Mixed Media

From the Oxymoron Department: Sunday School for Atheists

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 9:10 AM PST

Religion is even more inescapable than usual this time of year as are the fights that ensue over it. Some of us are just spoiling for fights. Others have fights thrust upon them. Given it's muted tone, I wish I'd seen this piece before I wrote these about The Golden Compass and Mitt Romney's Mormonism. Not that it won't piss off 'the faithful'. But at least it sheds some light on the moral, let alone organizational, struggles of the unchurched. Atheists and anarchists: where, and why, are those conventions held?

Refusing even to entertain the ignorant notion that atheists and agnostics are ipso facto amoral - hmmm. Maybe I'll murder the moron who took my parking space since I don't believe in Jesus - the question remains: what do we teach our kids, and how?

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What's in a (Maiden) Name? Me, That's What

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 2:47 PM PST

Women taking their husband's names always baffled me. I've known since I was a teenager that I wasn't going to. Aside from genealogic traceability and simplified familial paperwork, why on earth would I agree to be absorbed into some man I hadn't even met yet? And who might turn out to be a huge mistake? I've lost track of all my female friends and relatives now carting around the last names of men they've been divorced from for more than twenty years. But it isn't the possibility of divorce that makes me object to women taking men's names; its just the plain unvarnished, sexist truth of what it means. As one of my aunts famously said in leaving her husband after a long, troubled marriage, "I understand all about man and wife becoming one, but how come we always have to be you?" Symbols matter and that was one I simply couldn't stomach just as I could never stomach changing my citizenship. Don't ask me why those seem equivalent but they do to me. Even worse, to me, are hyphenated names. What a cop out; change your name or don't, girlfriend. Lordy, those godawful amalgamated, frankenstein names.

What I was up for was picking a new name we'd both take or flipping a coin to choose one of our surnames. Too bad I never thought of hiring a consultant or underwriting an internet survey to basically focus-group the new couple's potential new name. Ah, if only we'd had the internet. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who agonized over the whole whose-last-name thing.

Imus Goes Back To Work

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 2:24 PM PST

Imus is back on the air and that's just fine with me.

I never listened to him, or any other shock jock, before and I won't now. No, not even to make sure he doesn't go off again, notwithstanding how much some black leaders want me to (Rev. Sharpton's press conference on the subject will be announced soon. Stay tuned). Life is too short to spend hoping we'll have another band wagon to jump on and chase down another powerful white man. I could have lived a long time without Imus's 'nappy headed ho' psychic assault and I hope to go another lifetime before I ever do again. Call me weak, but I won't be surfing the air waves looking for more insults. In my experience, they have a way of finding you without any extra help. Let's hope his new show is nice and uneventful.

Besides, whatever else you have to say of Imus, he has been more contrite than just about any one else in public life who's been caught redhanded saying something so unregenerately hateful. I actually admire him a little after reading about his first day back at work:

Party Ben's European Tour Update #3: France

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 7:17 AM PST

mojo-photo-paris1.jpgIncludes: Illness! Drama! Crowd surfing! And the possible emergence of a hilarious new dance trend! Greetings from Paris where I've just wrapped up my "Gettin' Euros" DJ tour with dates in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Paris and Lille. France has been, appropriately, like a beautiful but insane lover, pushing you away to pout one moment, only to turn around and embrace you the next. A hapless American can only sit back and enjoy the ride, I suppose.

It's Hard Out There For a Daredevil...

| Fri Nov. 30, 2007 5:46 PM PST
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Breaking news: Evel Knievel is dead at 69. As we remember the 1970s stuntman and orthopedic-surgery poster boy, let's also remember his unwitting contribution to our slang lexicon: He helped make it legal to call someone a pimp. In 2001, ESPN's website ran a photo of Knievel with a caption saying that he "proves that you're never too old to be a pimp." Knievel sued for defamation. The case made it to the Ninth Circuit Court, which ruled against Knievel, finding that ESPN had tagged him a pimp not to suggest that he managed prostitutes, but rather that he was, as the kids say, "cool." "It was most likely intended as a compliment," concluded the majority. Knievel's decision to try to jump over the majestic canyon of the First Amendment seems even more bizarre considering that, according to his AP obit, he used to brag about having been a "swindler, a card thief, a safe cracker, a holdup man." (Photo: evelknievel.com)

Sundance Still Embracing A Misnomer

| Fri Nov. 30, 2007 1:47 PM PST

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The Sundance Channel exists to produce sleek, artier-than-thou programming. That is its niche, and, though I personally choose not to watch shows like One Punk Under God and Anatomy of a Scene, I can accept that. What I refuse to accept, however, is the channel's willful mauling of the English language in service of a puffed up celebrity interview vehicle called Iconoclasts. Each episode pairs together two "iconoclasts" and "explores the intersection where two great talents meet—and where creativity comes alive," says Executive Producer Robert Redford. The third season wrapped up last night with a show featuring Madeleine Albright in conversation with Ashley Judd. Past episodes have featured Sean Penn with Jon Krakauer, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder with surfer Laird Hamilton, Renee Zellweger with Christiane Amanpour, and Robert Redford himself with Paul Newman. Even aging media mogul Sumner Redstone has been on. The thing is, this is probably a really great show for people who love celebrities—like E! True Hollywood Story for the alternative crowd—but none of these celebrities are actually iconoclasts. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the word is (1) a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration or (2) a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions.

Genuine iconoclasts include H.L. Mencken, who made a career out of smashing all manner of popular beliefs and prejudices. There's a good case to be made for Salman Rushdie as a model iconoclast, with respect to both literature and religion. But Robert Redford? Look, I liked Sneakers as much as the next guy, but when was the last time Redford shattered any contemporary American idols? The point is, mere accomplishment in a given field does not an iconoclast make. I plan to e-mail Sundance about this; pedantic language-conscious Riff readers should feel free to do the same. Resist corporate verbicide!

—Justin Elliott

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John Fogerty's Back

| Fri Nov. 30, 2007 1:45 PM PST

It's still amazing to me that Creedence Clearwater Revival, a late-60s, early -70s Bay Area band, was so good at playing Louisiana swamp blues; but they were. And John Fogerty, the band's controlling but visionary leader, was largely the reason why (proof below).

At 62, Fogerty, despite a legacy of post-band-breakup lawsuits with record labels and band members, is back with a new solo release, Revival.

The album might as well be called "What's Done is Done. Let's Rock." There's an air of openness and self-awareness to album; sort of a second (or third) wind for Fogerty. Songs range from simple blues/country ("Don't You Wish It Was True") to reflective nods to the old days ("Creedence Song") to straight-up political rock and roll ("I Can't Take It No More").

Check out a good Q&A with Fogerty on Pitchfork.

Winter Holidays = God Awful Pop Music

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 6:01 PM PST
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Regrettably, I spent my morning listening to songs on the Monster Ballads Xmas CD and the LeeVees' How Do You Spell Channukkahh EP. Any holiday spirit I had when I woke up this morning has now been completely ripped out of my system.

I'm not sure why holiday rock almost always = terrible rock, but the monster ballad CD and the silly Jewish rock EP are living proof that rock songs about Santa and pop songs about potato latkes are not, and will never be, cool, funny, interesting, or enjoyable in any way. I want to personally thank them for giving me a full-fledged holiday headache.

Baby Grace: Sleeping in the Bed Her Mother Made

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 9:52 AM PST

You have to be made of stone not to have been following the Baby Grace case. The one that had hardened cops weeping and fondling tiny pink sneakers after her little decomposed body was found floating in Galveston Bay. Even the forensic artist brought in to create her likeness so she could be identified came away moved. After 14 weeks of nature taking its toll on Baby Grace's tortured little body, one would imagine that job to be a horrible one, but the beautiful innocence of a child whose true face she'd only ever see in her mind's eye makes the artists' description of that task simply transcendent:

St. Louie Woman: Sickness in the Suburbs

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 8:42 AM PST

This is one of those stories that you just can't stop thinking about and wondering what the hell is so wrong with people. You read the news and suddenly the whole hermit/Walden Pond thing just makes so much sense. If only there was a way to legislate against stupidity and viciousness. There isn't, but that didn't stop suburban St. Louis politicians from doing it anyway. Wrong as the underlying act was, heinous as it was, making online harassment, without a clearly stated threat, a punishable offense only makes things worse. Ninety percent of the blogosphere is prima facie harassment; they better get a lot more jails built and be ready to face a whole lotta 1st Amendment cases.

It's been hard to miss the story about the 13 year old girl who committed suicide after a MySpace boyfriend wooed, then cruelly mocked and dump her. The 'boyfriend' turned out to be the mom of her former best friend and only four houses down the leafy suburban cul de sac. As horrible as was a grown woman intentionally setting out to spy on a child (how dare she de-best friend her daughter), the details are even worse. The New York Times has the goods: