gram's-worth of the phosgene in a soda-can-sized container sealed in a plastic bag. Asked what would happen if the container broke open, Utkina said, "probably about five people will get severe problems, (and a) couple of people will be dead."

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    The Larry Craig Interrogation Tapes, Ready for Your Consumption

    | Fri Aug. 31, 2007 11:00 AM EDT

    Wonkette has audio of the Larry Craig interrogation from immediately after he was arrested in the Minnesota airport bathroom. Worst. Interrogator. Ever. I'm no expert in police work, but I'm guessing yelling "Disappointed! Disappointed!" at your suspect over and over isn't in the manual.

    Speaking of Craig, "well-placed" Republican sources are telling CNN that he will resign soon, possibly as early as today. If Craig hasn't actually made his decision yet, that'll certainly be a kick in the pants. FYI, Friday afternoon before a long weekend is a great time for a news dump — people getting an early start on the holiday, and that's basically everyone, will miss the news.

    Update: Salon has a truly excellent article called "Why bathroom sex is hot: Larry Craig is the latest politician to get caught with his pants down. So what is the eternal allure of sex in a stall, and does it make you gay?" Highly worth a read if the events of the last few days have left you scratching your head. Of even if they haven't. Good piece of writing.

    Radiohead's Kid A Meant to Be Listened to With... Radiohead's Kid A?

    | Thu Aug. 30, 2007 9:05 PM EDT

    Radiohead Kid A
    Bloggers are blogging that certain songs on Radiohead's 2000 album Kid A can be, er, enhanced by playing two copies of the CD together, one of them delayed by 17 seconds. Some fans are claiming Thom Yorke has said this mysterious phenomenon is "intentional." As someone who's gone on record as being amused by unlikely juxtapositions, I'm game for this: okay, internet, try me.

    The Modern Age has three sample tracks posted, and I gave them each a listen. "Everything in its Right Place (17 Second Delay Version)" comes out, um, muddy and ridiculous; "Kid A" actually does synch up on the beat, but still just sounds like two songs playing at once; "Morning Bell" not only syncs up, but, I'll admit, actually sounds kind of cool. Hmm. What could it mean?

    Despite my mashuppy history, I've never actually tried watching The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, although at a party this weekend, the hostess had Hitchcock's "Vertigo" on the TV and a mix CD on the stereo, and when Interpol's sparse, haunting "Pioneer to the Falls" came on, they seemed to go together pretty well. And no, there was nothing funny in the brownies. Anybody have any other secret musical juxtapositions they've enjoyed, either sober or not?

    Why the Texas Governor Commuted a Death Sentence

    | Thu Aug. 30, 2007 8:31 PM EDT

    Kenneth Foster clearly did not deserve to die. His crime: driving a car used in a robbery that led to a murder he never took part in. But his case was by no means unique in Texas, and so it came as a surprise today when Gov. Rick Perry commuted his sentence. "I'm concerned about Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously," Perry said in a statement, "and it is an issue I think the legislature should examine." A conservative Republican wants to examine capital murder law? To say the least, Perry is doing his part to Keep Austin Weird.

    So why did this happen? It certainly helped that Foster had become an international anti-death penalty cause celebre supported by President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmund Tutu and Susan Sarandon. Still, celebrities and activists have adopted other death row inmates (free Mumia!) to little effect.

    Weird as it may sound, the pardon is probably best explained as the result of a gradually increasing skepticism in Texas of the criminal justice system and, yes, the death penalty. Consider this: death penalty prosecutions in the nation's execution capital, Harris County, Texas, have been in steep decline; every major newspaper in Texas has called for a moratorium on the death penalty or opposes it entirely; and in 2005 the state legislature passed a law allowing life imprisonment without parole, which has given judges and jurors a new way to be "tough on crime" without killing people. "Perhaps the reality that people aren't so hip on the death penalty anymore is finally getting across, even to Rick Perry," Jeff Blackburn, the founder and chief counsel of the Texas Innocence Project, told me. "I think this is about where people are at in the State of Texas--the old lies that have been told them are starting to be revealed."

    Anyone living in Texas in recent years couldn't help but notice a string of high-profile criminal justice scandals--racism in Tulia, pervasively botched evidence in the Houston crime lab, and most recently, a striking number of exonerations in Dallas on DNA evidence. "Ten years ago if you told people that the criminal justice system falsely convicts the innocent, you were either a communist or a nut or both," Blackburn says. "Now, everybody gets that. Everybody has seen it fail."

    Including Perry. Which is not to say that he cares most of the time. Blackburn and other defense advocates still believe plenty of people are wrongly put to death in the state. But Perry is a good politician: he appears to understand that the pendulum--or the scythe--is swinging the other way in Texas, and that he needs to get out of the way before it lops his head off.

    Hillary Clinton Nabs Prestigious 50 Cent Endorsement

    | Thu Aug. 30, 2007 8:07 PM EDT

    50 and Hil

    In an interview with MTV News, 32-year-old Curtis James Jackson, otherwise known as rapper 50 Cent, revealed his views on our current president ("he has less compassion than a regular human being") and came out in favor of Hillary in '08, for reasons the candidate might call right and not-so-right:

    I'd like to see Hillary Clinton be president. It would be nice to see a woman be the actual president and ... this is a way for us to have Bill Clinton be president again, and he did a great job during his term.

    While his statement might seem a little self-contradictory, I'll go down on record as feeling a little bit the same way.

    So-called "backpack" rappers like Talib Kweli and Common have been giving shout-outs to Obama in their songs lately (Common's single, "The People," says "My raps ignite the people like Obama") but Hil may have a good strategy by going after the platinum-sellers. The big question is: who will get Lil Wayne on their side.