Media Jones

Books

Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine
By Jon Cohen. Norton. $27.95.
When Jon Cohen began researching this book in 1990, he expected it would chart the development of the first successful AIDS vaccine. Given the scientific strides being made at the time, it was not an unreasonable assumption. But by 1997, after watching scientific breakthroughs get buried by infighting or languish without financial support, Cohen realized he'd been overly optimistic: The field had "no real leadership, no real funding," and, more troubling, "no sense of urgency."

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Cohen, who covers medicine for Science magazine, explores how the once-promising search for a vaccine has been hindered, if not entirely crippled, by conßicting politics, market imperatives, and the ethical problems of testing on humans. He takes readers into the labs of frustrated AIDS researchers and reveals behind-the-scenes chaos at the National Institutes of Health -- the agency that's supposed to be running the show.

Cohen not only illuminates flaws -- he recommends changes. He calls for top-down leadership from an umbrella organization -- not unlike the March of Dimes -- armed with a massive public-private endowment to fund all promising leads. He remains hopeful that the global scientific community can ultimately produce a "coordinated assault on HIV, which by 2000 had already threatened to kill 1 percent of the human population." --Jacob Levenson

Demonology
By Rick Moody. Little, Brown. $24.95.
There is one terrific short story in Rick Moody's new collection, Demonology. With a gleeful sense of the absurd, "The Double Zero" recounts a hardscrabble Midwestern family's doomed get-rich-quick schemes -- from farming angora rabbits to staging a mutant ostrich show. ("There were lots of genetic things that could go wrong with an ostrich flock, like say an ostrich had four legs, or an ostrich had two heads, or the ostrich didn't have any head at all...") "The Double Zero" handles the shards of the American dream with surprising subtlety, climaxing in a hilarious scene that starts off: "Take a weight off for a second, friend; I'm going to show you how to get an ostrich egg into a Coke bottle."

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the other tales in Demonology, in which Moody too often relies on his formidable wordplay to dress up a core of daytime-TV mawkishness. Set in the staid confines of Connecticut and New York's Westchester County, Moody's stories simultaneously belittle and mourn the traditional proprieties of WASP family life, often with an ailing child or recently departed sibling thrown in for sentimental kick. Despite their high-toned poignancy, too many of these stories just ring hollow. --Ben Ehrenreich

Trust Us, We're Experts! How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles With Your Future
By John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. Tarcher/Putnam. $24.95.
Tales of science corrupted by corporate money made national news during the tobacco trials of the '90s; ever since, headlines have decried case after case of muzzled researchers, suppressed results, and studies tainted by conflict of interest.

Stauber and Rampton first tackled this subject matter in Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!, an exposé of unconscionable industry spin that became a best-seller for feisty mini-press Common Courage. While Trust Us occasionally reads like a rehashing of Toxic Sludge, there's enough new material to justify the endeavor: The story of the British scientist fired for publishing research on the dangers of biotech food is worth the cover price alone.

The authors' liberal bent is evident throughout, but their research is solid, and the subject couldn't be more timely: With controversy about industry-funded research stirring everywhere from the American Medical Association to the FDA, Trust Us, We're Experts! just might become required reading in Biology 101. --Monika Bauerlein

Film

AtomFilms
www.atomfilms.com
Short films have struggled in the era of the megaplex, but their quick run time makes them a natural fit for online viewing. And if the quality shorts at Internet cinema sites like AtomFilms are any indication, then the art form is experiencing a renaissance. Internet release lowers the bar -- a short no longer needs to win Sundance to get screened. But because anyone can slap a video up on the Web, the value of sites like AtomFilms is their filtering. Atom has separate channels for "Euro," "Animation," "Cinema," and "Extreme" shorts, with each channel highlighting six (generally excellent) shorts. A recent sampling includes:
In the Mirror of the Sky, a vivid, award-winning Mexican short about a boy's attempts to capture an airplane's reflection in a box.
An Arrangement, an unlikely love story about a young Indian couple learning to accept their arranged marriage.
Godzillary, a hilarious animated romp in which Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and Rick Lazio lay waste to Manhattan.
Bikini Bandits Episode 7, a B-movie short in which scantily-clad outlaws zoom around in a muscle car and hold up a quickie mart.
Although watching the films with a dial-up connection can be slow going, the wait is bearable, and ultimately worthwhile. An hour at AtomFilms easily bests a night of "Must-See TV." --Andrew Rosenblum

Music

The Sugar Tree
Amy Rigby. Koch.
Love isn't blind in Amy Rigby's rootsy pop music. Her sweet vocals and lilting melodies suggest standard romantic fare, but she's loaded her tunes with surprising twists that shred the clichZs. Rigby's partner is most often absent or headed for the door, leaving the singer in the throes of ambivalence. The perky facade of "Better Stay Gone" masks a tug-of-war between common sense and carnal desire; "Cynically Yours" spoofs torch ballads with jaundiced expressions of devotion. But for all her hard-boiled wisdom, Rigby never courts despair: The rollicking "Wait Til I Get You Home" is as joyous an expression of lust as you'll find anywhere. --Jon Young

The Live Mixtape Part Two
Breakestra. Stones Throw.
On this unforgettable album, Breakestra mixes faithful covers of funk classics with new tracks so steeped in tradition they're nearly impossible to distinguish from the genuine '70s article. Throughout Live Mixtape, the 10-man band dishes fat, springy bass lines that pop over enormous brass and stuttering snares. And as a bonus they cover nine funk classics that were later sampled in hip-hop. Hear the sounds of Busta Rhymes in a Galt MacDermot original; The Roots in Eugene McDaniels; Nas in The JBs; tomorrow's music in yesterday's. --Jon Caramanica

American III: Solitary Man
Johnny Cash. American.
The ailing Johnny Cash has returned with an album worthy of his legend. Supported by sparse arrangements, the 68-year-old Cash offers somber reflections on love and mortality. In that compelling croak of a voice, he covers tunes from "That Lucky Old Sun" to Tom Petty's feisty "I Won't Back Down" to Nick Cave's hair-raising death-row saga, "The Mercy Seat." Guests include Petty, Sheryl Crow, and Merle Haggard, who duets on "I'm Leavin' Now." But the mythic presence of the Man in Black -- weary yet unsinkable -- trumps everything else. --Jon Young

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