2007 - %3, September

Since Nothing Else Important Going on in World, Congress Takes on Hip-Hop

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 3:50 PM EDT

We've covered Al Sharpton's protests against sexism and violence in hip-hop, as well as the movement against homophobia and violence in reggae lyrics. Some of us may have also posted a hip-hop video here whose cheeky references to pregnancy some found offensive.

Well, the government is here to straighten this mess out. Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced today that Congress will hold a hearing later this month regarding media "stereotypes and degradation" of women, focusing on hip-hop lyrics and videos.

Continue reading on the Mother Jones arts/culture blog, The Riff.

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Since Nothing Else Important Going on in World, Congress Takes on Hip-Hop

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 3:20 PM EDT

We've covered Al Sharpton's protests against sexism and violence in hip-hop, as well as the movement against homophobia and violence in reggae lyrics, here on the Riff. Some of us may have also posted a hip-hop video here whose cheeky references to pregnancy some found offensive. Well, the government is here to straighten this mess out (except the homophobia part). Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced today that Congress will hold a hearing later this month regarding media "stereotypes and degradation" of women, focusing on hip-hop lyrics and videos. Reports Variety:

Just as his colleagues on other committees have summoned TV execs to be grilled on sexual or violent content, Rush wants to hear from the leaders of companies purveying rap music. The intent is to examine commercial practices behind the music's most controversial content.

"I want to talk to executives at these conglomerates who've never taken a public position on what they produce," Rush said. "But it's been surprisingly very difficult to get them to commit to appearing."

Witnesses include toppers Philippe Dauman of Viacom, Doug Morris of Universal Music Group and Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Warner Music Group... So far, only one artist has committed to appearing—Master P, who began his career as a gangsta rapper but has since focused on positive messages and images in his music.

Hey, they've even got a catchy title, to distract from that whole First Amendment problem:

Currently titled "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degradation," the hearing is intended to address "what is certainly a timely issue and one that won't go away," Rush said. ...Rush stressed that this is "not an anti-artist hearing, or antimusic or antiyouth hearing." He said he's hoping for voluntary—not regulatory—solutions. "I respect the First Amendment, but rights without responsibility is anarchy, and that's much of what we have now. It's time for responsible people to stand up and accept responsibility."

I'd been wondering what to call this rights-without-responsibility feeling I've been having. Hooray, it's anarchy! And any sentence that begins "I respect the First Amendment, but..." is gonna be an awesome sentence.

In all seriousness, it's mostly just sad that this hearing will do nothing to illuminate the troubling issue of offensive art versus free speech, or of representation of offense versus actual offense, issues that have vexed us for a while. If we rely on the media to represent ourselves and our interests, then it's easy to want art to portray our ideal society, not our real society, or a negative fantasy. The problem is, not everyone has the same ideals, and if the government is involved—even assuring us they're "hoping" not to use "regulatory solutions"—the effect is one of intimidation and censorship. Furthermore, why hip-hop is being singled out seems far more nefarious than some offensive lyrics. God forbid our elected officials might focus on making real efforts against poverty and inequality that might lead to social changes and less-offensive art.

Chevron Releases Video Game

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 3:20 PM EDT

Energyville is like Sim City where the laws are written by Chevron. You must power your city with a mix of energy sources, and, of course, you can't win without oil. The game is part of Chevron's "Will you join us?" campaign, a dubious effort to spark dialogue about energy and the environment. I can't imagine who Chevron sees as its target audience—kids will find the game all too 1997; any adult who buys the pitch might also be interested in a REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS ASSISTANCE from Nigeria. Still, the game is getting lots of press.

Driven by novelty and interactivity--never underestimate the interest of bored office workers--advergames are becoming hot marketing tools in the political realm. The outfit Persuasive Games will whip one up for $40,000, complete with Sim City street grids or flash-animated conveyor belts. My favorite is Airport Security, a game in which you're a TSA baggage screener. (Courtesy announcement: "Please be advised: Security personnel are authorized to use groping.") For other examples, see page 86 of the Sept/Oct issue of Mother Jones.

In Defense of Gumshoes

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 2:33 PM EDT

McClatchy reports that authorities stopped two major terror plots in Germany and Denmark. Turns out the governments didn't have to torture anyone to stop either of the bombings—it was just good old-fashioned police work. "Both groups had been under surveillance for months," according to the McClatchy story. But instead of immediately arresting suspects and bringing them in, authorities watched them, found out who they were connected to, and built a legal case against them. As Bruce Grady reminded John O'Hagen, "It's called routine police work." The Financial Times reported that police had been watching the German group since spotting one of its members spying on a U.S. military base in Hanau in December 2006. Would someone who was noticed spying on a military base in the U.S. be followed and watched for eight months instead of simply shipped off to Guantanamo and water-boarded?

— Nick Baumann

U.S. Nukes Accidentally Roaming the Country

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 2:09 PM EDT

How does this happen exactly?

A B-52 bomber mistakenly loaded with at least five nuclear warheads flew from Minot Air Force Base, N.D, to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30, resulting in an Air Force-wide investigation...

Wonkette speculates that Cheney is trying to finish off New Orleans. I doubt it. I'm guessing John Travolta and Howie Long are somehow involved; only Christian Slater can save us now.

Breaking: Republican Congressman Dies

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 1:54 PM EDT

Ohio Rep. Paul Gillmor was found dead in his apartment today. There's still no word on the cause of death.

Given the recent carnage--corruption scandals, a resignation, and now a death--you could almost say the Republicans are in solidarity with the harried legislators of Iraq.

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CNN Allows Captain Obvious to Write Headlines

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 1:28 PM EDT

CNN headline for an AP story:

"Men want hot women, study confirms."

Note that other outlets found more informative ways to summarize the article. From ohio.com: "Women choosy, men competitive in picking mates." From the Tacoma News-Tribune: "Dating study finds superficial guys, choosy ladies."

Tomorrow on CNN: "Parents love children, study shows" and "Americans overweight, census data indicate."

Hooray for Beard Team USA!

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 1:19 PM EDT
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If you are, like me, devastated that you missed the World Beard and Moustache Championships in England last weekend, despair no longer: You can find pictures on Time's website. The sideburns freestyle competitor alone makes it worth a look.

In case you're wondering, which you obviously are, how Beard Team USA did, they made our country proud and picked up a few awards. You can read about it on their blog. (Yes, really.)

Bill Clinton, Still the Charmer-in-Chief

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 12:08 PM EDT

Politico has a wonderful little article on Bill Clinton today. There's almost no analysis, just the sights and sounds of Bill Clinton wandering a state fair while ostensibly campaigning for his wife. Take a look if you'd like. Here's a neat moment.

At the state fair, Bill finally makes his way to where Hillary and her press corps are waiting, in a shed with enormous pumpkins the size of beanbag chairs. The blue-ribbon-winning pumpkin is an incredible 1,004 pounds.
I ask Bill Clinton if the famous watermelons in Hope, Ark., his hometown, ever get this big.
"Watermelons don't get this big," he says. "Last one I saw was some 270 pounds. That's a big watermelon."
He talks about pumpkins and watermelons — are you surprised that he knows about pumpkins and watermelons? — and how these competition fruits cannot have any holes or breaks in the skin.
"It's seeds plus soil plus care," he says. "Too much water and the skin breaks and you are eliminated. Use too little, and somebody beats you. It is about constant judgment. Like the presidency. Make it as big as you can without breaking the skin."

I don't know what that means exactly, but I'm pretty sure if I had been there and Bill Clinton had said it to me, I'd have immediately written it down like it was a brilliant Yoda-esque koan.

Larry Craig Badly Deluded About Future Prospects

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 11:11 AM EDT

Larry Craig sure isn't making this easy on the GOP. I'm sure Republican leadership in Congress wants ol' Wide Stance out of the public eye as quickly as possible, but with Craig fueling new rumors almost daily that he is reconsidering his resignation (is that allowed?), it looks like this sordid drama might be drawn out for a while.

From what can be deciphered from news reports, it appears Sen. Arlen Specter made a courtesy phone call to Craig after Craig announced his intention to resign, just to tell the disgraced Idaho senator to keep his chin up. Craig interpreted that as meaning he has the support of his colleagues (which he doesn't). He may hold off on giving up his seat while he seeks to have his conviction overturned.

Now, it's unclear why Larry Craig wants to undo his guilty plea so he can take this case to court, because a public hearing is only going to put the senator's conduct, which is already a joke, under harsher light. Everyone familiar with the details of cruising seems to say Craig followed the patterns of a man seeking anonymous gay sex perfectly.

Maybe that's why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had this to say about the will-resign-won't-resign rumors: "I think the episode is over. We'll have a new senator from Idaho at some point in the next month or so, and we're going to move on."