2009 - %3, January

Video: 1981 Report About "Reading News on Your Computer"

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 1:16 PM PST

Just imagine! Someday, far in the future, before you jet off in your hovercar to your job on the moon, your robot maid will bring you your morning paper on a computer, where you can read about universal health care! Okay, only one of those things actually ended up happening, although I do pay my house cleaners extra to talk like Twiki. But back in 1981, anything seemed possible, as evidenced by this news report from KRON-TV right here in San Francisco. They describe how, um, the San Francisco Chronicle "programmed" their paper into a computer in Columbus, Ohio (?!!) which one guy in North Beach could access via a gigantic red rotary phone to look at on his TV, "with the exception of pictures, ads, and the comics," after spending two hours to download it, at $5/hour. It's almost too good to be true.

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Paul McCartney to Headline Coachella

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 3:34 AM PST

mojo-photo-coachellamccartney.jpg

Hey, look at that, Goldenvoice has finally announced the lineup for America's Favorite Music Festival and Hipster Haircut Showcase, and it turns out all these random rumors about Britney Spears and Katy Perry were just red herrings (thank God) since all the while they were negotiating with none other than Sir Paul. The former Beatle will headline Friday night at the 3-day event set for April 17-19, and he told the LA Times that he's "really excited to get out there and rock." Neat, but the Times seems a little skeptical about the whole idea, saying it's a bit of a gamble:

Booking the former Beatle, who is listed in the record books as the most successful musician in pop history, would be the safest choice imaginable for most music festivals. But the internationally respected Coachella festival, which is set for April 17-19, has been pulling in crowds of more than 140,000 fans by taking an edgier path with alt-rock heroes you would hear on a college town's pirate radio station. … What remains to be seen is whether the choice will cost the festival credibility with its core clientele: young fans who are more likely to listen to the White Stripes than the "White Album" and who are far more familiar with Rage Against the Machine than "Band on the Run."

Hey, actually, some of us not-so-young fans were really annoyed with the Rage crowd too. Also on the bill are a couple festival veterans, including The Cure (2004), The Killers (2004) and Morrissey (1999), as well as the finally-reunited My Bloody Valentine (on Cure day, natch). Your ridiculously-named DJ is especially excited about Buraka Som Sistema, TV on the Radio, Friendly Fires, Leonard Cohen, and having margaritas in the hot tub. Full lineup after the jump.

Antony and the Johnsons Score Huge European Hit

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 2:36 PM PST

mojo-photo-antonyalbum.jpgNew York combo Antony and the Johnsons have made what Billboard magazine is calling "a dramatic debut" at No. 1 on their European Albums chart with their new full-length The Crying Light. The album is a Top 5 smash in countries from Sweden to Spain, and beats out both Duffy and Pink in the pan-Euro chart. Light is Antony and the Johnsons' third studio album, coming nearly four years after the Mercury Prize-winning I am a Bird Now, but its popularity may have something to do with singer Antony Hegarty's part in Hercules and Love Affair, whose "Blind" was one of the biggest dance songs of 2008.

The Crying Light, released last week, is getting good, if not stellar, reviews: Pitchfork gives it 8.6 out of 10 hipster points, but most other reviews come in below that. Rolling Stone and The Guardian both offered three out of five stars, with the latter saying the album feels familiar, stuck under "its predecessor's shadow," while acknowledging that Hegarty's voice is an "acquired taste." The album has yet to make much of an impact in the U.S., showing up only at #38 on the iTunes Alternative Albums chart. I'm kind of with the Guardian: I'd listen to Antony, with his rich, strange warble, sing his way through the phone book, but after the blast of shocking originality and heartrending emotion that was I Am a Bird Now, perhaps they could have pushed forward musically just a smidge. It's still beautiful music, though, by anyone's standards. Check out track one below.

"Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground"

LOST: Slowly, Answers Are Coming

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 1:12 PM PST

Last night's LOST episode, the second of the season, "Jughead," was full of answers. Or not even answers, but new information that gives reasons for answers. Now that the writers have an end date in sight, they seem to be picking up the pace and wrapping things up more tidily than last season. So what did we learn last night? Here are the highlights.

John Updike: RIP

| Wed Jan. 28, 2009 1:03 PM PST

Updike2Resized.jpgThe biography at the end of John Updike's novels was always the same:

John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954, and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of the New Yorker….

Then his life story stops, in 1957, landing him in the Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts.

And there he remained, for the rest of his life, raising his four children, becoming a New England gentleman even as he unflinchingly exposed the sins and hypocrisies, particularly with regard to adultery, of the American success story.

Updike, 76, died yesterday of lung cancer. An incredibly prolific author, like other fruitful writers he faced mixed reviews and the lingering suggestion that his writing served a sort of masturbatory function. Like Philip Roth or Gore Vidal, his readers came to suspect that—with more than more than 50 books—there was nothing else much to learn. "Has the son of a bitch ever had one unpublished thought?" David Foster Wallace wrote, somewhat uncharitably, in a review of Updike's Toward the End of Time.

Updike's works included several series (the Rabbit Angstrom and Henry Bech novels), A Month of Sundays, about the midlife crisis of an Episcopal priest, Terrorist, about an American kid attracted to Al Qaeda (sort of a John Walker Lindh of working-class New Jersey), several short stories , and numerous books about adultery among the prosperous couples of suburban Massachusetts.

"Sex is like money; only too much is enough," said Piet Hanema, the protagonist in Couples, the 1968 novel that made Updike rich and put him on the cover of Time. This obvious, and somehow unsatisfying kind of realization, appeared often in Updike's work. Those weird insecurities, characters uncomfortable with their own lives, occurred over and over in his fiction. Updike was forever surprised and sort of fascinated that he was not still stuck in Pennsylvania, the son of a retail clerk with literary aspirations. Having reached the pinnacle of his profession early on, Updike was keenly aware that the neat, ironed out existence of haute-bourgeoisie America, of the two martini lunch and unacknowledged adultery, was often shallow and unsatisfying.

Unlike the characters of John Cheever, a writer to whom he was often compared—who quietly and tastefully go insane—Updike's protagonists just muddle through. Miserable in their jobs, worried about their children, unhappy with their wives, they serve as telling and honest commentary on the discomfort many Americans felt about their own accomplishments.

Because so many of Updike's characters represented Nixon's "silent majority"—white, conservative, vaguely resentful of political change—Updike was sometimes called a racist, a misogynist, and a defender of the status quo.

All of this, while possibly true, entirely misses the point. Throughout his life Updike was a committed, though not particularly outspoken, supporter of progressive causes. The fact that his characters were often old-fashioned and bigoted is to his credit. It is not, after all, the duty of a writer to show the world as it ought to be; it is to paint a compelling picture of the world as it exists and the people who inhabit it.

He was not a writer of my generation. The sort of world he observed—of Oldsmobiles and after-dinner cigarettes, of post-war success and geriatrics—is not one I inhabit. But those things always seemed to me like mere details. An incredible researcher, Updike created a diverse cast of characters: painters, preachers, computer scientists, writers, dentists, actors, building contractors—the whole gamut of 20th century American professional success. But what he managed to do for all of this characters was demonstrate that everyone had AN inner life. He created a world, over and over, in which the mundane was made complicated and compelling.

With the death of John Updike America has lost a selfish, prejudiced, and astoundingly talented man, the sort of person who could see through the barriers Americans put up and tell readers what was truly going on.

—Daniel Luzer

Image by flickr user John McNab

Mad Magazine Imagines Obama's Freaking Out a Little

| Tue Jan. 27, 2009 4:53 PM PST

mojo-photo-madbarack-sm.jpgOkay, SNL, see, you've had so much trouble trying to get your Obama impersonation off the ground, and various editorial cartoonists, you seem to revert to jaw-dropping racial caricatures in place of humor, but Mad Magazine, I congratulate you, since this here is pretty funny. Mad's latest cover features our fresh president losing it in his "First 100 Minutes," smoking five cigarettes at once, his desk covered in scary newspaper headlines and top-secret files, a bottle of Pepto dripping onto a graph of the rising national debt. See, this is my theory for Obama comedy ("Obamedy"?), you have to go for the opposite, unlike with Bush where you just had to basically repeat what he said. Exaggerating the "cool," like that little SNL sketch from December, can only take you so far, but make Obama secretly neurotic and you've got comedy gold.

Check out a larger version of the Mad cover and the aforementioned SNL sketch after the jump.

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Poll: Do You Miss Bush Lingo Yet?

| Tue Jan. 27, 2009 3:10 PM PST

We've had a highly articulate president for a full week now. Lest you forget just what an accomplishment English fluency really is, we at Mother Jones invite you to check out our favorite verbal missteps from the former Decider-in-Chief. (We had a hard time cutting the list down to this—as Jacob Weisberg at Slate knows, there are a lot to choose from.) What's your favorite Bush quote? Vote below.

Has Animal Collective Already Locked Up the "Best Album of 2009" Title?

| Tue Jan. 27, 2009 3:06 PM PST

Animal CollectiveAnimal Collective is nothing if not honest: they're a loosely-defined collaboration between a couple musicians of Baltimore heritage that includes at least one nominal critter, Panda Bear. Between 2000 and 2008, the combo produced eight albums of sometimes noisy, sometimes delicate music, stepping easily over the boundaries of genre as if they were painted in a lower dimension. Their Wikipedia page lists their musical style as "Experimental/Noise pop/Freak folk/Indie rock/Neo-psychedelia," just to cover all the bases, but their sprawling output has been unified by a dedication to pure, pleasurable melody, a world view, shared by many, that puts The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds at the center of the universe.

With that kind of pedigree, it's understandable that Animal Collective have always been critical darlings, but their just-released ninth album, the more electronic-based Merriweather Post Pavillion, is getting some of the best reviews of their career. Pitchfork gave it a 9.6/10, describing the album as the culmination of the band's musical searchings, "a new kind of electronic pop." Entertainment Weekly called it "joyful, pure, and best of all, totally inclusive," Drowned in Sound gets all James Joyce-y, burbling about "the rush of life, the rush of electricity, the rush of joy, joy unbounded," and Uncut actually said "it feels like one of the landmark American albums of the century so far." If these critics don't look back from December and change their minds, Pavillion will be 2009's album of the year. So, is it really, or did the album's eye-straining cover art (the product of Japanese psychologist Akiyoshi Kitaoka) just hypnotize everybody?

Is Facebook a Sin?

| Mon Jan. 26, 2009 5:49 PM PST

Parsing Pope Benedict XVI's statement on social networks:

 "The concept of friendship has enjoyed a renewed prominence in the vocabulary of the new digital social networks that have emerged in the last few years..."

Hey! I'm on YouTube!

 "The concept is one of the noblest achievements of human culture. We should be careful, therefore, never to trivialise the concept or the experience of friendship..."

So long as those experiences are hetro...

 "It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop on-line friendships..."

NSFW!

 "were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbours and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation. If the desire..."

NSFW!

 "for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for..."

thinking, thinking...

 "healthy human development."

Sean Penn: Straight Men Can't Even See Statue Penises

| Mon Jan. 26, 2009 11:58 AM PST

The SAG Awards ("The Award Show Where Only Actors Vote") were held last night in Los Angeles, and begged to differ ever so slightly from the Golden Globes. While Slumdog Millionaire took, as expected, the award for best cast, both major acting nods were sort-of upsets: Meryl Streep won best actress for Doubt, and Sean Penn won best actor for Milk. Many have remarked on Penn's sensitive, fully-realized portrayal of the gay San Francisco supervisor, but his acceptance speech last night kind of rubbed me the wrong way. He approached the microphone to a tumultuous round of applause, and then tried a little comedy:

Thank you and good evening comrades. (Laughs) That was for O'Reilly. Something happened to me during the making of this movie. I noticed it tonight, where I noticed that the statues have rather healthy packages ... As actors we don't play gay, straight ...we play human beings. I'm so appreciative of this acknowledgment. This is a story of equal rights for all human beings.

Okay, yes, it's a standard line to reference the genitalia on those statues and awards, and forgive me for being a wet blanket, but the idea that it would take researching and playing a gay role to even see the bulge on a giant statue seems to play into the stereotype of gay men as being "all about sex." It's particularly bothersome since it's this idea, of the lascivious sexual deviant, that has led to a wide variety of discrimination, particularly when it comes to gay men as teachers or parents. I'm as much for a good chuckle as the next guy, and obviously Mr. Penn feels himself to be such a clear and honest supporter of gay rights that he can make those jokes from the "inside." But context is everything, and I'd just like to point out that he's not on the inside.

On the other hand, other gay journalists like AfterElton.com didn't seem bothered, so maybe I'm just a curmudgeon. Riffers, thoughts? And does it even matter, since Mickey Rourke is the Oscar lock?