Video: 50 Cent's New (Spanish) Single

Absurdly popular rapper 50 Cent has a new single out, but you've probably never heard it. And if you're watching MTV or tuned in to Power 106, Hot 97 and Wild 94.9, you probably never will. 

That's because 50's new collaboration isn't with Timbaland, the Game, or Lil' Wayne, but Puerto Rican duo Wisin y Yandel. And it's in Spanish.  

50-Cent is one of a growing cohort of American rappers flocking to the Carribean (and New York) to record with established artists like Daddy Yankee (whose English remixes sometimes land him on MTV), Wisin y Yandel, Zion y LennoxAventura, and Luny Tunes, purveyors of the Carribbean's infectious blend of rap, dancehall, and bachata, called Reggaeton. Never heard of 'em? Well, get yourself an education, courtesy of some of America's most popular rappers:

Reforming The Webby Awards

I'm not griping about Tuesday night's Webby Awards simply because MotherJones.com, winner of 2005 and 2006 Webbys for Best Political Blog, wasn't even nominated this year. I'm griping because I don't think that the awards show is headed in the right direction.

First, it's not televised. The result is that awards nominees don't get the same attention that Broadway performers (at the Tonys) or even sound technicians (at the Oscars) do. Why can't web awards be a full-fledged red carpet event? With Tim Gunn tactfully commenting on Arianna Huffington's poor taste in dress, or kooky Joan Rivers telling Kevin Drum that his wife looks great, even though he has actually brought his cat Domino as his date?

Fill Recession-Era Potholes With Legos

The broken-window theory has a helper in these lean times for cities across the land: Legos! Yes, another reason to love the timeless plastic construction pieces: Industrious folk are filling cracks and holes in buildings with colorful lego randoms in Berlin. Very cool. Next up, giant legos in potholes? Watch out, KFC!

Could the Clemson Scandal Kill USNWR?

Last week, Clemson University admitted to manipulating U.S. News and World Report's college ranking system. The scandal was embarrassing for Clemson, but it also put the magazine on the defense. Not a great place for a publication to be these days. So what does this mean for the future of USNWR?

By some measures, the magazine is not doing particularly well. In the beginning of 2008, it had  lower sales than the other two leading newsweeklies. In June of 2008, the magazine's publishing schedule went from weekly to biweekly; by November it was down to monthly. 

Death knells for USNWR? Probably not, for one simple reason:

LA's Retailers Get Religion

Woody Allen's lawsuit against American Apparel figurehead Dov Charney may have settled for a cool $5 million last month, but Charney is far from the only LA-based retailer proselytizing to the masses. Allen's bizarre episode with Charney left us with more questions than answers. Not the least of which is: what does דער הייליכער רבי actually mean?
 
According to my Yiddish-speaking friend Menachem Yankl, the phrase printed on the billboard of Mr. Allen (see left) is actually a reference to the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson, erstwhile leader of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement. For those of you who don't live in Brooklyn, Schneerson's likeness is plastered across buildings and hung over baby carriages from Crown Heights to Jerusalem and his millions of followers believe he's the messiah. Charney explains:

"Along the top of the billboard were the words "Der Haileker Rebbe," written in Hebrew letters. This is Yiddish for "the highest level, extra-holy Rabbi," of which there is only one in the worldwide Hasidic Jewish Lubavitcher community."

Huh? Is Charney some kind of closet Hasid? Is American Apparel planning a new line of frumi ankle-length black skirts to go with that Too-Short Metallic Micro-Mini? Maybe the Tel Aviv store has the inside skinny. 
 
At Forever 21, Jesus Hearts You Too:
Chatting with the Changs, the super-private, devoutly Christian, South Korean couple behind discount clothier and mega-mall staple Forever 21 (headquartered in LA's Garment District) is so tricky that not even the New York Times can do it. Fortunately, you don't have to look far to find out exactly how the Changs feel about Christ: Printed on the bottom of every neon-yellow shopping bag is John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Gee, thanks. Can I have my $2 tank-top now? Honestly, if they loved the world, they'd use biodegradable bags.
 
In-N-Out Burger—Serving Christ (With That) for 60 years: 
John 3:16 also appears prominently at the popular West Coast hamburger chain In-N-Out Burger, whose diner-style decor and Animal-Style fries have delighted generations of high school students since it first opened east of downtown LA in 1948. The verse is printed along the bottom of your Coke—but the Bible references don't end there. 
 
Milkshakes feature Proverbs 3:5 and Double-Doubles (two patties with two slices of cheese) are swaddled in Nahum 1:7. Perhaps oddest of all, all your hamburgers and cheeseburgers reference Revelation 3:20, which reads: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."
 
Hungry for more? Although LA is ahead of the pack, the home of sun, smog, and religious zealotry isn't the only place where faith and fast-food cross paths.  We've also heard tell of Bible versus on Alaska Airlines dinner trays, VeggieTale Happy Meals at Georgia-based Chick-fil-A, and Christian coffee cups at New England donut purveyor Bess Eaton. Know any more retailers with a small-script faith agenda? Tell us about it in the comments. 
 

The Best "Downfall" Parody Yet

If you are not aware of all internet traditions, you may not know about the "Downfall" parodies. You're missing out. The New York Times explained the phenomon back in October 2008:

On YouTube, we’re in a bunker, and the enemies are always, always closing in. The ceilings are low. The air is stifling. A disheveled leader is delusional.

This is the premise of more than 100 videos on the Web — the work of satirists who for years have been snatching video and audio from "Downfall," the 2004 German movie of Hitler’s demise, and doctoring it to tell a range of stories about personal travails and world politics. By adding new English-language subtitles, they transform the movie’s climactic scene, in which Hitler (played by Bruno Ganz) rails against his enemies and reluctantly faces his defeat, into the generic story of a rabid blowhard brought low.

The problem for "Downfall" artistes, however, is that not everyone likes being parodied, and the targets of such mocking (and the studio that owns the rights to "Downfall") sometimes send takedown notices to YouTube under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Parody, of course, is protected by the fair use doctrine in copyright law, but that usually doesn't stop YouTube from following through with the takedowns. It's cheaper and easier to just take down everything that the site receives a DMCA notice for than to review individual claims. Now the heroic Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced the ultimate meta-Downfall parody, in which Bruno Ganz' Hitler tries to send takedown notices for all the Downfall parodies. The result is amusing and informative:

Love Your Snuggie? Consider the Scrunchie.

In a world where post-grunge bands sell Snuggies, people prance around the beach in Wearable Towels, and mop up battered faces with ShamWows, we have to ask: Where will all these products be when our fickle-consumer preferences take a turn? You don't have to be a Freegan to come up with the answer.

3.5 Floppy Disc

Then: 1998 was the heyday of the cheerfully colored floppy disk. More than 2 billion were sold worldwide.

Now: External drives and CDs have usurped the 3.5. In 2007, PC World stopped selling the disks, and now the only place you can find a 3.5 drive is on Mother Jones intern computers.

Neither Gone Nor Forgotten: Turn boxes of old disks into handbags, pen holders, coasters, or spacey, Cubist artwork.

Pagers

Then: Invented in 1949 for the New York City Jewish Hospital, beepers didn't achieve popularity until 1974 with the release of Motorola's Pageboy. Popularized by doctors, drug dealers, and pimps, 61 million pagers were beeping in the U.S. in 1994.

Now: The cellular telephone killed the pager. In 2008, four billion cell phones were in use worldwide, connecting more than 60% of the world population to American Idol ringtones and creating fodder for the Texts From Last Night.

Neither Gone Nor Forgotten: Beepers still buzz for emergency personnel and doctors . In Britian, pages are popular with "twitchers," who pay for up-to-the-minute tips on where to spot rare birds.

 

 

 

 

National Fist Bump Day, 2009

Nearly a year ago (June 3, 2008) in Minneapolis Denver, Illinois junior senator Barack Obama captured the Democratic nomination for president of the United States of America. Obama celebrated the event by bumping knuckles with his wife, a brief physical gesture whose public discussion would quickly become overwhelming. Well, it's time to celebrate that gesture again: next Wednesday, June 3, will be National Fist Bump Day. According to organizers of the event:

A group of like-minded people have gotten together to commemorate Obama's grand gesture, but also to take the fist bump to a higher level, one above partisan politics and social divides. For one day we are calling for Americans, and perhaps even all global citizens, to put aside their differences -- be they class, race, religion or values -- and show their respect with a little bump.

 

Tonight on PBS: Hollywood Chinese

Arthur Dong's documentary on depictions of Chinese people onscreen, “Hollywood Chinese,” will be on PBS tonight as part of the American Masters series. I saw this film last year when it made the festival circuit and enjoyed it, despite having little familiarity with Chinese culture. It had some hilariously outdated film moments, everything from Fu Manchu 'staches to John Wayne in yellowface, plus celebs like Amy Tan and Ang Lee talking about how their heritage has impacted them personally and professionally in Hollywood. Definitely worth a watch, or at least a DVR. You can read my interview with Dong here.

Spy Novels For Journalists

Alex Berenson is a New York Times reporter by day, bestselling spy novelist by night. Earlier this year, he published his third novel, The Silent Man, featuring his super spy John Wells. I came across the book at the library a couple of weeks ago and discovered that not only is it pretty good, but it's the rare spy novel for media junkies. At one point in the book, Wells assumes the cover of a Lebanese businessman/freedom fighter. To get into character, he tans at Solar Planet, dyes his hair and ODs on fried chicken. Fat and swarthy, Wells procures a fake passport to travel to Moscow to avenge an attack that nearly killed his girlfriend. His alias? Glenn Kramon, which also happens to be the name of Berenson's boss and managing editor of the Times.

I asked the real Kramon whether he knew Berenson had inserted him into the novel. Turns out he's a big fan of Berenson's novels and has read all three. When he first discovered his name in the most recent, Kramon says he "thanked Alex for not making me the villain." Kramon's is not the first name Berenson has appropriated from his Times colleagues. Kramon says his favorite is that of the book's hapless American ambassador to Russia, Walt Purdy, whose name he suspects is a hybrid of investigative reporter Walt Bogdanich and his editor, Matt Purdy. Naturally, the Times names had me wondering who else had popped up in Berenson's novels. Perhaps there's a Maureen Dowd cameo? Alas, Berenson says no. He only poaches names from people he knows, and he's never met Dowd. "I have a hunch that Wells wouldn't like her much, though," he says. "She's not his type."