2010 - %3, January

Acting Out the Prop 8 Trial

| Thu Jan. 21, 2010 12:23 PM PST

Even though official broadcasts of the Prop 8. trial in San Francisco won’t be appearing on YouTube anytime soon, a couple of ambitious filmmakers have decided to reenact the whole shebang for the sake of public record.

Here, in response to the contentious Supreme Court ruling, John Ireland and John Ainsworth make use of a replica courtroom in Los Angeles and a team of professional actors to bring the trial to life:

 

 

You can follow their project at marriagetrial.com.

Meanwhile, in an interview with The Advocate, Ainsworth and Ireland get down to brass tacks, discussing their intentions: To provide a nonpartisan "extension of the historical record" by drawing upon court records and first-hand accounts from bloggers.

What do you think, Riff-raff? Is this reenactment a stroke of subversive genius? Partisan or nonpartisan? Could this only happen in LA? Are the actors and actresses involved infinitely more attractive than their real world counterparts? Will James Franco sign on to the project in order to further his performance art career?

Follow Evan James on Twitter.

 

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How Hustler Does Christmas

| Tue Jan. 19, 2010 9:01 PM PST

In part two of my evidently multipart series on cool things about being a contributor to Hustler, I hereby admit that the highlight of my Christmas season is opening the company's Christmas cards (which I did late this time; I was out of town). This year's was newsy, and boobless, which is relatively appropriate given the editors' explanation to me that the magazine is not a sex rag with political content but a political rag with sex content. In comparing the card with last year's, I've decided that I like my Christmas greetings, like my hardcore porn, to have both. Perhaps you'll agree.

Music Monday: Spoon's Indie Formula

| Mon Jan. 18, 2010 4:40 AM PST

Spoon
Transference
Merge Records

It's easy to see why hipsters love Spoon. Their music is catchy, but not so much that it's gone mainstream. Their lyrics are clever. Their videos feature dancing robots and drag nuns. And their name just sounds cool.

On Spoon's latest album, which comes out this week, the band delivers what is expected, with a collection of songs that's both tuneful and just irreverent enough. The opening track, "Before Destruction," sets the tone with a segue from what sounds like a scratchy demo into a slick synthetic rush. On "Goodnight Laura," the music is sweet but the lyrics melancholy: And you close your eyes and slow yourself and let the worry leave you  / Don't you know love, you're all right.

At the same time, Spoon often employs its accessible-yet-edgy style in a predictable way—I often found it hard to distinguish between songs, and between this collection and the band's past hits. With few exceptions, the formula is roughly this: uptempo beat + jaunty guitar hooks + bluesy keys + fun, quirky melodies. Not a bad combination, but it can feel a little staid.

Where they do flirt with experimentation, like with the spacey instrumentals in "Who Makes Your Money," it's refreshing. Maybe the old adage If it ain't broke... is working for them, but after more than 15 years wooing the indie masses with a winning formula, it may be time for Spoon to mess with it a bit.

Music Monday: Pirate Cat Radio vs. the FCC

| Mon Jan. 18, 2010 4:30 AM PST

At age 15, Daniel K. Roberts, better known as Monkey Man, built a radio station in his bedroom at his parents Los Gatos, California home using a 40-watt transmitter, a mixer, a tape deck, a portable CD player, and a microphone. That was 13 years ago. Monkey's pet project eventually became Pirate Cat Radio 87.9 FM, a cafe, community outlet, and unlicensed low-power FM radio station that served San Francisco for more than a decade. In August 2009, the Federal Communications Commission fined Pirate Cat $10,000 and ordered it to either get off the airwaves or face further fees. Here was a subversive station that didn't rely solely on a cool record collection or a standard corporate algorithm to garner street credibility. For now, it's been relegated to Web only, and Monkey has been busy fighting the feds for the right to get back on the air while local music venues host fundraising events to help pay off his fine. I bussed over to the station's not-so-secret heaquarters to ask Monkey about the state of his operation, and whether Hollywood got the pirate radio story right.
 

I'm Not Dead Yet!

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 5:00 AM PST

Every two seconds, someone in the UK buys a Twilight book. Depending on your literary outlook, that's either the best or the worst thing you could imagine. 

The past decade saw the reign of blockbuster novels (the Harry Potters, Professor Langdons and Edward Cullens know what I'm talking about) and literary star power. The already luminous kept illuminating (with little fizzles—think Roth's The Humbling and Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown), while Wunderkind of the decade redefined a literary life as a hip young party in a language you don't speak—but should. They dabbled in veganism and appeared on reality shows and blogged about their hair. The lovely and talented James Franco—best known for his turn as a beautiful stoner in (insert title of any James Franco movie) and now, an artist on General Hospital—will publish a book of short fiction in May.  So what's to mourn?

A lot, according to Ted Genoways, editor of Virginia Quarterly Review, whose essay "Final Chapter" chronicles the decline of the literary magazine in America, and foretells the death of fiction as we know it. Universities, once the haven for burgeoning young talent, are simultaneously cashing in on their ever-expanding (and ever more expensive) MFA programs and cashing out their literary magazines. Meanwhile, the Wunderkind have ushered in a new era of "tell, don't show" that values voice over experience and revels in the music of its own neuroses. The Wunderkind were ingenious and daring about it, but their legions of imitators have become increasingly dull. So dull, in fact, that the Nobel committee's permanent secretary Horace Engdahl declared American writers—all American writers—too insular and navel gazing to deserve the prize. 

 Have American writers all become agorophobic shut-ins with nothing better to do than mumble to themselves in blogger-style-bathrobes all day while the quasi-literate Stephanie Meyers of the world drive us into the Kindle-era? Genoways hopes the new generation of American writers will wake up and smell the wars. I just hope they shower. 

 

Wyclef Leads the Charge to Help Haiti

| Wed Jan. 13, 2010 3:58 PM PST

When the developed world all but gave up on Haiti six years ago after pouring billions into the desolately poor, still failed state, Grammy-winning hip-hop artist and Haitian native Wyclef Jean began lobbying Washington to change its mind. When violence between rival gangs in Port-au-Prince reached a fever-pitch four years ago, Wyclef stepped in to personally negotiate a truce between some of the warring factions. And after learning that his homeland had been struck by a deadly earthquake, Wyclef once again sprang into action to help his people, this time by calling on the public—through a flurry of tweets—to make $5 earthquake recovery donations by texting 501501. 

The charge from this philanthropic text will go straight to your cell phone bill, and the donations will go straight to earthquake relief efforts through Wyclef's charity Yele, which he started in 2005 with a quarter million dollars of his own money, according to a 60 Minutes special which aired in January 2009 about Wyclef's ongoing efforts to help Haiti. So many people responded to the former Fugee's call to action that the Yele site was temporarily down earlier today. The term "Yele" comes from a Haitian Creole word meaning 'to yell,' and asked by CBS's Scott Pelley why he chose this name for his charity, Wyclef responded "Because I want you to hear us."

It's been one day since the 7.0 magnitude quake struck just 10 miles outside Port-au-Price, but Wyclef has already returned to his homeland through its neighbor the Dominican Republic to focus on family, finding and assisting Yele staff and general disaster response, the Los Angeles Times reports. "I cannot stress enough what a human disaster this is, and idle hands will only make this tragedy worse," said Jean in a statement on the charity's Web site. "We must act now... Haiti needs your prayers and support."

Yele spends $100,000 a year on athletic programs for Haitian children and helps feed 50,000 people a month with food donated by the UN. The nonprofit also offers much-needed jobs to people in Cite Soleil, one of the world's most notorious slums. Don't forget to check out James Ridgeway's piece about how Bush-Cheney policy screwed Haiti and MoJo human rights reporter Mac McClelland's advice on how you can help.

 

For updates on Haiti, follow Mac on Twitter.

 

 

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Unprecedented Acts of Journalism

| Wed Jan. 13, 2010 10:23 AM PST

You almost never see a mainstream media figure admit to screwing up an interview. But Jon Stewart is different. Good for him:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Intro - John Yoo Interview Reflections
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

 

Conan the Underdog

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 9:49 AM PST

It looks like Conan O'Brien may get shafted by NBC's failed "Jay Leno at 10 p.m." experiment. It's sad for Conan, and embarassing for NBC. But it's good for viewers: Cone-Dog has always thrived under pressure. Behold—a truly great Conan monologue:

 

Can This Woman Save Journalism?

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 6:00 AM PST

If reporting can be saved by a slogan, it might just be this: "Radiohead journalism."

That's the phrase on the website of Paige Williams, an award-winning journalist who—like the In Rainbows rock band—is asking the public to pay directly, and as they please, for her work.

Beside her engaging 6,000 word piece on author Dolly Freed, Williams has inserted this:

Click on the button, and pony up via PayPal.

It's straightforward, yet risky and original—which in an era of journalistic desperation (Government intervention is the answer to journalism's problems! No, crowdfunding! No, the non-profit model!) makes it very buzz-worthy. "Williams’ strategy has a distinctly pudding-proofy sensibility to it," said The Columbia Journalism Review. Asked Reason's Tim Cavanaugh, "Can this experiment work?" (The plan may portend the future in another way too: Williams says she got the word out by relying entirely on her 400 Facebook friends and 120 Twitter followers.)

But while everyone seems to think the plan has groundbreaking potential, Williams herself is more cautious. She acknowledges she might not recoup her costs, let alone pocket a small paycheck. So far, 35 people have contributed $420 toward her $2000 goal. She doesn't even know if she's going to do it again.

In fact, the motivation for her effort wasn't prognosticating so much as old-school journalistic doggedness. After her story pitch was rejected by numerous publications, Williams says, "I just wanted the story to live in the world." All she did was get creative—the best we can hope for in the fight to save quality journalism.

Al Gore Gets His Own Font

| Mon Jan. 11, 2010 2:09 PM PST

He didn't invent the Internet, but Al Gore does have the power to redesign typefaces at will. Typotheque, the foundry that created Brioni, recently got an interesting call from the designers of Gore's upcoming climate-change book, Our Choice. The pages were being laid out in Brioni, and the former VP had a teeny problem with it:

“Basically, he wants you to change the numeral one.”

“Interesting”, I said. “And how did he come to this conclusion?”

“Well, in the book there’re a lot of examples of scientific nomenclature and this particular numeral one is causing confusion when it’s combined with capitals.”

Sure enough, Gore was right. So Typotheque changed its typeface—not just for Gore, but everyone who uses it.

Now if only Gore could rid the world of Papyrus. Or implement a cap and trade system to phase out Comic Sans...