What's Needed in Coverage of GOP Candidates

| Tue Aug. 21, 2007 10:01 AM EDT

Unlike a lot of people, I don't have a problem with certain kinds of superficial campaign coverage. Take, for example this recent Boston Globe story that analyzed the "Leave it to Beaver" language used by Mitt Romney on the campaign trail.

"Whoop-de-do!" he says of John Edwards's proposal to let Americans save $250 tax-free. "Gosh, I love America," Romney said during one GOP debate. After hitting a long golf drive in one of his campaign videos, he shouts, "Holy moly!"
Romney often sounds as if he has stepped out of a time machine from 1950s suburban America...

Okay, fine. That's not really interesting, but whatever. If a reporter and an editor want to put in the time to dissect this sort of stuff, that's their choice. If you or I, as serious consumers of news, want something more substantive, we can just find it somewhere else. Right?

Wrong! This campaign season, we have not seen the Globe or anyone else publish a dissection of Romney's language one day and a dissection of his Iraq policy the next. No one is paying attention to the complete and utter lack of substantive issue positions from the Republicans. They have no serious ideas on Iraq, on health care, or on climate change — they're running on rhetoric, personality, and resume. The Democrats have all of that, plus incredibly detailed plans for America's most pressing priorities. Until that truth appears in the mainstream media regularly, superficial coverage like the Globe's remains troubling.

One possible exception here, by the way, is the American Prospect, which has written about this once and blogged about it as well. (We've noted it too.)

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Thoughts on M.I.A.'s Kala

| Tue Aug. 21, 2007 2:16 AM EDT

M.I.A.: KalaIf you've been a faithful Riff reader, you've heard a lot about M.I.A., otherwise known as Maya Arulpragasam: from the YouTube debuts of "Bird Flu" and "Boyz," to the arrival of advance copies of the new album, to her streaming all of Kala online. So, the album arrives in stores tomorrow: what's the final verdict?

ArularWith Kala named after Arulpragasam's mother, it's illustrative to look back at Arular, her 2005 debut, named after her father. The first singles, "Sunshowers" and "Galang," featured similar downtempo dancehall beats, with edgy lyrics that seemed to invite analysis as part of the London-born singer's Sri Lankan heritage and her father's participation in militant Tamil activism: "shotgun, get down / too late, you down." My experience with the full-length was a kind of gradual awareness: certain tracks grabbed my attention at first (the rollicking freestyle of "10 Dollar") while others took time to adjust to (the aggressive Baile funk of "Bucky Done Gun"). As time went by, the album seemed to capture both a forward-looking electronic sound (partially thanks to its edgy producers, including Diplo and Richard X), as well as a political mood informed by both anger and ebullience.

So, two years later, M.I.A. is back in action, with production duties mostly taken over by Switch, a UK electronic artist and DJ whose chopped-up style teeters on the bleeding edge of dance music. Again, the first singles, "Bird Flu" and "Boyz," featured similar triple-time beats and lyrics with obtuse references to violence and politics. But as Robert Christgau pointed out in Rolling Stone, the rest of Kala doesn't seem accessible, with jagged beats and even more eclectic references: Bollywood, didgeridoo, The Clash, The Pixies, Baltimore house. While he calls this an "art music," it may be helpful to remember that Arular's catchiness was by no means immediate, and tracks like "Bucky Done Gun" seemed brittle and abrasive at first. M.I.A. has a tendency to shift the world to her point of view, and while Kala forces your ears to adjust to its pressurized depths (and vertigo-inducing heights), I'd buy stock in Kala sing-along futures.

Weird Weather Watch: Dean's Revenge

| Tue Aug. 21, 2007 1:37 AM EDT

After battering Jamaica yesterday and today, Hurricane Dean is headed toward Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as a category 5 storm. It is one of fewer than 30 hurricanes ever to earn the highest rating for tropical storms, and is as big as the state of Texas. (That's big, y'all.) Several significant—and exquisite—Mayan ruins will have to withstand Dean's power.

Update: Dean was the third most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to make landfall. One of the two that edged it out was 1988's Hurricane Gilbert, which guessed it, the Yucatan Peninsula.

Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things, 8/20/07: Bay Area Flavor

| Mon Aug. 20, 2007 10:25 PM EDT

Ah, San Francisco: cold, dirty, expensive, and impossible to get around in. But, our mayor is so dreamy! Take that, Boise! Also, lately, lots of good music is coming from all sides of the Bay, and some of it lands in my always-worldly Top Ten this week. I know you don't need them because of the fog, but why not put your stunna shades on anyway, it's for fun.

Talib Kweli10. Talib Kweli feat. Justin Timberlake – "The Nature" (from Eardrum, out 8/21 on Warner)
(grab an mp3 from The Scramble Network)
Kweli may not have qualified for MTV's recent "Top 10 Hottest MCs" list (that controversially ranked Lil Wayne #1, and Kanye ahead of Fiddy!) but he's a towering hip-hop figure nonetheless. This mellow, soulful track gets a little "Lite FM" when Trousersnake pops in for the chorus, but Kweli's flow is perfectly calibrated, intense without shouting. Plus when the beat kicks back in at 4:23, wow.

Tarentel9. Tarentel – "Everybody F***s with Somebody" (from Ghetto Beats on the Surface of the Sun, CD version just released on Temporary Residence)
(stream at Aquarius Records' site)
Boy, "Sunshine" could have been such an awesome movie, but it had to turn into "Zombies in Space" instead. Dammit! Anyway, San Francisco avant-rockers Tarentel aren't fooling around with their title, and unlike some of their previous instrumental work, this isn't dreamy: it's dense, skittering, Krautrock-y, like Battles only less concerned with "songs," if you can believe it.

Foreign Born8. Foreign Born – "Union Hall" (from On the Wing Now, out 8/21 on Dim Mak)
(grab an mp3 at BiBaBiDi)
This band originally came from San Francisco, although they're in LA now, so I suppose I shouldn't count them. Either way, the four-piece gain infinite points by prominently featuring an autoharp here. I love me some autoharp. The track starts off restrained, in Jesus & Mary Chain territory, and then erupts into a Band of Horses-style chorus. Check them out at a free show at the Echo in LA tomorrow night.

Nyles Lannon7. Nyles Lannon – "Slipping" (from Pressure, out 9/18 on Badman)
(listen on his MySpace)
Hey, just a few weeks ago I featured Bay Area band Film School in the top ten; now here's a—chuckle!—Film School graduate. Har!!! Ahem... he used to be in Film School. Is this thing on? Sheesh. Well, where his former bandmates have moved into a swirlier, almost goth-y direction, Lannon's reference points are more like The White Album, psychedelic and complex.

Modeselektor6. Modeselektor feat. Thom Yorke – "The White Flash" (From Happy Birthday out in September on BPitch Control)
(mp3 via Beep Beep Beep)
On Yorke's solo LP, the electronic backing tracks seemed resistant to easy grooves—they were hypnotic, but you couldn't really dance to them. Here, Berlin duo Modeselector retains the experimental vibe, but adds a solid, if dubby, beat. Yorke's vocals devolve into a chant of "you have all the time in the world," and even though this track clocks in at 7:30, you kind of wish you did.

Mother Jones Contributing Writer Julia Whitty Speaks in SF Tomorrow

| Mon Aug. 20, 2007 8:07 PM EDT

Bay Area residents: don't miss author, filmmaker, and Mother Jones contributing writer and blogger Julia Whitty ("Gone," May/June 2007). She'll be speaking tomorrow at the California Academy of Sciences about "wonders and warnings from the oceans." Time: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Location: 875 Howard Street, between 4th and 5th Streets. Admission price: $8 for non-members.

FTC Continues Whole Foods Fight

| Mon Aug. 20, 2007 7:00 PM EDT

As we blogged last week, the Federal Trade Commission's injunction to stop Whole Foods' $565 million merger with fomer competitor, Wild Oats, was denied. Whole Foods was set to merge with Wild Oats as early as today. Not so fast. Friday, the FTC appealed the denial and requested that the judge delay the merger.

Whole Foods is "confident that the merger will be allowed to proceed" and I'm sure the organic grocer feels pretty good about stock prices too. Whole Foods shares jumped 7% after the appeal was announced.

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Add 'Probable Flooding' to the List of Dangers in Iraq

| Mon Aug. 20, 2007 4:34 PM EDT

Scariest headline of the day comes from Army Times: "Iraqi Dam Expected To Burst, Engulf City, Air Base Any Day."

And they're completely serious. You can read the entire article at the link (it's about Mosul), but here's just one of the many quotes.

Almost every conversation in Mosul — over card games, coffee or even out on patrol — leads to speculation about when the dam will finally go.


Mother Jones Contributing Writer Julia Whitty Speaks in SF Tomorrow

| Mon Aug. 20, 2007 4:31 PM EDT

Bay Area residents: don't miss author, filmmaker, and Mother Jones contributing writer and blogger Julia Whitty ("Gone," May/June 2007). She'll be speaking tomorrow at the California Academy of Sciences about "wonders and warnings from the oceans." Time: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Location: 875 Howard Street, between 4th and 5th Streets. Admission price: $8 for non-members.

See you there!

Merv Griffin Was Gay and Everyone Is Freaking Out

| Mon Aug. 20, 2007 2:49 PM EDT

Merv and his horse
In another depressing sign of just how uncomfortable America continues to be with all things queer, the Hollywood Reporter's "outing" of host and producer Merv Griffin is sending shock waves through the industry and the press. On Friday, the Reporter printed a story in its online edition headlined "Merv Griffin Died a Closeted Homosexual." Then, apparently buckling under pressure from "Hollywood titans, advertisers, and lawyers" (reports Michelangelo Signorile on his blog), they pulled the story, which has since reappeared under the new title, "Griffin Never Revealed Man Behind the Curtain," with significant revisions. (See the blog Queer Two Cents for an outline of the revisions, for a reprint of the original story, and Towleroad for a timeline of the events). Reuters picked up the story and just as quickly dropped it, saying it "did not meet our standards for news." (See this page, where the Reuters story apparently was at one point.)

Chamillionaire, Cultural Pundit

| Mon Aug. 20, 2007 2:30 PM EDT

If you're interested in a hip-hop take on faux news, global warming, and America's culture wars, check out Chamillionaire's "Evening News." It's pretty excellent. Chamillionaire, who's always had a lot to say about swearing in rap music (see below), announced earlier this month that he's going cuss-free.