Update: This afternoon the authors posted an apology on their Deadly Viper blog. So far they've gotten some very forgiving responses in the comments section. I guess I won't be needing karate lessons after all? That's a relief.

Zondervan, the world's leading Bible publisher, just released a book called Deadly Viper Character Assasins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership.

I'll let that name sink in for a moment. A KUNG FU SURVIVAL GUIDE. It's written by Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, two people who must understand a form of Chinese even Chinese people can't make sense of, because the cover and website of their book features Chinese characters that read like total gibberish... because they are. They were selected because they "looked compositionally cool."

Seriously? At least the kids at the mall who get various Chinese characters tattooed on their ankles still want to know what the words mean. To me, there's just a total lack of recognition that Chinese characters are part of an actual language, and more than a pretty decoration. Or that the use of an stereotypical Asian ninja theme has little to do with the content of their book, which is Christian leadership. Or that this dubbed-over kung fu video made to promote the book is just downright offensive. Or that kung fu is Chinese and ninjas are Japanese, and those are two totally different cultures.

This story first appeared on the Miller-McCune website.

The gushing effluvia of spreadsheets and thick reports that flow from government are dissected, reconstituted and displayed by a dedicated band of coders.

Clay Johnson pulled out his iPhone to illustrate the kind of mashup that's possible when coders get their hands on data churned out by government, whole reams of transactions on where federal money is spent, who gets it and how it's used.

On the screen was a live view up 19th Street in northwest Washington, the moving picture overlaid with small bubbles representing projects on this very block paid for by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

"It blows your mind, right?" Johnson asked. "This is the tip of the iceberg."

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a "White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word" back in May. Videos from the event are now online, and it's pretty clear that the highlight was Lin-Manuel Miranda. You may know Miranda from his musical In The Heights, which he starred in and wrote. (In The Heights won the Tony for Best Musical in 2008. I can assure you that it is great.) Anyway, Miranda has ridiculous, sick-nasty flow and can write a great song about pretty much anything. In this particular case, it was onetime Treasury Secretary, dead white man, and all-around badass Alexander Hamilton (the guy on the $10 bill) that got Miranda's creative juices flowing:

If this doesn't get the kids jazzed up for some musical theater, I don't know what will.

By now, the Twilight marketing team has made it clear that "creepy protectionist vampire stalker" is a winning theme that can apply to all sorts of products.

Twihards can cuddle up under a cozy Edward duvet cover emblazoned with the romantic line: "What choice have I? I can not be without you, but I will not destroy your soul."

They can wear the rather worrisome bracelet inscribed, "I'd rather die than be with anyone but you." (Luckily, it's rubber, so the words will rub off about the time you move on to your next cultural obsession.)

Or they can buy the unofficial (but officially paternalist) life-size Edward wall decal to loom over them with the reminder to "Be Safe."

But Stephenie Meyer didn't need a marketing team to flood the market. She managed to make the Twilight series itself a product placement extravaganza. And thanks to the Cullens' centuries of compound interest and their obsession with automobiles, it was only a matter of time until we graduated to high ticket items, which means Volvos are now cool.

Volvos? Yes, Volvos. And not in the "I'm packing up the family wagon that I've converted to bio-diesel so I can drive it to the Ivy League to major in Environmental Sciences with a minor in Folklore" kind of cool. Suddenly Volvo is marketing station wagons to the swooning teenage masses—or maybe their parents.

The tag line (mysteriously absent of capitalization) manages to turn what has long been the standard of sensible automobile reliability into full on Shakespearean romantic protectionism:

"there's more to life than a Volvo. there's having the power to keep safe what you hold most dear. that's why you drive one."

Of course you have to have a valid driver's license and be a legal adult to win the super studly station-wagon, so there is hope that this may actually be aimed at the parents of fans, or those fans of parenting age, which makes the campaign a little less cringe-worthy. After all, we hope all parents want to keep their kids safe. Which is far better than making sure that fans who want to get closer to their favorite sparkly vampire by endangering themselves (let's hope that's not the only thing readers take away from New Moon) will be doing so in a car with a high safety rating.

But that leaves this 30-year-old reader with one question: How long will it be until the marketing division starts to capitalize on the characters that try to instill some agency in our heroine, and Porsche gives away Alice's 911 Turbo?

Rickie Lee Jones
Balm in Gilead
Fantasy Records

It took a couple spins of Rickie Lee Jones' new album to make me a fan. There's nothing groundbreaking or overtly powerful about Balm in Gilead, but much like Jones' weathered voice, its unassuming grit snuck up on me.

For one thing, the album moves much more slowly than I was accustomed to. But while it initially felt foreign, the record eventually felt refreshing—as if it were recorded on a back porch rather than a slick studio.

This authenticity is also evident in Jones' ability to move through genres without feeling forced. While she seems most at home with bluesy romps such as "Old Enough" and "Blue Ghazel," her smoky voice also lends itself nicely to the countrified "Remember Me" and sultry "The Moon Is Made of Gold." Her lyrics, too, feel more sincere than cunning: It's a dark night to feed a stranger, when I don't have enough to feed myself, she sings affectingly on "The Gospel of Carlos, Norman and Smith."

It's these touches that ultimately make this new album intimate and real, a welcome respite from an overwrought music universe. By the time Jones croons You hurt me bad this time on one of the last and best tracks, "Bonfires," she feels like an old, confiding friend—plaintive and genuinely heartbreaking.

Still stuck without a costume for Halloween? Disillusioned by the onslaught of "sexy" versions of literary characters and public servants? Enraged by the appropriation of other cultures and offensive immigration policies?

Never fear, Mother Jones is here! Some last-minute alternatives for all you busy muckrakers:

George W. Bush—He's baaaaaaaaaack!

Vader in Afghanistan—Pull out your Darth Vader mask from Comic Con and pair with your desert BDU's.

Climate Change—Option 1: Go as a Maldives cabinet member in a business suit and snorkel. Option 2: If you live in a coastal city wear an inter tube and put a line of masking tape to mark how high sea levels will have to rise to put you and your fellow party goers underwater. Add a 350 on the back for good measure,

The Great 2009 Bailout—Wear a burlap sack stuffed full of money, or a suit and stuff the pockets.

Health Care for All—Don't be sick. Hold a Canadian or French passport.

The Yes Men—Um...you just have to figure out exactly what a Survivaball suit is.

Greenwashed Starlet—Wear your favorite eco-slogan shirt printed on organic cotton, stiletto heels, big sunglasses, and carry a bottle of Fiji Water.

Lady Blogger—A lap top case, your Twitter handle on your back, and some symbol of your content (newspapers, tech gadgets, your kid, etc.).

Factchecker/Mother Jones Intern—Give yourself ink stained hands, slip a pen behind your ear, carry a telephone reciever that you talk on periodically, and drink coffee all night long—lots and lots of coffee.

David Corn—Don a trench coat, classic understated scarf, White House Press Pass, and hard soled shoes comfortable for chasing down leads.

Kevin Drum—Don some glasses, bring your laptop, and be accompanied by two pleasantly plump and very photogenic cats.

Just remember, Sarah Palin was soooo last year.

Are there any we forgot?

Once upon a time, before Bravo was the Top Chef channel and the Food Network was dominated by reality shows, before the world was beset by celebrity chefs, Anthony Bourdain was the unlikely face of a genre, the hard living, heroine skinny, Marlboro smoking, potty-mouthed ambassador of all things food. The year was 2001, and the show, A Cook's Tour, was a revolution in TV form.

I count myself among Bourdian's earliest fans. My copy of his 2000 memoir, Kitchen Confidential, circulated through so many hands by the 11th grade that it literally fell to pieces (my English teacher bought me a new one after a friend of his dealt the original its lethal blow). To my mind, the man who wrote from the dark corners of the "culinary underbelly" and simultaneously brought exotic and dangerous world cuisine to the Food Network could do no wrong. 

Then came the fame, expressed as a long list of guest appearances, a litany of mistakes from Miami Ink to Top Chef, and the dubious title of Celebrity Chef appended to his increasingly cringe-inducing name. Bourdain's Travel Channel series No Reservations has all the old backdrops from Cook's Tour, but none of the magic. Fame has softened the chef, robbed him of his urgency, and introduced an unfortunate paunch into his otherwise chiseled and towering physique. Overexposure, and with it, reality, had set in, and the reality is that Bourdain is a better personality than he is either a writer or a cook. 

So, I was pleasantly surprised to see this trailer for Bourdain's newest venture, an animated web series called Anthony Bourdain's Alternate Universe, which debuts on the Travel Channel website this Monday. It seemed...fresh. Urgent. Weird

Spotted outside a mystery house in Alameda, California, where local news reporters dwell, pondering their dim fates, as apparitions of former colleagues float despairingly in a fog of alcohol and memories, searching for their shrunken and canceled beats; cursing Craigslist, the blogosphere, consolidation, leveraged CEOs, shareholder expectations—all those things that would not kindly stop for the good people who put good stories on paper, nor yield to the needs of a civil democracy, but rather stumble forward: Relentless. Undead. Bloodsuckers and zombies. Happy Halloween!

(You can't tell from the photo, but the hand extending up from the grave is clutching a copy of Dean Singleton's Oakland Tribune.)

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

 

 

This seems not very well thought-out:

For years, the U.S. military employed Ground Moving Target Indicator technology to track potentially hostile vehicles on the ground. Now, the U.S. military is working on a new sensor — customized for service in Afghanistan — that can spot individuals at a distance and track them on a digital map.

Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the head of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, said the new sensor package, called Vader (”Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar“), was particularly well suited for the war in Afghanistan. The bombs are relatively crude there, and the bomb-planters place the explosives far from the roads.

Wired's Nathan Hodge has more, but the point here is obvious: let's not associate the US military with hordes of stormtroopers. We're supposed to be the good guys, right? Unless, of course, the military is taking the Weekly Standard's interpretation of Star Wars as gospel. Then I guess we can go ahead and say "Osama bin Laden: BRING HIM TO ME." Of course, in a world where there are actually fleets of robot assassins patrolling the skies, anything's possible:

Thanks, xkcd.

When introducing the world premiere of Refractions on Friday, the choreographer Alonzo King of San Francisco's Lines Ballet told the audience to treat the dance as food. Even if the food seems strange, King said, taste it anyways. Since he founded his company 27 years ago in San Francisco, King has blended together African dance, ballet and contemporary movement into the ingredients of his choreography. If Refractions, King's latest work, is food, it is a meal of small plates, some quite delicious, others quotidian, brought course by individual course to the audience. King serves it up with the help of legendary New York jazz pianist Jason Moran, who created an original score for this work that owes much to Charles Mingus.

Capitalizing upon the frisson of traditional ballet and contemporary style, King composes Refractions mostly as a string of little dances: solos and duets, and occasionally duets turned trios, upon the arrival of a third dancer who becomes the principal in the next section. In the opening salvo, David Harvey delivers Caroline Roche literally by the hair, and an off kilter tug of war ensues in which the audience is treated to flexing, torso-thrusting movements that are peppered by Moran's jazzy effects. In ensuing courses, dancers contort, pirouette and leap romantically, thuddingly, or jauntily, in accompaniment to a range of music, including some drums. When the movement and music are perfectly intertwined, this works wonderfully; when they aren’t, there’s a sense of hollow shapes being made on stage without consideration for musical propulsion. Still, King and his dancers often achieve a seamless momentum through some lovely sequences.

King is among a handful of venerable choreographers who first harnessed other genres to create new and "strange" movement out of the familiarity of the classical western art form of ballet. Likewise, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre and Philadanco combine ballet, contemporary dance, and African dance to varying degrees, and their popularity has inoculated the audience of the notion that melding these dance forms is exotic. In fact, many contemporary dance companies today regularly fuse ballet, modern and non-western dance, and laboratories for dance such as the American Dance Festival showcase cutting-edge choreographers who interweave dance forms to create new movement that is not just beautiful, but that is truly new and meaningful. In Refractions, King has created some tasty food, but strange it is not.

Lines Ballet will tour various cities in Europe and the Unites States beginning in early 2010.