2010 - %3, October

Pro-Life's 28 Days Later Billboard

| Wed Oct. 6, 2010 3:38 PM EDT

This rather befuddling pro-life billboard (left-hand side of picture) was spotted in Brooklyn by a Femisting blogger. The billboard, sponsored by Pro-Life Across America, says that a fetus's arms are formed by 28 days after conception. If you consider limb buds the same as arms (kind of like seeing an acorn as an oak tree) this is true. But what the billboard doesn't tell you is that even by 35 days, those arms end in an amphibian-looking flippers (see picture at right-hand side). According to the Mayo Clinic, at 35 days after conception, the entire fetus could fit on a pencil eraser and doesn't have eyes, facial features, gender, bones, or lower limbs. It also still has a tail.

Honestly, the fetus 35 days after conception looks a bit like something out of a horror film more than an adorable infant. Aside from biological niceties, what is "born to ride"? PLAA says that the ad is meant to convey that little boy (all of them!) just LOVE to play with tricycles, bikes, and other wheeled vehicles. I'm going to avoid discussing the sexism of this and just say that with the bandanna and vest, it kind of looks like they want the baby to take a spin on a motorcycle. PLAA has another, more inaccurate billboard that says babies have facial features like eyes, ears, and tongue at 28 days after conception. As you can see by the illustration of a fetus at 35 days, that's not exactly true. These billboards are disorienting at best, and deliberately deceptive at worst. But they might want to re-think the "personhood begins at conception" idea. If fetuses really do get personal rights, the world might look like this video.

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Wayback Machine: Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops

| Mon Oct. 4, 2010 6:39 AM EDT

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are gettin' hotter by the minute. This young North Carolina trio—solid multi-instrumentalists and protégés of 91-year-old African American fiddler Joe Thompson—have set out to revive the nearly extinct tradition of black old-time string bands. In their five years of existence, they've recorded five albums, toured with blues great Taj Mahal, performed on NPR's Prairie Home Companion, were the first black string band ever to play the Grand Ole Opry—not that the Opry deserves them—and have been winning over new fans at a rapid clip.

The reason why was evident Friday at Slim's in San Francisco, where I caught the Chocolate Drops the night before their debut at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fest. Following local openers The Stairwell Sisters, a thoroughly enjoyable five-woman old-time outfit—complete with clogging by Evie Ladin, who plays a mean clawhammer banjo—the Chocolate Drops got the crowd fired up rousing renditions of "Starry Crown" and "Don't Get Trouble in Your Mind." They followed up with a lengthy set in which none other than Mr. Mahal himself joined them onstage to pinch hit on the banjo.

Battle of the Cee-Lo "Fuck You" Videos

| Mon Oct. 4, 2010 6:38 AM EDT

By now you've no doubt heard, or rather seen, Cee-Lo Green's supremely NSFW "Fuck You" on YouTube. Green uploaded a video for his expletive-laden single August 19, and it quickly acquired late-summer anthem status, garnering millions of views and the adulation of Rolling Stone, which called it a contender for best track of 2010. Green, best known as half of Gnarls Barkley, released the video as a sneak preview of his third solo album, The Lady Killer, due in December—and took the YouTube route to circumvent the FCC's regulatory grip on the airwaves. The song became so popular so fast that it was rushed-released to radio within six days, in explicit and bleeped versions, and also as the watered-down "Forget You," which Green has said he hates. The video even spawned a remixed response by 50 Cent, who freestyles over the opening chords with customary bluster.

All this over a video in which there wasn't much to see: It consisted entirely of the song lyrics, in big block type, bouncing around to the tune onscreen. (See below.) The titular refrain appears simply, triumphantly, against a solid red background. Call it the anti-OK Go—a band whose video for "This Too Shall Pass," which went viral back in March, is an astonishingly complex feat of engineering that took the band six months to create; it features a giant Rube Goldberg machine timed in sync with the music. With a piano crashing to the ground on cue and band members supervising the spectacle in paint-splattered jumpsuits, the song itself is all but an afterthought. Green's video seems of a different era.

Alberto Contador: Food Poisoning or Performance Enhancement?

| Fri Oct. 1, 2010 10:53 AM EDT

We don't know for sure whether cyclist Alberto Contador ingested a performance enhancing drug on a rest day during this year's Tour de France, a tour he won for the third time and the second year in a row. Or, better put, we don't know how, exactly, he ingested said substance found in his system that day. I'm not saying he's guilty of doping, but the very fact that traces of substances that aid in performance are time and again found in athletes' bodies always leaves us at the same place, listening to the who-me/never excuses of how whatever was found couldn't possibly have gotten there on purpose. Look over there, puppies!

The affable, striking Contador won hearts and minds this year with his gracious victory, ceding the only stage he could have won to his closest competitor, backslapping his way through the weeks with complements aimed at his rivals, all the while displaying his elegant and effortless way on the bike, there was little not to like about the guy. Besides, with Lance Armstrong not a contender liking Contador wasn't even unpatriotic. Contador was the year's most beloved Spainard next to Iker Casillas (and you just can't beat this, no matter how far, fast, or high you ride).

So now we hear that Contador might have taken a banned substance clenbuterol which helps increase lung capacity, increases metabolism, etc. etc. But, no, he says, it was the cut of meat he had the night before the test, must have been. "It is a clear case of food contamination," he said yesterday, since clenbuterol is sometimes used (illegally) as a food additive for livestock to promote, of course, muscle growth. 

Contador is not the first to blame the meat we eat for a failed drug test. In 1999, Czech tennis player Petr Korda said veal was to blame for his positive test for anabolic steroids. Barry Bonds cried foul on flaxseed oil, cyclist Floyd Landis blamed too much Jack Daniels, and Andre Agassi insisted his assistant spiked his drink with meth. There was the Olympic snowboarder who inhaled pot at a party, and the soccer player who ended up with his girlfriend's STD medicine where it shouldn't be. And yet these are all athletes for whom the body is the temple. Supreme training regimens mean every calorie is accounted for, every action aimed at achieving total perfection and peak performance. And yet we are supposed to buy that they allowed trainers to rub them with a mystery gel without their knowledge, or that they fervently kissed a girl who had too much cocaine on her tongue. There's so much danger out there athletes can barely breath without getting what turns out to be an unfair advantage.

Sure, Contador may be innocent (and anabolic steroids clenbuterol is not) but his accused forefathers leave a shoddy track record with which he must contend. In the steroid-excuse game a cry of food poisoning surprises no one, and neither would the ultimate revelation that another incredible athlete had a little help.