2010 - %3, October

Music Appreciation With Rancid's Matt Freeman

| Mon Oct. 18, 2010 3:51 AM PDT

Matt Freeman has played bass in some ridiculous number of rock 'n' roll outfits over the years. One of my old bandmates introduced me to him way back when outside Berkeley's famed punk clubhouse 924 Gilman Street. That was in the pre-Rancid days, and I'd recently scored a fun little 7-inch vinyl record of Freeman playing bass with Kamala and the Karnivores. (I still have it somewhere.) He'd also played in the Dance Hall Crashers, Downfall, and various other acts he helped put together. But his real street cred came with his "former" status in Operation Ivy, a band on the Gilman scene that was the first to combine ska and punk rock into a high-intensity sound that spawned thousands of imitators. Even after the band split up, the now-defunct Lookout Records sold enough copies of Energy, Op Ivy's one and only full-length, that its members were able to quit their day jobs.

Rancid—formed a few years later by Freeman and Op Ivy guitarist Tim "Lint" Armstrong, and joined by guitarist Lars Fredericksen and lefty drummer Brett Reed—picked up where Op Ivy had left off. They recorded a series of successful albums on Epitaph records and toured relentlessly, indulging in various side projects when they grew restless. During a Rancid hiatus in 2004, Freeman also did a temporary stint with the seminal Southern California punk band Social Distortion. The boys have since grown into middle-aged men, but Rancid plays on, and Freeman has a new album out with Devil's Brigade, his psychobilly side project with Armstrong and drummer DJ Bonebrake from X—one of my favorite bands of all time. Last month, just prior to the CD's release on Epitaph, Freeman was kind enough to reply to a few questions about his own listening preferences, aging gracefully, and the TV series Breaking Bad.

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VIDEO: G.A.Y.S. (Guys Against You Serving)

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 8:37 AM PDT

We're coming tragically late to this party...but witness an all-star cavalcade of celeb comics making the case against gay military service on Funny or Die. We here at MoJo can't decide which we like better: Sarah Silverman on ballerinas or Weird Al Yankovic wearing Axe body spray or "What's next: unicorns wearing capri pants?"

But wait, there's a Part II:

G.A.Y.S. (Guys Against You Serving) from Thomas Lennon with Sarah Silverman, John Cho, Dave Holmes, Alex Fernie, Craig Robinson, Kate Walsh, Ben Garant, Seth, Chad Carter, and Weird Al Yankovic.

Chris Thile's Punch Brothers at Play

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 4:00 AM PDT

Framed by the woods of Golden Gate Park during San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile takes the stage alongside his band, Punch Brothers, and booming-voiced roots-rocker T-Bone Burnett. The group commences its string-laden crawl, a tense predecessor of the explosive plucking that will soon ensue. The rest of his mates stay still during the intro, but Thile can't take it any longer. He begins to prowl around like Puck on a midnight ramble, his body gyrating with his mandolin notes and a mischievous smile making its way across his face.

Though he's approaching 30, Thile's constant motion reminds me of an inexhaustible puppy. He named his band after the Mark Twain story "Punch, Brothers, Punch," sings about seafaring and barroom carousal, and spends late nights with bandmates throwing back drinks in Brooklyn. His latest album, Antifogmatic, takes its title from a 19th century drink meant to stave off the effects of stormy weather. As his tune "Rye Whiskey" might suggest, single-barrel whiskey is Thile's first choice. "I love it. I really do. That song is completely true, in all ways," he tells me earnestly. On top of all their revelry, what the Punch Brothers are doing musically blows the pants off most of their contemporaries. Thile and his Brothers have bridged classical and bluegrass traditions, melded them with pop-infused songwriting, and come up with a sound both experimental and tightly woven.

Die Antwoord on Cultural Overload, Evil Boy, and the Meaning of Zef

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 3:49 AM PDT

Last week, I posted the first part of my interview with South African rave-rappers Die Antwoord, which means "the answer." Talented and profane, Ninja (né Waddy Jones) and Yo-Landi Vi$$er—who have a daughter together, although they aren't a couple—have concocted a surreal musical chemistry, tag-teaming in a hypercharged mix of English, Afrikaans, and even tribal languages.

They were largely unknown outside of South Africa until this past February, when their video for "Enter the Ninja" suddenly went viral. This launched a bidding war that culminated in a record deal and the release, this week, of $O$, their much-anticipated debut on Interscope. In the first part of our interview, which you should read, Ninja discusses the record deal and the story behind the group's startling new "Evil Boy" video. In part two, I talked to Ninja and Yo-Landi about the meaning of zef, the documentary that changed their lives, and why they plan to kill Die Antwoord after five albums. 

Mother Jones: You guys like to say that you represent South African culture. How do you view that culture?

Ninja: We like to absorb all the different elements of South Africa that we find interesting and attractive and unique. We're like sponges. There's things about the Xhosa culture that we love, and we love things about the Afrikaans culture; that's very amusing and interesting to us. And then there's the colored culture, which is a whole other thing.

MJ: That's mixed-race?

N: Ja. They refer to themselves as coloreds, not "blacks." The PC-version people try and promote this image of South Africa as a rainbow nation and make it all like pretty and stuff. But it's actually like this fokked-up, kind of broken fruit salad. 'Cause all those things don't mix that well together in the real world. But for us it does mix. That's why we say it's, like, "fokked into one person." 'Cause that's how we feel on a certain level. Like we absorb all these things, but they're not harmoniously flowing together through the air in this pretty rainbow picture.

Equal Opportunity Guns

| Fri Oct. 8, 2010 5:11 PM PDT

I've never held, owned, or even seen a real gun in person, save for the time one was pointed at me and my mom during a drive-by robbery when I was about six years old. So when I saw copies of The Politically Corrected Glossary at the 25th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference, I'll admit I got nervous. Here's an excerpt of the entry that did it:

Gun Bigot: A person who hates guns. Typically has little or no knowledge of guns, may never have even fired one, certainly doesn't have any. Would gladly subject innocent people to defenselessness. An elitist.

It goes on, but here's the kicker:

Striking similarity and disturbing parallels with the racial bigotry of the civil rights efforts since the 1960s.

What's up with everyone from Glenn Beck to the anti-gun regulation fold trying to appropriate the Black Civil Rights movement for their ends? Alan Gottlieb, the head of the organization that built the conference, at one point said "if the gun rights movement is going to be successful it has to model itself after the Civil Rights movement." Later at the conference, John Lott, the author of More Guns, Less Crime, argued that gun regulations are discriminatory because they prevent "poor black people" from being able to arm themselves.

Can Physics Predict Economic Recessions?

| Fri Oct. 8, 2010 12:00 PM PDT

In 1923, famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright completed one of his most ambitious projects to date: The glamorous Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan. Months later, a magnitude 8.3 earthquake hit Tokyo and the neighboring industrial city of Yokohama, leveling much of their business and manufacturing centers and killing an estimated 100,000 people in the process. Newspapers initially reported that Wright's hotel was among the countless buildings destroyed by the quake. Then Wright received this telegram from hotel president Baron Okura: "Hotel stands undamaged as a monument to your genius."

The Imperial Hotel survived, at least in part, because Wright had built it with a shallow foundation designed to "float" on the soft mud below. This minimized the influence the shaking ground had on the building. Wright's design exploited the idea that systems as a whole are better at withstanding shocks and adapting to changes when their individual parts—call them modules—are largely independent of one another. This modularity is found everywhere in nature, from organs in the body to neurons in the brain, and even—as new research suggests—in the economies of the world.

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A Factchecker Walks Into a Gun Rights Conference...

| Fri Oct. 8, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

Please Do Not Display Weapons: "In consideration of other guests and staff please do not openly display weapons. While in your guest room, all weapons must be concealed." —Hyatt Regency sign at the Gun Rights Policy Conference in Burlingame, California.

Steve Goode is the fourth man in the hotel who offers to take me to a gun range. At 63, the mostly deaf National Rifle Association instructor wears high-powered digital hearing aids and owns a low-powered shotgun he uses for trap-shooting. Fortunately, "you don't need to hear to shoot," he tells me at this year's Gun Rights Policy Conference in Burlingame, California. Like the other white, male boomers crammed into a Hyatt ballroom one recent weekend, Goode registered for the two-day-long event (with added poolside reception!) because he's riled by handgun regulations cropping up in states across the US—especially in Illinois, where he lives. The waiting periods to get a gun permit, the training, the registration, the background checks, the restrictions on where, how, and which firearm and ammo he can use—all these not only threaten his hobby but his ability to defend himself, he says—and he's becoming more politically active this fall as a result.

He's one of 760 pro-gun, anti-regulations travelers here to learn about everything from how to win a legislative gun debate—"THEY win if you say 'pro gun.' YOU win if you say 'pro rights,'' instructs "The Politically Corrected Glossary" handout (PDF)—to why he should distrust the United Nations, to the legal strategies he can successfully use to carry concealed handguns in public parks, college campuses, and public housing. Among the 50-plus speakers on the lineup are the lead counsel in the Chicago Supreme Court case, the director of Doctors For Responsible Gun Ownership, the heads of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, and pro-gun professors, authors, and journalists. On the "Diversity Among Pro-Gunners" panel, Nikki Stallard—the transgender representative of Pink Pistols, an LGBT-led advocacy group for carrying concealed weapons in public places—announces at the podium:"We have an interest in getting the gay community more pro-gun." If LGBTs become the face of concealed weapons rights, Stallard surmises, media attacks on the pro-gun lobby "will come across as attacking the gay community." Her suggestion is met with roaring cheers.

Several speakers encourage recruiting gay people, women, and minorities into the pro-gun, anti-regulations fold. "People who are the most vulnerable in society benefit the most from having the option to be able to protect themselves," John Lott, the author of More Guns, Less Crime, says. He adds that women, the elderly, and "poor blacks who live in high crime areas" are disproportionately deterred from getting firepower when waiting periods are extended and fees rise. I'm not convinced. The crux of the conference remains rolling back gun restrictions. As Bob, a 51-year-old NRA instructor from Redwood City and a gun owner since he was in high school, tells me during our boxed-lunch recess: "There's no such thing as reasonable regulations when it comes to firearms. The less the government's involved in gun control the better I feel."

"The less the government's involved in gun control the better I feel."

After inviting me shooting, Jeff Knox—a gun owner for 25 years and the director of The Firearms Coalition—tells me that to understand the anti-gun regulation crowd, I have to understand gun culture. "Shooting is something that a lot of guys really love, with the same fervor that you find among golfers, fisherman, and football fanatics. Imagine what would happen if somebody wanted to ban football in the United States!"

"There's also that fundamental liberty core of self-defense," Knox adds. "Let's face it, the bumper stickers are true. In a life or death situation, seconds count, and the police are only minutes away. And that's what it boils down to. If I feel that I have a right to protect my family, who has a right to tell me that I don't?"

But defense from what, I ask him? According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, violent crimes in the US are actually declining nationwide—and the offenders are more often friends and acquaintances (PDF), not strangers busting through women's home windows like the A bus stop billboard image for the gun conference.: Second Amendment FoundationShe's the face of the gun rights conference billboards seen around San Francisco.: Second Amendment Foundationbillboard advertisements for the conference inaccurately display. Add that to Department of Justice data (PDF) showing that most violent crime victims are black, males, age 24 years or younger, and the mostly white, suburban men at this particular gun rights conference are probably safer than they feel. No matter, says Knox. "I don't have guns because I'm afraid. I carry a gun so that I don't ever have to be afraid," adding that even a wee possibility of an assault gaurantees his right to carry. Which is true. The Second Amendment grants folks the right to keep and carry arms, but what about regulations?

"Firearms are like golf," Bob from Redwood City, Phil Graf from Sonoma County, and Goode all tell me, as though they're all working from the same talking points. But golf doesn't involve the sporting equipment used in most US murders. Besides, most products that could result in dangerous mishandling or criminal activity are regulated by the government. Why should guns be the exception, I ask? "Well, things that are protected by the Constitution shouldn't be so heavily regulated by the government," says Alan Gottlieb—the head of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA) and the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), the legal piranha which spearheaded this particular gun rights conference 25 years ago. "Cars can be dangerous, but they're not in the Constitution."

Both Knox and Gottlieb accurately point out that most firearm-related crimes are committed by repeat offenders, not law-abiding citizens. And felons are already barred by federal law from receiving gun permits. Murders, as a result, usually involve once-legal handguns acquired in the black market, not guns shot by their permitted user. As a result, Knox contends of the gun regulations in place: "All they're effective at doing is making it more difficult for me to exercise my rights. Gun control is all aimed at law abiding citizens, and it has no effect on the criminal." Because they haven't committed crimes, the speakers posit, they're immune to committing the crimes that gun regulations are positioned to prevent, not to mention inconvenienced. This faulty logic is endemic here at the conference. 

"Rape is illegal, murder is illegal, robbery is illegal. So if you make it illegal for the criminal to get a gun, does he really care?" Gottlieb asks me. "What happens is that gun control spends all of our resources tracking and regulating the 99 percent of people with guns who don't commit a crime, and the 1 percent who commit the crime we don't do anything about."

I factchecked this, and the answer is: Not exactly. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that states with tougher gun laws in fact export the guns used in crimes (PDF) at a much lower rate than states with weak gun laws. That is, those illegal guns handled by criminals and confiscated at crime scenes are most often traced back to states that don't do background checks for all guns purchased at gun shows [CLICK HERE FOR MOJO'S ARTICLE ON GUN SHOWS], that don't require purchase permits, that don't prosecute gun dealers who violate background check laws, and that don't allow local law enforcement to approve or deny conceal carry permits. Findings confirm that regulations do deter criminals from getting guns.

Lax background checks in Texas resulted in 400 convicted felons receiving gun permits.

A decade ago, the Los Angeles Times published an investigative report exposing that lax background checks in Texas had resulted in 400 convicted felons receiving concealed-handgun permits. And more than 3,000 concealed-handgun licensees had been arrested after receiving their permits. The report led Democratic Sen. Carl Levin (Michigan) to issue this response: "Law abiding citizens, armed with concealed weapons, are too often turning what would otherwise be unpleasant but not catastrophic events, such as fender-benders and commuting hassles, into tragedies."

Knox doesn't buy it. He says things like, "I've never used my gun or drawn it in anger," and, "The gun in my house doesn't increase the odds of a firearms crime occuring in my house because I'm not a criminal, my family aren't criminals, and we're not people who commit crimes." [CLICK HERE FOR MOJO'S EXPOSE ON THE NRA'S FAMILY VALUES CAMPAIGN.] 

This thought process has led one of the conference's biggest sponsors, the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA) to successfully lobby against bills requiring all rifles and shotguns to be registered with the state's Department of Justice. The CRPA has also helped defeat a proposed ban on carrying unloaded handguns in public (licensed hunters would have been exempt). And it helped ensure that more misdemeanors won't be added to the list that prohibits firearms possession for ten years. Now the group has its sights on AB 962, which takes effect February of next year. That bill outlaws mail-order ammunition sales and requires that people purchasing ammunition are fingerprinted and registered at the time of sale so that the California Department of Justice can inspect the records for at least five years. The CRPA's dubbed the bill (PDF) an unnecessary burden for ammunition retailers, potential law-abiding buyers, and law enforcement. Knox says "Registration leads to confiscation." If the government knows about his weapons, it can take them away.

I ask Gottlieb if he thinks some middle ground can be achieved in the guns and regulations debate. "If you want to deny or restrict a person's rights or freedom, our people aren't going to be in on that. That's why this issue isn't ever going away."

In the meantime, Knox says: "I just want to have my guns."

Simon Robson's "Coalition of the Willing"

| Fri Oct. 8, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

Can you survey the entire cultural and economic history of the 20th century's last half in one 16-minute film? That's director Simon Robson's short term goal for the video "Coalition of the Willing," now up for an animation award at Saturday's Vimeo Festival in New York. His long term goal is even more ambitious: Unite people around the world in "an internet-based swarm offensive aimed at triggering a 21st century culture shift." But although Robson may be trying to incite utopia, he self-identifies as a cynic. "It sounds bleak, but as we say at the beginning of the film, industry is ruled by profit, and governments by growth." Fed up with leaders' unwillingness (or inability) to enact climate change policy, Robson and his writing partner, Tim Rayner, started toying with the idea that leaders weren't going to do anything at all, and that collective power modeled after the social revolutions of the past would have to do instead. An invocation, in the form of a script, emerged. To illustrate the message of the film, Robson employed stunning visuals by 25 different animators. The resulting patchwork of contrasting artistic styles, animated by a diverse panoply of materials—from clay to fruit to ink—effectively paints the film's collaborative calling.

After "Coalition" was released in June, it garnered attention from the likes of MTV Europe, the Guardian's environmental page, and even Ashton Kutcher (who tweeted about the film, much to Robson's joy). It also spawned an organization, CoalitionoftheWilling.org. The organization's latest project is a flash mob development party, meant to inspire people to submit ideas for "a new generation of internet platforms for the climate crisis."

Mother Jones spoke with Robson recently on the intersection of environment, art, and technology.

Die Antwoord on "Evil Boy," Their Risqué New Video

| Thu Oct. 7, 2010 2:00 PM PDT

Prior to February, Afrikaner "zef" rappers Die Antwoord were virtually unknown outside of South Africa. Then, practically overnight, their video for "Enter the Ninja" became an internet sensation (nearly 8 million YouTube views to date), launching a bidding war by major labels. The most common reaction to the video may well have been, What the fok? (Read my initial reaction here.) Bumping a South African ghetto style known as zef—which is sort of like a downscale version of "bling"—rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er have created an insanely weird, high-energy chemistry. They push the creative envelope with an absurdist gangsta sexuality, laden with heavy doses of profane slang in their native tongue.

Die Antwoord arrives in America next week to tour in support of $O$ (SOS), their new debut CD on Interscope, which, fittingly, is also home to Lady Gaga and Eminem. Just yesterday, Die Antwoord released the video for their song "Evil Boy." Watch it below, but make sure your boss isn't looking, because it may well be one of the most risqué music videos ever recorded. This morning, I spoke with Ninja, who was chilling with Yo-Landi at a friend's place in Johannesburg prior to the tour. In part one, we talk about Die Antwoord's roller-coaster ride, the Interscope deal, and the surprising story behind "Evil Boy." (Click here for part two of the interview.) Watch the video first, and then we'll go speak with Ninja.

 

Mother Jones: Hey, wat pomp? [Loosely translates as "What's happening?") Did I say that right?

Ninja: Ja, you said it so good! It's the best American pronunciation of it ever!

MJ: I've been checking out the "Evil Boy" video. I mean, man! It makes Lady Gaga look tame. Clearly, nobody's trampling your artistic freedom.

N: Oh, no, no, no. That's why we signed with those guys. They love us.

At 91, Ferlinghetti's Still a Howl

| Thu Oct. 7, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

The crowd snaked around both sides of San Francisco's Herbst Theater in a dense queue, a high-low jumble of tattoos, porkpie hats, and costly coifs. Poets laureate, ex-Ramparts editors, jazzmen and women, and the rest of a Technicolor volunteer army mustered at The City's war memorial auditorium for a single mission. They were there to plant a flag on the Beaux Arts stage for the peace infantry's longtime generalissimo: 91-year-old Beat patriarch Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Litquake eventgoers buzzed among themselves about the talent that would toast the founding father of San Francisco's cultural and political scene. "Bzz bzz bzz Patti Smith!" one velvety blonde said to her leather-clad beau. "Mrr mrr mrr Tom Waits!" he replied, twice as loud. Between murmurs, they busied themselves filling out a survey for the organizers. Under "Authors you would like to see at Litquake," the blonde put "Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, John Updike," unaware or unconcerned that Updike was dead. Such was the reckless abandon, planned or unplanned, that attended much of the night's intoxicating goings-on. "We are honoring Lawrence Ferlinghetti tonight, so any impulse you have to be quiet or coy is fucked up!" host Marc Bamuthi Joseph—a national poetry slam champion—told the audience. "Throw that out the window!"

At 91, Ferlinghetti decidedly is not dead. Nor is his following among successive generations of auteurs and activists and their adherents. Thus Litquake, the Bay Area's annual literary festival, chose to honor the patriarch of Beat with its Barbary Coast Award, a sort of lifetime achievement that's previously gone to San Francisco fixtures like Amy Tan, Tobias Wolff, and Armistead Maupin. "When I first came out to San Francisco and heard the name Ferlinghetti, I thought it must be a large geographic area," Waits joked before warbling a musical version of the poet's verse onstage. "Turned out, it is."