Mixed Media

How Henry Louis Gates Blew It

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 1:23 PM EDT

Smiling triumphantly, I opened the front door only to stare straight down the barrel of a police 9mm. I don't think I said a word. Just slowly put my hands in the air. Let the officer cuff me and put me in the cramped backseat of his cruiser.

The scene was Emeryville, California. It was 1993, and I had just entered an unlocked upstairs window to gain entry to the residence where my companion was house sitting. We'd accidentally locked the keys inside. The neighbors didn't know that, though. They just saw an unfamiliar white man trying to get in. Eventually, I was released, upset and humiliated to be treated like a criminal, but I knew better than to get righteous on a police officer. As I'd learned the hard way four years prior, that's a losing game.

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Music Monday: Scarier Than Manson: The pAper chAse

| Mon Jul. 20, 2009 2:04 AM EDT

The pAper chAse
Someday This Could All Be Yours Vol. 1
(Kill Rock Stars, 2009)


Did you hear that Marilyn Manson put out a new record? Guess what? Nobody cares. That shtick isn't scary anymore. No one is shocked by a pale dude named Brian from Florida who calls himself Antichrist Superstar. With the world falling apart around us, all we have to do is turn on the news to get a little freaked out.
 
In contrast with His Freakiness, the Dallas, Texas-based quartet known as the pAper chAse takes its cues from things that actually scare people, and to each song title on this sixth release appends a mildly unsettling parenthetical, such as, "What Should We Do With Your Body (The Lightning)." These guys don't exactly break new sonic ground on this album—then again, when you specialize in highly unique nightmare soundtracks, reinventing yourself probably isn't a top priority.

The group's sound is dark, but not goth. Abrasive, but not punk. Not pop, but surprisingly…catchy? The rhythm section is massive here, creating spine-jerking grooves, with songs that shudder and shake as singer John Congleton—best known for his production work for acts like Explosions in the Sky and the Polyphonic Spree—wails over the cacophony like a soapbox preacher: I'll have you pictured in my head / All of you butchered in your beds / 'Cause God is everywhere / God is everywhere. (All this while wringing damaged notes from the neck of his guitar.) 

My least favorite track is "The Common Cold (The Epidemic)," whose weird circus vibe makes it feel out of place. That one aside, Someday This Could All Be Yours Vol. 1 is a solid addition to the band's growing discography. This music is definitely not for everyone, but if it strikes a chord with you, you should check out the band's earlier stuff, too (Hide the Kitchen Knives being my personal favorite). As the title indicates, Someday is the first part of a double album. With the economy what it is, I suppose you can't blame an artist for releasing a CD in two parts. Besides, it gives you the time you'll need to fully digest these songs.

Follow MoJo music reviews on Twitter via #musicmonday or at @MotherJones.

Music Monday: Barbershop Smackdown

| Mon Jul. 20, 2009 2:04 AM EDT

A teenager in a mohawk crooning barbershop tunes.

That's what greets me as I enter the Hilton in Anaheim, California, host city for this year's big international barbershop convention/competition. The spiky-haired troubadour (who, I come to find out, has a barbershopping grandma) is among 10,000 faithful who have converged on Disneyland's hometown to watch the world's masters of four-part harmony have it out. At the Honda Center, where the competitions take place, a scrolling billboard ticks off the venue's billings: Beyoncé...Metallica...The Barbershop Harmony Society.

Dumbledore's Army

| Sat Jul. 18, 2009 5:01 PM EDT

I confess. When the seventh and final Harry Potter book was released I donned a Gryffindor scarf and was in line to get my copy at midnight. Any book that can move readers of all ages to devour tomes 600-800 pages long gets my respect. But, it seems the Harry Potter series has spurred fans to do more than organize wizarding conventions and start wrock bands (aka: "wizard rock"). The books have also inspired a philanthropic organization, The Harry Potter Alliance.
 
With over 100,000 members world wide, The Harry Potter Alliance models itself on the themes of human rights (and that of house-elves and warewolves) and social justice within the series, asking "What would Dumbledore do?" Chapters across the globe raise funds for aid in Darfur and Burma, book drives, voter registration and other "magical acts of kindness."

The organization's founder, 29-year-old Andrew Slack, began the registered nonprofit because he believes that, just as in the Harry Potter world, we are living in "dark and dangerous times."  The organization seeks to overcome the "Muggle" mindset by working to fight genocide, poverty, torture, global warming, and discrimination, including marriage inequality—and not just because (spoiler alert?) Dumbledore is gay.

The HP Alliance also asserts that just as the wizarding media and government ignored the return of Lord Voldemort in the books, our institutions choose to ignore the existence of the Dark Arts in our world. Hopefully they think Mother Jones is doing better than the rest of the Muggle media.

Chart Wars: Media Watchdog vs GOP

| Fri Jul. 17, 2009 4:39 PM EDT

In an attempt to scare the public regarding the Dem's health reform bill, Republican leaders have been pushing this chart. (That's not all they've released. Oh, and remember Harry and Louse? They're baaaack!)

Liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America struck back yesterday with this attempt to scare the public regarding the GOP's easy media manipulation.

So who wins? Gotta say, my money is on the GOP. It's easy to sit back and do nothing except scare people about changing our current healthcare system, which, by god, is the thing people need to be scared of.

As far as the media is concerned, well, I'd say the public is already pretty jaded.

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

A Starbucks by Any Other Name

| Fri Jul. 17, 2009 2:02 PM EDT

Three Seattle Starbucks locations are getting a homey makeover, the Seattle Times reports:

The ubiquitous coffee-shop giant is dropping the household name from its 15th Avenue East store on Capitol Hill, a shop that was slated to close at one point last year but is being remodeled in Starbucks' new rustic, eco-friendly style.

It will open next week, the first of at least three remodeled Seattle-area stores that will bear the names of their neighborhoods rather than the 16,000-store chain to which they belong.

The new stores will eschew anything that smacks of corporate branding—even their coffee bags will bear the name of the shop instead of the Starbucks logo. And the folksiness doesn't stop there, folks: Amenities will include beer and wine, hand-pulled espresso shots, live music, and poetry readings.

In order to figure out what makes neighborhood cafés tick, Starbucks HQ sent observation teams out to do some authenticity recon. Stealth missions these were not: One local coffeehouse owner told the Seattle Times, "They spent the last 12 months in our store up on 15th [Avenue] with these obnoxious folders that said, 'Observation.'"

Creepiness of rebranded coffee bags and synthetic hominess aside, there's actually something encouraging about this: Starbucks' attempt to emulate the little guys suggests local coffee joints are weathering the recession better than I thought. I had assumed mom-and-pop cafés woudn't be able to compete with the chains. Maybe I was wrong. Cool. But can the real little guys compete with the fake little guys? Man, oh man. Would that DFW were around to tackle that one.

HT J-Walk Blog.

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Matchbox's Child Soldiers

| Thu Jul. 16, 2009 5:30 PM EDT

Kids and war—always a bad combo, right? Not for the folks at Matchbox and Ogiilvy & Mather, who just unveiled their "Young Warriors" ad campaign in Singapore. The photo-realistic ads depict tween boys as virtual GI Joeys, flying jets and attack copters and straddlng a battle-scarred M1 Abrams tank in what sure looks like Iraq.

Particularly creepy are the kids' stoic, hardened expressions. As Copyranter (H/T) notes, "I get the point: Matchbox makes realistic little war machine replicas. But what's with the thousand-mile stares on the young faux dogfaces?" (A commenter quips back, "You try living in the shit for a year when you're eight. You'll get the stare, too.") I suppose Matchbox gets some credit for not going for the "combat is good, clean fun" G.I. Joe-type vibe that's usually used to sell war toys. Though by not going that route, it's unintentionally created a campaign that makes war seem like anything but a game.

 

Dear Nixon, Love Elvis

| Tue Jul. 14, 2009 6:37 PM EDT

Elvis Presley may have been the king, but he wasn't much of a letter writer. In a 1970 missive to Richard Nixon in which he asked to be made a special agent in the budding War on Drugs, his sentences run together with the reckless abandon of a semi-literate speed freak. Plus, he also appears to really like Nixon, a hazy choice at best.

A few choice quotes from Elvis's letter to Nixon:

"The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it the establishment. I call it American and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out. I have no concern or motives other than helping the country out..."
"Sir, I am staying at the Washington Hotel, Room 505-506-507...I am registered under the name Jon Burrow. I will be here for as long as long [sic] as it takes to get the credential of a Federal Agent. I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good..."
"I was nominated this coming year one of America's Ten Most Outstanding Young Men...I am sending you the short autobiography about myself so you can better understand this..."
P.S. "I believe that Sir, were one of the Top Ten Outstanding Men of America also."

See the full Elvis letter here [pdf], or read a transcript here.

Re: Bing, Drum, Ford, & Jacko

| Mon Jul. 13, 2009 12:23 PM EDT

Our intrepid political blogger Kevin Drum posted last Thursday on whether anyone is actually using Bing, Microsoft's newly revamped, rebranded search engine. So I just had to share some fun stuff I read in Business Week last month about how Bing—already targeted by bloggywags as an acronym for "But It's Not Google!"—got its name. (I can't say I use Bing, but I have tried it: The home page is prettier than its rival's, but after searching it for "Michael Jackson," and looking at the list of results, I got to thinking that the Gates Posse should have called it Biig: "But It Imitates Google!")

Big companies just can't come up with clever names the way we at Mother Jones brainstorm clever headlines—that is, in a brief, frenzied series of internal emails. These days they feel compelled to outsource. According to the June 15 story by Bizweek marketing editor Burt Helm (the issue caught my attention because my birthday is June 16) Microsoft hired a firm called Interbrand, which set eight of its employees to brainstorming around themes like "speed" and "relevance." In six weeks, the team came up with 2,000 names, then nixed the lamest—somehow overlooking Bing—and whittled the list to 600.

Domino's Dominates Sidewalks (With Pizza Ads)

| Mon Jul. 13, 2009 12:05 PM EDT

In March, citizens of Louisville, Kentucky, experienced KFC-themed pothole repairs. Now, folks in New York City, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles can tread on sidewalks bearing ads for Domino's Pizza.

GreenGraffiti, the Netherlands-based company Domino's partnered with for the campaign, claims all kinds of green cred. Plus, its site says, it's doing the cities a service by washing the sidewalk (though the gross gum in the image shown here suggests that squeaky clean is not the goal, and not everyone is convinced ads are more attractive than dirt).

Good thing Domino's is targeting walkers, since the focus of the campaign, the American Legends Pizza, has 40 percent more cheese than a regular pizza.