Welcome back to the "staff picks" shelf at The Riff. Six tracks got some love from our editors today. Don the headphones and join us for a listen:
1. "Blue Trane," John Coltrane.
Gary: I went to the Facebook pages for Obama, Clinton, and McCain this week, hoping that their musical "faves" might give me some keen insight into their platforms. Well, when he's not playing basketball, writing, or "loafing with kids," Barack Obama listens to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, and the Fugees. So in honor of Obamamania, I'm listening to Coltrane's "Blue Trane," a 50s jazz classic.
2. "Think," Aretha Franklin.
Gary: And to answer your burning question, Hillary's into U2, Carly Simon, Aretha Franklin, and the Rolling Stones. (McCain left the music queston blank. Booooring.) In honor of Hillary, I'm listening to "Think," the song Aretha belts out in The Blues Brothers.
3."Your Belgian Things," The Mountain Goats.
Kiera: MG front man John Darnielle is sick. Don't worry, he told his fans on his blog this week—it's nothing too serious, but it's gnarly enough that he's canceled some shows. In his honor, here's one of my favorite old MG songs.
5. "Blackbird," Sarah McLachlan's cover of Paul McCartney.
Laura: The first time I heard this beautiful song, I thought for sure Sir Paul had lifted the lyrics from an old gospel ditty. They have that same haunting, hymnal quality. I was wrong, but the tune does have a noble backstory: Paul McCartney wrote it in honor of Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement. This deserves a listen in honor of the anniversary of Dr. King's death.
6. "Free Man," The Ethiopians.
Laura: iTunes calls The Ethiopians one of Jamaica's best unsung classic Rocksteady bands—and then files it under Reggae, which could explain why. Rocksteady, if you don't already have the genre in heavy rotation, is a sliver of a music niche from the late 60s that bears the same relationship to reggae that Latin does to French. Leave me a comment if you need that explained. Either way, I dare you to listen to it at your desk without a goofy head bob or two slipping past the office filter.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want you to know they're not just tolerant, they really like gay people. And they want their votes, especially in Pennsylvania later this month.
In her effort to court the gay vote, Clinton gave an exclusive interview to the Philadelphia Gay News during which she talked about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," among other issues. The publisher of the paper says both Clinton's and Obama's campaigns have made noises about buying ad space, "but we haven't gotten an insertion order."
Though Barack Obama hasn't done a Pennsylvania-specific appeal to gay voters yet, he has in other parts of the country. According to Editor&Publisher, in March Obama bought full-page, full-color ads in four Ohio and Texas LGBT publications shortly before their state primaries. It was the first time (sez Obama's campaign rep) that any presidential candidate has placed ads in local gay/lesbian publications for the express purpose of "asking for the support and the vote of LGBT voters statewide."
You know, when Björk isn't decking journalists or inspiring revolutions, she actually makes music, and continues to hire ground-breaking artists for collaborative efforts. A recent NY Times feature looked into the making of the video for her new single, "Wanderlust," and while the song is (perhaps intentionally) a bit aimless, the video is a hypnotic combination of elaborate puppetry and eye-popping computer graphics. The best part of the Times feature is the interviewer's hysterics after the San Francisco-based director reveals matter-of-factly that he was inspired by a nature walk whilst under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms. I know, Times gal, it's sooo crazy! What's actually crazy is that a Björk video gets a 6-figure budget in this day and age. I'm assuming she made a loan to her campaign? Watch "Wanderlust," and some classic Björk videos in which glorious Nature plays a major role, after the jump.
[Update: a reliable source got in touch to say that the interviewer wasn't shocked at the mention of drugs as much as she was surprised that the apparently mild-mannered directors had indulged. Okay, fine. Also, I forgot to mention that the "Wanderlust" video was filmed in 3D, and a DVD version complete with 3D decoder glasses will be out April 14th.]
On Tuesday, the Pentagon released former Bush Administration Lawyer John Yoo's notorious March 2003 interrogation memorandum. Add this to the heap of evidence that Department of Justice lawyers helped legitimize questionable White House policies toward "enemy combatants." There may not be much new information to be gained from the declassified memo—with the exception of the disavowed footnote—but it did get me thinking about the consequences for lawyers who provide legal justification for illegal wartime actions.
Besides a good public shaming, there don't seem to be many consequences. After Yoo's stint at the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel, he returned safely to his prior job as a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. And with the signing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Yoo and his former colleagues seem untouchable.
However, there is one precedent that has gone largely overlooked, maybe to the future detriment of Yoo and Co.
The Austen Goolsbee affair, in which Barack Obama's top economics adviser told Canadian government officials (with a disputed degree of seriousness) that Obama's anti-NAFTA rhetoric isn't to be taken seriously, was used by the Clinton campaign every single day before the Ohio and Texas primaries — chief strategist Mark Penn and communications director Howard Wolfson told reporters on literally dozens of conference calls that the incident called into question Obama's credibility, honesty, and progressive bona fides on economic policy.
So one has to wonder what Mark Penn was thinking when one hears that Penn, the CEO of PR giant Burson-Marsteller Worldwide in addition to his job with the Clinton campaign, met with the Colombian ambassador to discuss how to secure congressional approval for a bi-lateral trade agreement that Columbia supports and Hillary Clinton vocally opposes. According to the Justice Department, the Columbian government has paid Penn's firm $300,000 to lobby for Columbia's point of view and to secure $5 billion for the war on drugs program known as Plan Colombia.
When news of the meeting went public, Penn was immediate contrite, saying in a written statement, "The meeting was an error in judgment that will not be repeated and I am sorry for it. The senator's well-known opposition to this trade deal is clear and was not discussed."
John McCain is in Memphis today commemorating the death of Dr. King, but he can't run from his spotty history on the MLK holiday and civil rights. In 1983, McCain was one of 77 Republican Congressmen to vote against establishing a federal holiday in MLK's honor. McCain was in the minority even among his GOP colleagues: even Dick Cheney, who voted against the holiday in 1978, voted for it in '83. Later, McCain would explain his vote by saying he "thought that it was not necessary to have another federal holiday, that it cost too much money, that other presidents were not recognized."
In 1999 McCain admitted that he was wrong to vote the way he did. He told NBC's Tim Russert, "on the Martin Luther King issue, we all learn, OK? We all learn. I will admit to learning, and I hope that the people that I represent appreciate that, too. I voted in 1983 against the recognition of Martin Luther King I regret that vote."
The 1983 vote, however, is the not the end of the issue. In 1987, Arizona's Republican Governor repealed the state's recognition of King; McCain supported the decision. He changed his mind in 1990, when a King holiday was put to a vote in the state.
But even by 1990, McCain hadn't come to appreciate what King stood for. The Civil Rights Act of 1990 sought to overturn "Supreme Court rulings that made it much more difficult for individual employees to prove discrimination." The legislation was fought by big business, because it imposed new penalties on employers convicted of job discrimination. McCain voted against the act four times.
And in his 2000 presidential campaign, McCain employed a man named Richard Quinn in his South Carolina organization. Quinn was a toxic figure, writing:
The unemployment rate jumped from 4.8 percent to 5.1 percent in March, a total loss of 80,000 jobs. That marks the biggest decline in five years, and follows 76,000 jobs lost in both January and February. "There doesn't appear to be any silver lining," an interest rate strategist at Credit Suisse told Reuters. "It shows that we're right in the middle of a recession that will probably take a while."
Considering this news, it's not surprising that 81 percent of Americans say that "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track," according to a New York Times/CBS News poll. That figure is the highest ever recorded in the poll, which started in the early '90s. It's a bleak picture:
A majority of nearly every demographic and political group Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school say the United States is headed in the wrong direction. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was better off.
See the graph at right: one might observe that the Bush Administration's second term has been one long ever-worsening crisis of confidence.
It's been four decades since Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed. On the occasion of this anniversary, there's much media coverage of his life and his death. In all the years that have passed since that tragic moment, a flood of commentary has flowed. Yet it remains hard to improve upon what Bobby Kennedy said on the night of that assassination in Indianapolis, where he was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. He spoke extemporaneously and had the hard task of informing the crowd of King's violent death. Here is the audio of Kennedy's remarks accompanied by a photo montage:
As many commentators have noted, there were riots in cities across America when people learned of the news of King's murder, but there was calm in Indianapolis that horrible night.
Two months later, RFK would be shot and killed. If you want to see actual footage of Kennedy speaking to the crowd in Indianapolis (with Italian subtitles superimposed), you'll find it after the jump:
The always thought-provoking Gary Kamiya, at Salon, posted a column this week asking whether America's puritanism might just be waning in the wake of Spitzer, Paterson, men's room foot-tapping, mother-daughter pole dancing, and the like. He writes:
America seems to be slowly but surely weaning itself from its addiction to shrill moral judgments. Only 10 years ago, former President Bill Clinton was almost removed from office because he fooled around with a White House intern. Ten years before that, Douglas Ginsburg lost his shot at the Supreme Court because he admitted he had smoked marijuana. But when New York Gov. David Paterson recently copped to having had extramarital affairs and doing cocaine, the public reaction was a collective yawn. Admittedly, Paterson chose the best possible time to make his public confession: after the Eliot Spitzer train wreck, he probably could have revealed that he had dabbled in necrophilia while high on smack and gotten away with it. But still, Paterson's get-out-of-jail-free card would have been inconceivable just a few years ago.
I've been trying to convince my journalism students of this very point, and that the media deserves the lion's share of the credit for America's maturation on morals issues. Exhaustively covering these issues (Religious Right, anyone?) allows America to look itself in the mirror and ask questions like: Is it really my business if Paterson and his wife took a 'vacation' from their marriage? No. Mr. "Morals" Spitzer's 'hoing? Yes. But I'm swimming upstream trying to sell them on the notion that the media is our only way of figuring out which conversations we no longer need to have.
Here's a great series of cartograms—maps distorted to reveal a bias. In this case media attention by region. You can click on the buttons to see how newspapers warp their coverage of world news according to parochial interests. Nicolas Kayser-Bril first published this online on L'Observatoire des Médias, and later in expanded form in the Online Journalism Blog. Below is a newer cartogram, made in partnership with Gilles Bruno, of the coverage of the blogosphere. Their hope is to update these maps daily or weekly to pressure editors into covering more diverse issues.
As for the cartographers' bias, where are the data for coverage of the world-ocean, accounting for more than 70% of Earth's surface? Where's Antarctica?