2009 - %3, October

Glenn Beck vs. the Murder Meme

| Thu Oct. 8, 2009 5:25 PM EDT

Is Glenn Beck a murderer? No, of course not. But that hasn't stopped a LOL-seeker from setting up the satirical site Glenn Beck Raped And Murdered A Young Girl In 1990.com to taunt the emotionally fragile Fox host with a dose of his own brand of argument by innuendo. As it explains: "We're not accusing Glenn Beck of raping and murdering a young girl in 1990 — in fact, we think he didn't! But we can't help but wonder, since he has failed to deny these horrible allegations."

A few weeks ago, Beck sicced his attorneys on the site and asked the Internet gods (i.e., the World Intellectual Property Office) to transfer its URL to him. In a nice twist, his lawyers alleged that the site both rips off Beck's brand and is "plainly libelous, plainly false" and therefore "is likely to cause confusion for consumers"—presumably consumers who think Beck has set up a site to spread scurrilous rumors about himself. What Beck and his lawyers don't get is that they're not trying to shut down a website; they're trying to shut down an Internet meme. And that's why they're about to get a steaming helping of FAIL.

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Ralph Lauren Apologizes (Sort of) for its Anorexia Ad

| Thu Oct. 8, 2009 3:53 PM EDT

I don't need to rehash the censorship feud between popular website Boing Boing and Ralph Lauren. You can read about the first part here and the second part here. But today Boing Boing reports that the clothier has owned up to its Photoshop hatchet job on model (she has a name now!) Filippa Hamilton. "After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body," Polo Ralph Lauren admitted in a statement today, according to Extra

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GOP Writer: Women Shouldn't Vote

| Wed Oct. 7, 2009 2:44 PM EDT

National Review columnist John Derbyshire has made a name for himself saying really stupid things. Like when he lamented America's Hispanic "invasion," or called affirmative action "hideous," or criticized Virginia Tech victims.

His latest insane claim: Society would be better off if women didn’t vote. No really, he thinks that. The statement comes from the chapter "The Case Against Women’s Suffrage" from We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism.

When pressed about this view on a radio show yesterday, he replied:

(The) logic of that chapter, that chapter five in my book, rests on the proposition that women voting is bad for conservatism, and as a conservative, of course, I think that’s bad for society.

A ridiculous statement, of course, and one that does his party zero favors. The GOP is floundering; the last thing it needs is some bonehead publicly suggesting gender inequality as a party antidote.

So why provide him a high-profile platform in a major right-wing publication? News flash, Repubs: What's bad for conservatism is people like John Derbyshire.

Putting a Little Meat on Ralph Lauren's Models

| Wed Oct. 7, 2009 12:18 PM EDT

I posted here yesterday about Ralph Lauren's attempt to censor Boing Boing, one of the Web's most popular destinations, and how it backfired. Short story: BB blogger Xeni Jardin had re-posted a photo of a Ralph Lauren poster, questioning the model's, well, suspicious proportions. (A picture is worth 1,000 anorexics.) Ralph's attorneys said cease and desist, wherupon Boing Boing decided to let the door hit the lawyers in the ass on their way out.

Now, via the detouching efforts (pictured at left) of one of its fans, Boing Boing has discovered yet another way to mock the lawsuit-threatening clothier:

Natasja Capelle, a freelance designer, has detouched the image to restore the model to something like a healthy, well-proportioned stature. Want to play along? Make your own detouched image, post a link in the comments.

All out of work graphic designers...to your computers!

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Wall-E Saves SF From Fake Bomb

| Tue Oct. 6, 2009 6:36 PM EDT

Mother Jones's San Francisco office is located right downtown, on a fairly calm street near the financial district. So when I stepped out for my lunch break today, I noticed there was an unusual amount of commotion just a few doors down. As in, three fire engines, a couple dozen police cruisers, tons of yellow tape, and three helicopters hovering above. Some of the surrounding buildings had even been evacuated, but despite this, about 50 other people stood casually on the sidewalk, snapping pictures with iPhones and Blackberries, just 100 feet away from several fully-equipped firefighters.

Curious, I wandered closer and one of the firefighters told me a suspicious looking man had been seen holding a loosely wrapped package very gingerly. The man gently placed the package into a newspaper vending box, closed it, and walked away. San Francisco is famous for its eccentrics, but just to be safe, the San Francisco Bomb Squad used a remote control to move a robot toward the package to X-ray it for any dangerous materials. About 10 minutes later, the firefighters' walkie-talkies buzzed in unison. They had been informed that nothing was found.

The three helicopters buzzed away and policemen took down the yellow tape, opening the street again. As I walked back to the office, I passed the bomb squad standing around the robot. One of them glanced at me, looking cheerful he didn’t have to deal with a real bomb, and asked if I’d like to take a picture of the hero, “Wall-E”. Naturally, I said yes. Wall-E may not be exactly DARPA material, but hey, the little guy got the street open again in 10 minutes. Maybe they should order a few of him for the TSA.

Disabled Kids Walk With Jesus, Lefty Journos With Satan

| Tue Oct. 6, 2009 6:22 PM EDT

(UPDATE: Looks like McNaughton's site is down from excessive traffic. But check out this parody version. And, as a commenter below points out, there's also a haiku contest to be had regarding the painting.)

For as little as $130, fellow Americans, you can take home a canvas reproduction of this beauty of a painting depicting your country's noble roots. "One Nation Under God" is a new piece by artist Jon McNaughton of Utah, who says he got his inspiration from a vision he received during the 2008 elections.

Front and center, the painting features Jesus Christ, creator of the heavens and earth and bearer of the US Constitution. (A few online wags have already compared the likeness to that of Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn.) At his feet on his right you have the good guys—the farmer, the Christian minister, the US Marine, the handicapped child, the black college student, the schoolteacher who vaguely resembles Sarah Palin. You also have the young white man who represents the rising generation.

On the other side—Jesus' left side—is another set of characters, including a professor holding a copy of Darwin's Origin of the Species, a politician, a lawyer counting his money, a liberal news reporter, and a Supreme Court Justice weeping over Roe v. Wade. Oh, and who could forget Satan lurking in the shadows.

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Music Monday: Gillian Welch Mesmerizes the Fillmore

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 2:56 PM EDT

Sure, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park hosted some of the biggest names in bluegrass this past weekend, on six different stages for three days straight. But I was lucky enough to catch Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings last Thursday at the Fillmore before all that madness began.

It's always a toss-up whether music with such reverence for subtlety will get drowned out by a drunken crowd in a standing-only venue like this one. But the country-folk pair cut right through any misgivings their audience might have had about the music being too soft or too twangy; at times they were both, and the crowd went crazy for them. The pair played a handful of Welch favorites, including "Red Clay Halo" and "Revelator," and with voices intertwined, so accustomed to one another's intonations, their harmonies sounded more like one voice than two.

Music Monday: Meet the Accessible Daniel Johnston

| Sun Oct. 4, 2009 11:47 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Oct. 5, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Daniel Johnston
Is And Always Was
Eternal Yip Eye Music

 
It has been more than a decade since cult figure Daniel Johnston went missing in New York, prompting members of Sonic Youth to troll the streets all night to find him. It's been 29 years since Johnston distributed his first cassette, Songs of Pain (followed by More Songs of Pain), and six years since his last new album. This week marks the release of Is And Always Was, which could end up being one of Johnston's most widely appreciated works. It’s full of solid rock songs the average listener can love without having to fast-forward through awkward moments of extreme honesty, which is maybe Johnston's best-known calling card. Always Was is still honest, but it’s more fun than awkward.

Johnston's hallmark lyricism is in full force on this album as he weaves gruesome tales of lost love, death, and despair. But this time they are backed by a full-bodied sound that's more produced than his legacy of low-fi recordings. A few tracks include faux doo-wop melodies and Jonathan Richman-like plotlines that are told with Johnston’s interminable lisp and involve characters like “Queenie the Doggie.” In one track, in which Johnston goes to the lost and found to retrieve his brain, he identifies it as “a cute little bugger…but warped from the rain.” “Thank you, ma’am,” he sings. “I’m always losing that dang thing.”

Music Monday: Doc Watson's Enduring Appeal in a New World

| Sun Oct. 4, 2009 5:54 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Oct. 5, 2009 5:30 AM EDT

There were two distinct personalities in attendance at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival this weekend. One was comprised of old bluegrass standards and quick-tempo banjo melodies popular among the older crowd of free spirits. The other, favored by the twentysomething folk enthusiasts in skin-tight jeans, was a hip hybrid of blues riffs, funky instruments, and alternative style. Though noticeably distinct, the two personas were married by the unbeatable combination of light beer and cheap bourbon.

The crowd that came out to hear Doc Watson’s signature old-school flatpicking seemed less energetic than the audiences for the Old 97s, Gillian Welch and Galactic, which all market a watered-down variety of the pure stuff to a younger audience. Although he remains a legendary fixture of bluegrass, a surprising number of onlookers sitting near me at the festival's Banjo stage were surprised to hear Doc was on the schedule, even as he took the stage. But Watson, despite being 86 years old and blind for 85 of those years, knows how to get a festival crowd excited; he's been entertaining people for more than half a century, after all.

For Watson, music is a family affair. He played almost exclusively with his son Merle for 15 years, until Merle's untimely death in 1985. For the past two decades, Doc has played with a number of close friends, notably David Holt, with whom he shared the stage yesterday. Holt is known for his plucky banjo solos and narrative songwriting style. Doc was also joined by his grandson Richard, who announced to rousing and emotional applause that he recently became a grandfather, which makes Doc a great great (!) grandfather. The importance of Doc’s family in his music was most apparent when he crooned the mountain love song "Shady Grove" in honor of Rosa Lee Carlton, his wife of 64 years. And Doc gave his late sister Ethel a callout when he introduced his penultimate tune, "Sitting on Top of the World," a popular 1930s tune about a boy trying to cheer himself up after his girl leaves him.

Is Rupert Murdoch Smothering Online Content?

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 4:52 PM EDT

Vanity Fair's November issue profiles Rupert Murdoch and his war against online news. Toward the end of the piece, Michael Wolff paints a troubling portrait of the man he says is leading the charge for reforming readers' access to online news:

It is not, what’s more, merely that Murdoch objects to people reading his news for free online; it’s that he objects to—or seems truly puzzled by—what newspapers have become online. You get a dreadful harrumph when you talk to Murdoch about user-created content, or even simple linking to other sites. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t buy it. He doesn’t want it.

This raises the question: Should the primary reformer advocating for paid online content be someone whose musings on the Internet sound more like, "Get off my lawn!"?

Murdoch's problem isn't, as Wolff suggests, that he's "ignoring his industry's biggest problem." But by closing his mind to the Internet and its potential for spreading information and promoting discussion, Murdoch himself has become the industry's biggest problem.