Twelve years after name-dropping Howard Zinn in Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon was back at it on Sunday with the world premiere of his spoken- word adaptation of Zinn's A People’s History of the United States. For the production, which aired on the History Channel, Damon assembled a lineup of celebrity all-stars, including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Lupe Fiasco, and Glenn Beck-adversary Viggo Mortensen. He also recruited Benjamin Bratt, which just goes to show that no matter what the Founders told you, all celebrities are not created equal.

There are some bright spots—Dylan and Ry Cooder’s performance of Woody Guthrie, for instance—but structurally, the program is a bit of a mess. After a while, the recitation from the journals of slaves, labor leaders, and women’s suffragists (but no Mother Jones!) that comprises the bulk of the program starts to blur into an overbearingly earnest version of that early YouTube classic, “The Evolution of Dance.”

Fans of Joss Whedon's latest TV show have been inspired to do more than don Browncoats and sharpen Mr. Pointy. While much of the discussion around Dollhouse has revolved around whether the show damages Whedon’s feminist cred, some fans think that debate misses the real point of the show: to denounce human trafficking.

Not A Doll seeks "to inspire, to raise funds, and to organize" other Whedonites to bring attention to human trafficking:

...Joss Whedon's Dollhouse has captivated and inspired us. It has moved us to tears and then spurred us to action. We may root for Echo and Sierra, Victor and November, but what of the countless, the nameless, the real ones? This site is for them.

With its zenly beautiful aesthetic (kind of like the show's set), the site offers six ways to get involved, three of which have to do with techy charitable giving (donating old electronics, or making your search engine clicks count), and all of which are tied to the show's plot. Some parallels between the show and real world action work better than others: "Contact the Sentator Perrins of the World" makes a lot of sense, but "Become a Handler," which suggests ways to protect your children from kidnapping, is a bit of failed metaphor (in the show the "handlers" play both a parental and pimp-like role).

2009 will be Dollhouse's final season. But if the show's devotees are anything like their Browncoat counterparts, this just might inspire some real-life change.

The first thing you notice at a Morrissey concert isn't the man himself but his fans. Or at least that's how it felt at a recent show at Oakland, California's Paramount Theater, where Morrissey appeared in support of his latest album, a collection of B-sides titled Swords. Their hair styled circa The Smiths, clad in blue-jean rockabilly chic, Morrissey’s fans still adore him, deify him, cram at the foot of the stage and thrust their hands toward him for just a brush, a touch. Some gave Morrissey hand-painted signs; others clambered up onstage and dashed past security guards to wrap their arms around their beloved Moz.

And for at least one night, as he basked in the art deco majesty of the gorgeous Paramount, Morrissey was nothing if not grateful for the love. Notorious for cancelling shows (for reasons legit and not) and carrying an otherwise indifferent air about him, this was Morrissey at his most self-deprecating. "In view of cancellations, deaths, it's nice of you to hang around," he offered, later adding, "I can't believe you're still here."

The Chicago-based band Califone just finished touring the US in support of an album and a feature film, both called All My Friends Are Funeral Singers. The "multimedia event," which the band spent almost two months dragging around the country, featured live versions of songs from the album to accompany the film. After their show in San Francisco last week, the band dropped a bombshell, announcing that the first cinematic effort from writer-director-front man Tim Rutili, has been accepted to the Sundance Film Festival, which happens in January. "It feels unexpected," Rutili tells me over the phone a few days later. "It goes beyond what we thought was going to happen. We thought we would just make the film to go with our record, as a kind of add-on."

It began with a tweet.

Some fighting words were exchanged.


And last night, after much online trashtalking, the long-awaited trivia battle between the staffs of Salon and Mother Jones took place deep in the heart of San Francisco. The intensity was palpable, as the two teams wrestled over the most important issues of our time, like how many bones are in a baby's body at birth? And what was 1885 Biff's nickname in Back to the Future III?

 Team MoJoTeam MoJo
Team SalonTeam Salon
Also, there may or may not have been some livetweeting going on from across the room.

Yes, muckrakers are also nerds.Yes, muckrakers are also nerds.

Long story short, your very own hellraisers triumphed. 60-51. Yes, it's true. We hippies store extra knowledge in our leg hair.

Salon was a great sport, and their staffers were kind enough to present us with an award, a fancy Ralph Waldo Emerson quote emblazoned with a tiny Salon logo. We tried to understand the meaning of this quote paired with the tiny logo, but the sweet taste of victory and/or malt beverages distracted us from Chris' full explanation.

Thank you, we accept.Thank you, we accept.
In any case, great fun was had by all. We met some cool people. We succeeded in wrenching useless information from our brains. And we won an award. It is now proudly displayed in our conference room, nestled among, you know, some other awards.

 

Thanks to everyone for showing up, and keep those trivia hats at the ready. We're still scanning the San Francisco media horizon for the next poor, unsuspecting publication to defeat.

P.S. Salon has courageously requested a rematch. The liberal elite, what can I say, they're just suckers for pain.

A bit of balagan, as my family would say, has broken out over Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch's first foray into Jewish music, such as it is. Though his song, "Eight Nights of Hanukkah", bears no resemblance to any traditional Jewish music, it does treat an obviously Jewish theme—the story of Hanukkah—and was meant, in all earnestness, as a gift to the Jews. The New York Times called it "nonreturnable,"  probably an apt description for the way many American Jews feel about evangelicals and their love of all things Old Testament. Which is, truth be told, a little bit feh. After all, many American Jews are a) secular and b) liberal, whereas American Evangelicals are essentially the opposite.

Still, there is a treasured American tradition of Mormon- and Evangelical-on-Hebraic love, and Orrin Hatch loves Jews. Like, keeps a Torah in his office kind of love. Like, has more mezuzot (to be fair, also more doorways) than my house kind of love. 

"I feel sorry I'm not Jewish sometimes," Hatch told the Times. Aww. 

As with most Jewish holidays, the Christians read their own special meaning into the teachings of Hanukkah, a minor holiday celebrating the rebellion of a group of religious zealots in Jerusalem that occurred about two hundred years before the first Christmas. The senator—an avid hymn writer—does not himself carry the song, relying instead on the very talented Rasheeda Azar of Indiana. Talented, sure, but Ofra Haza you are not, sweetheart.

 "So all it is is a hip-hop Hanukkah song written by the senior Senator from Utah. That's all it is." Priceless. 

Eight Days of Hanukkah from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

For many Americans, December 1 was a night to crowd around the fireplace, drink hot cider, and treat themselves to a once-a-year viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. But that very same night also featured a major policy speech by President Obama on the war in Afghanistan. Coincidence?

Arlington, Tenn. mayor Russell Wiseman doesn't think so. Taking out his channel-surfing frustrations on (where else?) Facebook, Wiseman saw the speech's timing as a carefully crafted ploy to blur the true meaning of Christmas:

"Ok, so, this is total crap, we sit the kids down to watch 'The Charlie Brown Christmas Special' and our muslim president is there, what a load.....try to convince me that wasn't done on purpose" [sic].

Nonja isn’t the only animal on Facebook, but she might be the most popular. News coverage of the amazing photographing orangutan has boosted her Facebook fan tally from 3,000 to over 50,000. How does an orangutan become a photographer? Nonja, who resides at the Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria, was given a specially designed Samsung ST 1000 that dispenses a raisin whenever a photograph is taken. She is steadily snapping away, and has even captured a few self portraits.  At this rate, Nonja is on her way to Koko's kitten-level fame. CNET has more.

Tin Huey
Before Obscurity: The Bushflow Tapes CD
Smog Veil

A reissue of art rock from the heart of the Midwest circa mid-1970s. Tin Huey were from Akron, Ohio, and share some of the more far-out music sensibilities that permeated not just the region (Pere Ubu, Devo), but the whole musically adventurous landscape of the 1970s. Bands like this, formed by competent if not downright talented musicians who strived to take the piss out of the music scene, lyrically and compositionally, seemed to exist in every town with a decent sized college. Cue the Gizmos from Bloomington, Indiana. Many of these bands of geeks got swept up (or lumped in) with punk rock when it hit. But most of didn't even really fit the bill as outcast punks.

For Tin Huey, comparisons to Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and, to a lesser degree, Soft Machine all fit the bill. Plenty of dizzying key changes and tempo shifts to keep things interesting. They're playing with music. Good stuff, particularly those who can really get down with the wacky and witty side of Zappa or more generally with weirdo Midwest skronk rock. These recordings were made between 1978 and 1979, some live, some in the studio. A few members went on to form the more pedestrian, but popular, Waitresses, but don't hold that against Tin Huey.