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SNL Samples Aphex Twin Without Asking?

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 4:33 PM EDT

The Drukqs Don't Work
While I was out and about and missed "Saturday Night Live"'s season premier, there were a couple items of note; first, Kanye's odd musical appearance (more on that here), and second, the "Iran So Far" digital short. This is Andy Samberg's deal, once again proving that just as he continues to be nearly unwatchable as a live performer on the show, he knocks every one of these pre-recorded pieces out of the park. It's a fair trade-off. This "Iran" piece riffed on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent remark at Columbia that there are no gays in Iran, with Samberg professing his love for the Iranian president, and in a most definitely gay way. With cameos by Maroon 5's Adam Levine and Jake Gyllenhaal, the track could go on to be another internet hit like "Lazy Sunday," but NBC seems to be holding back. Copies of the clip have been removed from YouTube, but you can't watch it on NBC's site either; clicking on the video brings up an error. What could be the problem?

Well, it turns out Samberg might have gotten a little too sample-happy. It turns out that the delicate piano melody that forms the basis of the tune was taken directly from an Aphex Twin song, "Avril 14th," off the 2001 album drukqs, and it appears they didn't have clearance for it. Oops. You can just imagine the stern talking-to Lorne Michaels probably gave Samberg this morning. "Andy, I just got a very angry phone call from Warp Records, would you know anything about that?" "Sorrrryyy..." The Daily Swarm is reporting that an "SNL source" says they're working on getting all the right clearances, and hopefully then you'll be able to watch it without guilt on NBC's site. But until then, I found a link they haven't shut down yet. I have to say, I get a little verklempt hearing the cheers after the line, "I know you said there's no gays in Iran, but you're in New York now baby."

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Citigroup Gets What It Deserves

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 3:27 PM EDT

Citigroup today announced that its third-quarter earnings dropped 60 percent, in large part because of more than a billion dollars worth of bad subprime loans in its portfolio. But no one, especially not Citigroup, should be surprised that its loan portfolio is a minefield of rotten debt.

For years, Citigroup has preyed on the mentally retarded, the elderly, and the illiterate, particularly in the South, to push predatory subprime loans on people most ill-equipped to pay for them. Reporter Mike Hudson, now at the Wall Street Journal, has been chronicling this story for a decade, and in 2003, Southern Exposure magazine won a George Polk award for his investigative package on Citigroup and its history of assembling some of the country's sleaziest subprime lending companies under one roof. Lots of people who got subprime loans from Citigroup and its subsidiaries ended up losing their homes long before the current foreclosure crisis.

Just five years ago, Citigroup agreed to pay $240 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission over its predatory lending practices, and it has settled a host of private lawsuits over similar charges. The lawsuits never seemed to put even a hitch in Citigroup's step, but it looks like all those bad loans are finally coming home to roost. Citigroup deserves to collapse under the weight of its scummy business practices, but it's unfortunate that the reckoning threatens to bring down the rest of the economy with it.

Obama Releases Fundraising Numbers; Has Raised $75M in 2007

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 3:01 PM EDT

Here are the raw numbers for Obama's fundraising, snatched from a press advisory email his campaign just sent out:

Third quarter totals:
• Primary dollars raised: at least $19 million
• Overall dollars raised (with general election): at least $20 million
• Number of new donors: over 93,000

Total 2007:
• Primary dollars raised: at least $74.9 million
• Total number of donors: 352,000

It's that last one that I find most impressive. If Obama has managed to find 352,000 donors from January 1 to September 30, that's roughly 1,290 new donors every single day.

I'm interested to know what Obama's cash-on-hand is. He may have raised a whopping $75 million up to this point, but how much does he have left to spend? I've placed a call to the Obama press office to find out.

Update: No call back. From other news reports, it looks like they are keeping the cash-on-hand number under wraps.

Radiohead to Release New Album in Ten Days!

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 2:49 PM EDT

Radiohead - In Rainbows

Well now I feel bad, since I'd been complaining about how cryptic they were being. Radiohead have announced they will be releasing their new album, In Rainbows, in ten days. Rumors had been swirling about the band's upcoming material in recent days, with coded messages on their official site leading some to look for a March, 2008 release of a new album. Radiohead left EMI in 2005, so their next move had been the topic of great speculation. Thus this announcement has come as a major shock, with Pitchfork headlining their article, "NEW RADIOHEAD ALBUM AAAAAAAHHH!!!"

The unexpectedness of the announcement may be the least unusual thing about the release, which is breaking with many record industry conventions. First of all, the album will be available for the first two months after its release only as a digital download from the band's website; second, and most interestingly, fans will be able to "name their own price" for the purchase. A disclaimer on the checkout screen reads, "It's up to you." Agh! Pressure!

The band will also sell In Rainbows on traditional CDs and double vinyl, just not immediately; the CDs will begin shipping in early December. Billboard has a tracklisting.

[update] For an interesting take on In Rainbows UK Telegraph blogger Shane Richmond has a piece called "How Radiohead Killed the Record Labels." His point is mostly that while Radiohead isn't doing anything that new here, it's still a big deal because, well, Radiohead is a big deal:

None of the things Radiohead are doing with this is unique. All of them have been developed and used by other artists for quite some time. But this is Radiohead. When one of the world's biggest bands does something like this, it will get noticed and it will start people thinking. ...Record labels survived for years on the value they added to the process. They made it possible for bands to make records and get them into the stores and then used their marketing weight to get those records played on the radio and featured in magazines. In the process they made enormous profits by overcharging fans and underpaying artists. ...[But] they no longer add any value to the process. In fact, they act as a barrier between fans and musicians. It's time to move them out of the way and Radiohead have just showed us how.

Well! All praise be to Radiohead! The album's popularity is assured, but the question remains on how all this will work out; the website has already crashed once due to overwhelming traffic. Any problems with delivering the mp3s (or the actual CDs) could be looked at as a warning for any band trying to imitate Radiohead's move. We'll see in ten days...

[update #2] As news emerges that no advance copies of In Rainbows will be sent to the press, British music weekly NME has taken it upon themselves to match up the album's tracklisting with YouTubed live footage of the band, and they've found clips of almost every one of the songs. Whether they're completely accurate, it's hard to be sure, but if you can't wait ten days for your Radiohead experience, check the videos out here.

More Blackwater Revelations

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 2:35 PM EDT

This from the office of the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Henry Waxman: "Previously undisclosed information reveals (1) Blackwater has engaged in 195 'escalation of force' incidents since 2005, an average of 1.4 per week, including over 160 incidents in which Blackwater forces fired first; (2) after a drunken Blackwater contractor shot the guard of the Iraqi Vice President, the State Department allowed the contractor to leave Iraq and advised Blackwater on the size of the payment needed 'to help them resolve this'; and (3) Blackwater, which has received over $1 billion in federal contracts since 2001, is charging the federal government over $1,200 per day for each 'protective security specialist' employed by the company." Memo available here.

Christian Right Considering Supporting 3rd Party if Giuliani Gets GOP Nod

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 2:08 PM EDT

It's been well-documented that James Dobson hates most of the Republican field, but he realllly hates Rudy Giuliani. According to Salon's Michael Scherer:

A powerful group of conservative Christian leaders decided Saturday at a private meeting in Salt Lake City to consider supporting a third-party candidate for president if a pro-choice nominee like Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination.
The meeting of about 50 leaders, including Focus on the Family's James Dobson, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who called in by phone, took place at the Grand America Hotel during a gathering of the Council for National Policy, a powerful shadow group of mostly religious conservatives...
"The conclusion was that if there is a pro-abortion nominee they will consider working with a third party," said the person, who spoke to Salon on the condition of anonymity. The private meeting was not a part of the official CNP schedule, which is itself a closely held secret. "Dobson came in just for this meeting," the person said.

I wonder if this is just another form of pressure — that is to say, perhaps the Christian right is letting it be known in the press that they will consider supporting a third party if Giuliani wins the nomination as a way of pressuring Giuliani into moving his views on gays and abortion closer to theirs.

If you think that theory presumes too much organization and discipline on the part of the evangelical community, you obviously haven't read our cover package on the Christian right.

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Kanye on SNL: What the Hell?

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 1:58 PM EDT
kanye-west.gif

For weeks I've been hearing how great Kanye West's new CD is, so I was chomping at the bit to see his performance on Saturday Night Live's season opener this weekend. His first song? Awesome. But by the time his second song had ended, I was scratching my head trying to figure out what the hell happened.

His first , a "Stronger/Good Life" medley, was a seamless performance. He was high energy (almost too high), he had an all-female (under-utilized) backup orchestra, solid backup vocalists, a tight live band, and stage lighting brighter and flashier than I remember seeing anyone under on the SNL stage. So far, so good.

Then came his second song, "Champion." Once again, high energy coming from everyone on stage. Then Kanye tells the band to break it down, and he goes "off the dome" (what came across as an improvised, off the top of his head freestyle) without any backup from the band. A risky move indeed, considering he didn't really have much to say. There were several lines about him being on top of his game, being number one, and being "the Don," but unfortunately his freestyle meandered toward a complete anti-climax of him saying "I keep going, going, going going..." Well, yeah, that's what he did alright, for way too long (about six minutes).

He recognized the flubs of the performance by mixing "I meant to mess up" into one line. I give him a lot of credit for improvising on live television; that's a bold move. But in this case, I'm thinking he should have stuck to the script.

After Killing 11 Iraqi Civilians, Blackwater Gets $92 Million Contract from Pentagon

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 1:44 PM EDT

Hey, here's a shocker — there's no accountability in the Bush Administration.

Rudy Giuliani and Those Horrible Phone Calls

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 1:29 PM EDT

If you're a regular user of the internets, you've probably seen the video of Rudy Giuliani awkwardly interrupting a speech to the NRA in order to take a phone call from his wife Judith.

Turns out, Rudy's made quite a habit of this behavior. According to John Fund at the Wall Street Journal, Rudy's own staffers estimate the candidate has taken phone calls from his wife "more than 40 times in the middle of speeches, conferences and presentations to large donors." And it's pissing people off. Witness:

Consider a spring incident in Oklahoma City. Mr. Giuliani spoke twice at the Oklahoma History Center, first at a small private roundtable for $2,300 donors and then to 150 people who donated $500 apiece. Ten minutes into the roundtable, Mr. Giuliani's phone rang. He left the room to take the call, apparently from Mrs. Giuliani, and never returned. The snubbed donors received no explanation. "The people there viewed it as disrespectful and cheesy," says Pat McGuigan, a local newspaper editor who was asked by the Giuliani campaign to moderate the roundtable.
An hour or so later, Mr. Giuliani was speaking to the bigger group of donors when his phone rang again. While he spoke with his wife, he invited her to say hello to the assembled crowd...
I've been told of many other incidents, from a California fund-raiser to a Florida speech to a gathering with top donors at Bear Stearns in New York. At the Bear Stearns meeting, Mr. Giuliani took a call from his wife and then noting the strained faces of his supporters, he sheepishly tried a joke. "I've been married three times," he explained. "I can't afford to lose another one. I'm sure you understand."

Rudy's bizarre behavior just gives the media more opportunities to bring up the "Queen Bitch" meme about his wife. Consider this from Fund's closing paragraphs: "Staffers have been fired, advisers shut out of meetings, schedules changed based on [Judith Giuliani's] whim. But it was her idea for Mr. Giuliani to suggest on national TV that he might let her attend cabinet meetings... The staff remains "terrified" of her, according to a former staffer. "Mollifying Judith is at the top of the to-do list for far too many people on the campaign," one person close to Mr. Giuliani told me."

So what's the deal? Is Rudy really so devoted to his wife that he can't resist taking her phone call even at the most inappropriate of times? Or does he think this staged tenderness humanizes him? Or is he as afraid of his wife as his staffers are? Whatever the explanation, I certainly hope this trend continues. I'd love to see Rudy interrupt a nationally televised debate by taking a phone call from his wife. Or, heaven forbid, the oath of office itself.

Oh, and PS — Rudy's explanation for all this? What else, 9/11.

Race War, Schmace War: Racial Porn is the Real Problem

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 11:34 AM EDT

My good buddy, and one of the smartest race-thinkers we have, the LA Times' Gregory Rodriguez has a very good question for America: "Why is everyone so anxious to elevate Latino-black violence to historic levels?" (Violent crime, generally, is down there due to police innovations like asking locals to help instead of only asking them to assume the position.)

As he wrote in his latest column, "A new study by three UC Irvine criminologists has concluded that Los Angeles is not on the brink of a major interracial crime wave. Surprised? That's understandable. Because for the last several years, the media have been increasingly fixated on the specter of black-versus-brown violence."

Sadly, violence remains intra-communal. It aint even close. Though Gregory's analysis is great, as usual, I think there's a puzzle piece missing in figuring out why everyone's primed for a good old-fashioned race war.

It's true that scaring readers sells newspapers and magazines. It's also true that whites like to believe that black-white relations are good (75% of white Angelenos think so, given how well our racial rivenings work out for them), while black-Hispanic (black-anybody) relations must be bad (46% think so). Funny, then, that 68% of blacks and 59% of Hispanics think the opposite. True, too, that white racial fatigue, well underway while Kunta Kinte was getting his toes chopped off, compels them to flip the script. "We're not the problem anymore. Look at how those people behave." Career criminals are always bored by their victims' complaints. Still, however real white fatigue may be, it's only a slice of the phenomenon.

People see what they want to see. In this racially ridiculous country, people want, need, to see 'the other' reduced to the characteristics assigned to them by their worst enemy. Blacks and browns are lazy, rapacious animals who could never handle freedom. Raping, clawing and murdering each other in the Super Dome post-Katrina. Grandmothers at 14. Welfare queens. Super predators. Sing good, though and boy can they box/dance/shoot hoops. All's right with the world when whites are socially constructed as beneficent, enlightened, long suffering. When white criminals are culturally understood as individuals, minority criminals: mascots. When there's lots of blacks and browns to feel superior to. And here's the bonus: jones-ing for minority crime 'proves' that our criminal justice system isn't racist. Just a sad fact of life.

We all do it.

Worldcom, Enron, Halliburton's no-bid Iraq contracts, Blackwater, insider trading, stolen elections, corporate kickbacks--we Negroes LOVE that stuff. Don't even get us started on how sexually kinky we believe whites to be. I'm guessing, Hispanics get off on white corruption, too (but I have no idea how Asians fit into this except as the 'model minority'). Even as we lose our jobs, pensions, and houses, wer'e crowing, we can't forward each other emails fast enough, because we have the threadbare, pathetic joy of seeing whites exposed as their 'true' selves: hypocrites who'd deal with the devil for a dollar, happily selling their own mothers out for a time share in the Hamptons. Selling out the nation? No problem if the price is right.

It's porn. Racial porn. And we all do it.