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Blending and Bending with UFOs over Bamako

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 8:44 PM EDT

farkatoure.png

Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure's self-titled 2006 debut spawned a 2007 remix album that I can't stop listening to. I play it at work, on BART to and from work, and at night doing Google searches for God-knows-what.

The remix album, UFOs Over Bamako, takes the effectiveness of the original's West African rhythms, conga-heavy beats, sweet but somber vocal hooks and spacious, acoustic simplicity and works it into a mix that bounces with intensity; an earthy, full sound that more DJs should be spinning at dance clubs. The use of electronic beats and digital sound effects doesn't kill Farka Toure's vibe; it takes it to a level that is less contemplative and more stylized, more beat-heavy and less spacious. The resulting remix is a combination of folk and electronica that could easily have been awkward but instead is a great piece of musical blending—and bending.

Vieux Farka Toure is the son of Malian guitarist and singer Ali Farka Toure, who until his death last year was one of Africa's most internationally-recognized musicians. There's a story that during a visit to Bamako, Mali in the late 1960's, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and John Lee Hooker introduced Ali Farka Toure to the blues. He eventually toured Africa, Europe, and America, and in 1992 earned a Grammy for Talking Timbuktu, which he recorded with globe-trotting American guitarist Ry Cooder.

Just as his father was fascinated by the African roots in American blues music, Vieux Farka Toure's remix CD embraces the global connection between African rhythms and reggae, certain elements of club music, and electronica.

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Teacher Fired For Giving Student Brilliant Comic Book

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 8:42 PM EDT

Eightball 22

A Connecticut teacher has been forced to resign after he gave a copy of Dan Clowes' "Eightball #22" to a 14-year-old female freshman student. The English teacher gave the student the comic book as part of a "make-up" assignment and not as part of regular curriculum. The comic contains mature subject matter, for sure: references to rape, various sex acts and murder, and a naked woman. That is, a drawing of a naked woman. While the feelings of the student about the situation are not explained, the parents are letting everybody know how they feel:

The girl's father, who asked that his family remain anonymous because it has already been the target of criticism, described the graphic novel that English teacher Nate Fisher gave the student as "borderline pornography... it's not even like a gray area," the father said. "It's clearly over the line."

And more:

"I personally don't ever want him teaching again," he said. "There is nothing that he could say that would account for this. … That poor judgment is something you can't take back."

Apparently the student has now been the target of ridicule (and perhaps even threats) because the teacher was quite popular, which is pretty easy to understand, considering he assigned a super-cool comic book as make-up reading.

Why is it that this kind of overreaction or censorship always seems to happen in the most ironic way possible, to the works of art that are actually the least harmful in the ways they're being accused of? The "Eightball" subplots that eventually became the acclaimed graphic novel (and film) Ghost World are told from the point of view of young women, and not only are they complex and heartfelt, they're also empowering in the best sense of that overused word. They bring up the tribulations of young womanhood without condescension or whitewashing, and when I read them, my first thought was "my little sisters need to read this." I think they can handle a drawing of a boob. At this point I guess it shouldn't be surprising that nuanced, honest work raises hackles while truly moronic, pornographic pablum seeps into children's brains from TV or advertising without protest. But just once, couldn't backwards, hypocritical parents like these get somebody at MTV fired for "The Hills" instead?

My Park(ing) Day

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 7:57 PM EDT

Lunch in a parking spot is never much fun, unless it's Park(ing) Day in San Francisco. Seizing the moment this afternoon, I packed a bowl of curry and headed two blocks down Sutter Street to a metered spot in front of the Charles Schwab building. I entered the space from the curb, ambled along an extremely short yet artfully snaking pathway lined with potted salt rush, blue squirrel tail and California lilac, and took a seat on a wooden park bench. Three park attendants watched eagerly. "Welcome to our park!" one of them said. They snapped photos as I stirred my rice. A bus blew by frighteningly close.

In 2005, Rebar, a San Francisco art collective, laid a parking space with sod, a bench and a large potted tree, creating the first of what would become many guerrilla parks. The event has grown into an international phenomenon, with participants this year in more than ten cities worldwide. The mission is "To rethink the way streets are used, call attention to the need for urban parks and improve the quality of urban human habitat. . .at least until the meter runs out!"

While I ate my chicken korma on the park bench, a park(ing) attendant handed a complimentary packet of poppy seeds to a businessman who'd stopped by. The businessman said, "Do they grow indoors? Or. . ."

"No, but you can try if you want, as long as you soak them first. . ."

My cell phone rang. It was a friend calling from Boston. "I'm at a guerrilla park," I told him.

"That sounds awesome," he said. "A very San Francisco day."

A bit too San Francisco, perhaps. It was 3:00, and the inevitable, frigid Pacific gale was nearly toppling the shrubbery. Then the meter ran out: I still hadn't finished my lunch when a woman arrived in a Volvo to haul the bench away. "I'm sorry, but we have got to take this," she said. A park(ing) attendant quickly added: "Thank you!" I probably would have fared better in the Presidio, but the fact that other people had actually been excited to see me take up a parking spot--instead of scowling or writing me a ticket--made the trip well worth it.

Wal-Mart, More of a Dirty Brown Color

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 6:08 PM EDT

Wal-Mart has begun selling its own brand of inexpensive compact fluorescent lightbulbs, according to a Reuters article, as part of its effort to be more environmentally responsible. Called "Great Value" bulbs, they are "a more accessible option for our shoppers as we strive to sell 100 million CFLs by the end of 2007," said Wal-Mart General Merchandise Manager Andy Barron.

But, while Wal-Mart pushes its customers to be more green, the company itself has a long way to go, according to the folks over at Wal-MartWatch. A comprehensive report released this month called "It's Not Easy Being Green: The Truth About Wal-Mart's Environmental Makeover" discusses the tremendous amount of electricity used by the company, as well as its impacts on green space and wildlife, and contributions to sprawl and water pollution due to parking lot runoff. It also notes that, contrary to the company's public relations efforts, Wal-Mart still throws most of its financial support to politicians with terrible environmental voting records.

Mukasey: A Giuliani Republican?

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 4:21 PM EDT

Attorney General Michael Mukasey isn't a big giver when it comes to politics. He has donated only to a single federal candidate since 1989: his old pal Rudy. Mukasey and his wife have donated $5,600 to Giuliani's presidential campaign, reports the Center for Responsive Politics.

Mukasey and Giuliani have been friends since the 1970s, when the two worked together in the U.S. Attorney's office. When Giuliani became mayor, Mukasey, by then a federal judge, swore him in. Mukasey's son Marc also worked in Giuliani criminal law practice and has donated to Giuliani's campaign, and both Mukaseys have served on Giuliani's campaign advisory committees. No wonder conservatives don't like the guy!

Agreeing with Tom Vilsack...George W. Bush?

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 3:05 PM EDT

As I mentioned in my last post, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (D-Corn) attacked Rudy Giuliani's shoddy family credentials. Turns out George W. Bush might also see them as a problem. Here's Bush on what he thinks the next president should be like:

"He should be comfortable with his family," Bush said. "Should be somebody who'll work hard to make sure there's love in the White House ..."

First, Bush obviously isn't comfortable with the "he or she" construction, as in "He or she should be comfortable with his family."

Second, I'm pretty sure the fact that Giuliani (1) has been married three times, once to a woman who was his cousin and once to a woman he divorced at a press conference; (2) barely, if ever, speaks to his own children, at least one of whom doesn't want him to be president, and (3) has been identified by a repeat adulterer.... well, that would suggest Rudy doesn't meet Bush's criteria. Maybe Bush is a Romney man.

Of course, this is all gossipy and trivial and you wish we would cover more substantive things. I know, I know. Cut me some slack, it's a Friday. Go read Winslow T. Wheeler.

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Tom Vilsack Does Hillary Clinton's Dirty Work

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 2:07 PM EDT

There's a delicious lack of self-awareness on display in these comments by former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (D). He suggests, without bringing up specifics, that there is trouble in Rudy Giuliani's personal life — the "number of marriages," the "relationship he has with his children." And then, in the same breath, Vilsack transitions to Hillary Clinton's history of familial problems and says, "We ought to be focused not on scandals. We ought to be focused on the direction of this country."

Let's talk for just one second about the wisdom of a Clinton aide drudging up someone else's sordid personal life. This is either a terrible idea, because it reminds everyone that if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency we're going to have years and years of headlines and TV newscasts filled with psychodrama, or it's a dangerous but marginally okay idea because voters see Hillary as the wronged party in her relationship and don't assign her blame the way they would to Rudy.

Either way, that doesn't seem like a particularly strong political play. How about we cool it, Vilsack?

(H/T PrezVid)

Friday a Viable Day for Music News

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 2:06 PM EDT

Johnny Rotten

  • John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, says some pretty silly stuff. In an interview yesterday on the UK's Virgin Radio, the Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited frontman called Sting a "soggy old dead carcass," said that Amy Winehouse doesn't have "much going on in her head," and that the music industry is "disgusting." Actually, wait a minute, this stuff isn't silly, these are just facts. Where's the outlandish punk-rock spirit, Johnny? When did you become Tom Brokaw?
  • Jay-Z's new single, "Blue Magic," gets played on the radio, ends up on the intertubes.
  • UK combo Keane follows Coldplay's lead in the "drum up interest in our new album by announcing it's influenced by something incongruous that people actually like" sweepstakes, saying rapper Dr. Dre may influence their new album. Drummer Richard Hughes posted on the band's website that "there's a lot of interesting stuff coming out of America ... I've been listening to people like Dr. Dre for a long time... we're going to try and do something different."
  • Possibly my most favoritest headline in the history of news reporting: "Nickelback In No Rush to Make New Album." You guys just relax, preferrably in a country without recording studios.
  • Another Reason to Skip the Muffin-Top Tattoo

    | Fri Sep. 21, 2007 1:34 PM EDT

    Which hurts more, getting a tattoo or giving birth without drugs?

    The Wall Street Journal ($) reports this week that there's some evidence to suggest that those ever-so-popular lower-back tattoos may cause complications from spinal epidurals given for pain-relief during childbirth. Unless they plan someday to make do with hee-breathing, young women contemplating the needle might want to forgo the permanent pink butterfly...

    French FM Kouchner a Class Act with Anti-War Protesters

    | Fri Sep. 21, 2007 11:53 AM EDT

    It was one of those traditional, staid Washington events: an audience of three or four hundred Washington diplomats, policy people, think tank denizens and journalists gathered in the gilded ballroom at the Capital Hilton for an audience yesterday with French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, at an event sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. We had all been offered ear pieces in case we needed translation, but Kouchner, the co-founder of French humanitarian medical relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres, addressed the audience in good if heavily accented English. His speech started with a nod to past tensions in Franco-US relations (remember Freedom Fries?) and was moving onto the Middle East, when a group of women seated towards the front of the huge ballroom started moving to the stage unfurling their pink anti-war banner, and one woman seemed to try to grab Kouchner. The secret service agent could be heard telling Kouchner, 'Sir, we have to take you out," as several other security officers grabbed the women as they began chanting, "No war with Iran, no war with Iran." The audience, the Secret Service, and CSIS president John Hamre, sitting at the raised podium, were all momentarily stunned.

    But Kouchner recovered his composure first, and he asked at first it seemed merely perhaps politely, and later fully insisted to his host Hamre, that they let the activists back in. "But they are right. These ladies are right. I don't want war with Iran. Please let them back in." And to my surprise at least, after a couple minutes, the side doors of the large ballroom opened, and the women were escorted back to their seats by suited Secret Service types with the earpieces, not looking fully convinced of the wisdom of the move.

    Kouchner directed his remarks at several points to the Code Pink activists during his almost one hour of remarks (video available from C-Span). He said he did not want war with Iran, that he considered it the worst option, and a failure. He told them that an Iran with a nuclear bomb was also a worst case option. He said he advocated "dialogue, dialogue, and dialogue" and sanctions. He engaged them and asked them, what is their solution then. One woman suggested, dialogue with no sanctions. Kouchner responded to her why he felt that was insufficient. A few of the activists, perhaps a bit surprised themselves at the turn of events, offered sheepish thanks from their third row seats to Kouchner for asking that they be allowed back in. Later, one of the women stood on her chair, held up a poster, and let up a lonely chant, "What kind of doctor" blah blah blah. She was removed. The security guard later came back for her bag.

    Whatever one thinks of Kouchner and his foreign policy views, one was struck by how hard it is to even imagine any of the current U.S. administration handling such an outburst with anything approaching the willingness to engage shrill critics that Kouchner demonstrated at the scene. This administration and its critics have long operated in entirely different universes, top U.S. leaders have confined themselves to the most staged press and public events purged of critics to the extent possible.

    Later, in remarks about Darfur, Kouchner said, "For two years, nobody did anything except the activists. The activists are always right."