AOL Sucks

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 10:49 AM EDT

When AOL built its new corporate headquarters outside Washington D.C. a decade ago, the company set off an explosion of poorly planned exurban sprawl. By plopping its campus in the middle of nowhere and miles from any public transportation, AOL helped overwhelm local highways with commuter traffic that's now among the worst in the nation and spurred the overdevelopment of the formerly bucolic horse country of Loudoun County, Virginia.

County officials offered AOL lots of tax breaks to come and create this smog-choked mess, but now, the company's top executives have decided that they'd rather be somewhere more interesting. The tech company announced yesterday that AOL's senior management would be fleeing its dreary Dulles office park for the better bagels, pizza and public transportation of New York City. Of course, the execs say that it's because they need to be closer to the advertising business. But I think the rich guys at the top simply hate the very life-sucking suburbs they helped create as much as the rest of us do. Before AOL's entire upper tax bracket decamps to Madison Avenue, Loudoun County should ask for its money back.

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Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - 9/17/07

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 10:43 PM EDT

This week, heartwarming Emmy moments, psychedelic French rock, and avant-Cumbia make the cut, but the theme (as always, emerging after the fact) seems to be boundary-pushing and genre-crushing hip-hop/techno cross-pollination. That should always be the theme, really.

10. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert giving Ricky Gervais' Emmy to Steve Carell
I was actually on a flight from Minneapolis during the Emmys, and probably wouldn't have watched anyway (Ryan Seacrest?!) but the YouTube of this is fantastic, and not just for the comedy value: the audience's cheers give you the sense that despite Extras' acknowledged awesomeness, Steve Carell is just a more awesome person, especially since Gervais didn't even show up. I wonder if any of it was planned?

9. Ivan Ives - "Got It" (From Iconoclast on No Threshold)
I remember Russia being way more into Army of Lovers than hip-hop, but that was a while ago; maybe Russian-born Ives is the tip of a new expat Russki rap scene iceberg. He actually lives in LA now and this track reflects sunny climes more than winter nights, with a funky retro sample and a cute DIY video. Not exactly ground-breaking, but I've been humming the chorus all week.

Twista8. Twista feat. Kanye West - "Well It's Time"
(from Adrenaline Rush 2007, out 9/18 on Atlantic)
(listen at The Fader)
Hyper Chicago rapper Twista's auctioneer-speed rhymes are offset with a decidedly mellow sample from Feist in this Kanye West production; it's apparently the bonus track on his new album, out tomorrow, and while the song is definitely breezy, it's no throwaway.

Saturday Night Fever7. The Bee Gees - "Stayin' Alive" (Teddybears Remix) (from Bee Gees Greatest, out 9/18 on Rhino)
(listen at Pitchfork)
Swedish combo Teddybears accomplished the almost-unthinkable on their 2006 album Soft Machine: they brought back Big Beat without any backlash, and it was actaully good. Or maybe they just brought back the good parts of Big Beat—eclectic, upbeat, accessible, soulful sounds. On this disco-riffic remix, the band correctly assesses that the original has the "accessible" part pretty much down, and their job is to f*** things up a little. This they do via skronky bass noises that sound a little like French contemporaries Justice.

Sonido Martines6. Various Artists - Las Rebajadas van a Brooklin (DJ set by Sonido Martines) (download an mp3 at Muy Bastard or Disco Shawn's blog, or listen at
My expat compadre in Buenos Aires Disco Shawn introduced me to the amazing avant-Cumbia scene happening down there, and a billiant new DJ or producer seems to pop up every day. Sonido Martines produced this mix for DJ/Rupture's WFMU radio show, and the two share a philosophy: the NY DJ's marriage of Indian pop to drill 'n' bass was itself a radical reimagining of indigenous music. Sonido Martines' style, "Cumbias Rebajadas," is characterized by pitching tracks way, way down; at those speeds, the music takes on a strange psychedelic crackle, like a transmission from another time.

New York Magazine Gently Mocks Meg White's Breakdown

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 9:39 PM EDT

White Stripes
I actually just can't believe they beat me to it. We've been covering the White Stripes' cancellation of their fall tour due to reported "anxiety" and a "breakdown" on the part of drummer Meg White; in the absence of further details, one can't help but wonder what's really going on. Well, New York magazine's got some ideas, ten in fact: their article, "Ten Things That Probably Stressed Out Meg White" is actually in the best of spirits ("get well soon Meg!") although it does point out her widely-noted "primitivist" drumming style: "couldn't remember drum part to 'Seven Nation Army'" is #2. Well, it's pretty cute, anyway. The Riff loves you too, Meg.

Bush to Poor Kids: We Want You to Have Health Insurance. We Just Don't Want You to Know About It.

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 4:23 PM EDT

Over the past six years, President Bush has proven pretty definitively that he was just kidding when he once claimed to be a "compassionate conservative." But his opposition to providing health insurance for impoverished and working class kids might rank as an all time low, even for him.

The administration has actively opposed reauthorization of the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a highly successful Clinton-era initiative that extended health insurance to families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance. The plan enrolls some 7 million children. In attempting to put a lid on the program, the administration already has banned states from using federal money to cover kids who are above 250 percent of the poverty line, which many had begun to do.

Bush officials have argued that the states hadn't yet enrolled enough eligible poor kids in Medicaid to justify extending government aid to better off families. But now, the administration is trying to prevent states from doing just that--signing up more eligible kids.

On Aug. 31, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new regulation that would ban states from using federal funds to enroll poor kids for Medicaid or SCHIP if the work takes place in a public school. Not surprisingly, some states have found that the single best way to sign up lots of kids for Medicaid is to do outreach through their schools. If the new rule is approved, those programs will all but disappear, leaving thousands of kids without access to the health care they're already entitled to. Read more about the new reg here.

Music Movies Making Impact at Toronto Fest

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 2:37 PM EDT

Beautiful Downtown Toronto
Rolling Stone's "Rock Daily" blog has a wrap-up on the music-themed films featured at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, and it turns out they're all pretty good:

  • First up, Control, the Anton Corbjin-directed "interpretation" of the life of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, received a standing ovation after its screening, with Rolling Stone calling it "gripping." The second Joy Division-themed pic (movies come in twos!), simply called Joy Division, is a more straightforward documentary the magazine calls "traditional," relying on existing footage and interviews with band members.
  • Todd Haynes' atmospheric tribute to Bob Dylan, I'm Not There, was also warmly received, with the LA Times calling Cate Blanchett's portrayal of the enigmatic musician "phenomenal."
  • The documentary about Daniel Lanois' production work with artists like U2 and Sinead O'Connor, Here Is What Is, got good reviews for its ability to portray the creative process, making "something out of nothing," although even the "@U2" blog says its insider footage may be best appreciated by fans.
  • Finally, Rolling Stone calls Heavy Metal In Baghdad the "most powerful music film" at TIFF, a documentary about Iraq's "only heavy metal band," Acrassicauda. At one point in the film, their practice space is destroyed by a missile; now that's hardcore.
  • Another Dem Heavy Enters the 2008 Senate Race

    | Mon Sep. 17, 2007 2:28 PM EDT

    Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic former governor of New Hampshire, announced Friday that she will challenge the vulnerable Republican incumbent, John Sununu, in next year's Senate race. Shaheen stands a good chance of winning in increasingly blue New Hampshire. A University of New Hampshire poll conducted in July had her leading Sununu by a comfortable 16-point margin well before she decided to enter the race. Another Democratic former governor, Mark Warner, said Thursday that he will run for Senator John Warner's seat in Virginia. (John Warner, who is unrelated to Mark Warner, is retiring after five terms in office.) Combined, the entries of Shaheen and Warner are a major blow to the GOP's hopes of regaining control of the upper house.

    The Republicans will have to defend 22 Senate seats in 2008, but the Democrats only have to defend 12 to maintain their current razor-thin majority. Now, with Warner the presumed favorite in Virginia and Shaheen's strong challenge in a blue-leaning state, the Democrats look set to not just hold their majority but actually increase their lead.

    —Nick Baumann

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    Visa Problems Keeping More British Artists from U.S.

    | Mon Sep. 17, 2007 2:06 PM EDT

    Lily Allen

    Saturday's Wall Street Journal is probably the most unlikely place you'll see Lily Allen's picture this week, as the paper featured an article on the problems British musicians are having getting visas to come to the U.S. It's the kind of thing that raised conspiracy theories with M.I.A. (maybe they didn't like her lyrics!) but when you look at the range and number of artists who have had tours delayed or canceled because of visa problems, it turns out Immigration officials just don't like the U.K. As the Journal reports:

    At least three anticipated tours by British artists scheduled for this month alone have been called off or pushed back because of musicians' visa problems. That is on top of at least 10 scuttled tours by buzzed-about British acts in the last year. Part of the problem, immigration specialists say: The traditional visa system isn't set up to cope with the new face of popular music. To get into the U.S., many foreign music acts need to secure a document known as the "P-1"-class visa. This visa requires acts to prove that they have been "internationally recognized" for a "sustained and substantial" amount of time.

    That's right: Immigration officials are deciding which artists are "recognized" enough for you to be allowed to see them. That means bands like Klaxons are submitting magazine reviews and blog postings (let's hope they read the Riff!) to try and help their case, but even then, it's far from guaranteed. The Journal focuses on the business impact of last-minute tour cancellations, detailing how Lily Allen's cancelled performance in Portland Oregon meant a 1500-capacity venue was dark on a Friday night. However, it's clear that it's music fans' hearts which are suffering the most:

    When the London indie-rock band Mystery Jets had to cancel its U.S. concert debut this summer because of visa problems, 21-year-old Krisan Cieszkiewicz of Portage, Ind., was devastated. "I've never experienced anything more heartbreaking or cruel in my life," says Ms. Cieszkiewicz, who had planned to see the band in Chicago.

    Okay, come to think of it, maybe Americans could use a little hardship.

    ATM Fees Soon to Surpass Minimum Wage

    | Mon Sep. 17, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

    Last week, the banking behemoth Bank of America quietly raised the fees it charges non-customers to use its ATMs to $3 per transaction, a record high. The rest of the big banks are likely to follow suit, according to USA Today. The Bank of America fee is likely to come on top of fees charged by the non-customers' own bank ATM fees, too, meaning that getting fast cash will cost many Americans nearly as much as an hour of work at a minimum wage job.

    Bank of America defended the increase with the dubious claim that it will improve ATM access for its own customers. But I suspect that it's not a coincidence that the fee increase comes at the same time the mortgage industry is melting down. Banks can make a lot of money by nickel and diming the public. I wonder how high the fees will have to go before people will simply stop using ATMs and go back to standing in line at the branch?

    (H/T Consumer Law and Policy blog)

    Minneapolis's New Tourist Attraction

    | Mon Sep. 17, 2007 12:58 PM EDT

    From a small item in the Washington Post today: Hundreds of people passing through the Minneapolis airport are making time for a pit stop at the now-famous "Larry Craig Bathroom."

    "People have been going inside, taking pictures of the stall, taking pictures outside the bathroom door -- man, it's been crazy," said Gee Butler, who shines shoes at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

    Alan Keyes Running for President

    | Mon Sep. 17, 2007 12:20 PM EDT

    Josh Marshall, who isn't in a very kind mood, says Keyes has thrown "his straitjacket" in the ring. More info here.

    Whoa — Keyes already has a website.