Mixed Media

MoJo Staff Picks: March 28

| Fri Mar. 28, 2008 4:55 PM EDT

mojo-staff-picks-250x250.jpgWelcome back to the "staff picks" shelf at The Riff. R.E.M.'s new album, Accelerate, is due out on Tuesday, April 1. In preparation for this event, Kiera's selections this week (numbers 2 and 3 on the playlist) both have to do with the storied Athens band.

1. "Red and Purple," The Dodos: Their March 18 release, Visiter, combines sort of a punk attitude (using shoes outfitted with tambourines) with, the band would probably hate me for saying so, pretty melodies, that I want to keep listening to.

2. "Orange Crush," Editors: A mellow cover of R.E.M.'s classic. The Editors are British. Do they even have Orange Crush over there?

3. "Dazzling Display," Steve Wynn: Turns out R.E.M. has an imeem playlist, and this one's on it. Peter Buck + Dream Syndicate=pretty cool.

4. "Bodysnatchers," Radiohead: I know, you're tired of hearing about Radiohead, right? I'm recommending this track anyway. This song is revved-up tension that is pretty and strange at the same time.

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Have a Nice Day: Wal-Mart Doesn't Control the Smiley Face

| Fri Mar. 28, 2008 3:13 PM EDT
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Happy happy joy joy. Wal-Mart has lost its claim that it alone owns the smiley face. Last week, a federal judge ruled that the websites Walocaust and Wal-Qaeda have the right to spoof the company's smiley-face logo. It's not the first time the chain has wrangled over possession of the vapidly feel-good '70s icon; in 2006 a French businessman who claimed to have invented it tried to block Wal-Mart's attempt to trademark it. (The real creator of the smiley actually appears to be this guy—and not Forrest Gump, either.) The store won that round, saving us from the disaster that would have been Freedom Smileys. But at least the French smileys would have been allowed to unionize.

Remix Manu Chao's New Song

| Wed Mar. 26, 2008 4:39 PM EDT

mojo-photo-manuchao.jpgI'm always stoked when artists put out a capellas from their songs (for easier DJ tricks and mashupping), and it's even more fun when you get the individual instrument tracks, all split up for your amateur-song-rearranger pleasure. This "here, take it all" attitude is still kind of rare, weirdly enough: you'd think every artist out there would take advantage of the free "wikimixers" out there on the off chance of coming up with an even more awesome version of their song.

Well, at least Spanish-French singer Manu Chao gets it. He's sponsoring a remix contest for his latest song, "Politik Kills," which in its original version is a loping reggae number, complete with Chao's typically hypnotic guitar work, although the first thing I might do is take down the level of the vocals which are a bit on the polemical-lecture side for me. But no biggie. Eighteen new versions have already been posted on his website, including dubby ones from Chris Blackwell and Prince Fatty, as well as a shuffly south-of-the-border style mix from Mexican Dubweiser & Kinky. Watch a fan-made video for the original after the jump, and check out the remixes and download the individual tracks here.

—Party Ben

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user thetripwirenyc.

Expelled: An Intelligently Designed Creationist PR Campaign?

| Wed Mar. 26, 2008 12:57 AM EDT
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Nice! I just received a package full of swag for the hottest new documentary on the Internets. That would be Expelled, a new film narrated by Ben Stein that claims to expose how "Big Science has expelled smart new ideas from the classroom." In this case, Big Science is evolutionary science and those "smart new ideas" means intelligent design, a.k.a. creationism in a lab coat. It's a little funny to think of creationism as a new idea, since it's been around for 3,000-plus years. Oh well. The makers of Expelled don't seem to be big on nuance. The reason they're already getting press for the film, scheduled for release in three weeks, is that they barred —actually, expelled—a evolutionary biologist who appears in the film from a recent screening. But Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, made it past security and reported that the film not only took his on-screen quotes out of context but is "drearily boring" to boot.

Having watched the film's trailer, I have to agree with Dawkins that Stein's nasally monotone is hard to endure. Disappointingly, Stein doesn't wear his Angus Young get-up (right) but he does reprise his Ferris Bueller "Anyone? Anyone?" shtick. Unfortunately, I didn't receive a screener in my swag package, so I can't really say more about the film except that it looks unapologetically creationist. However, I did get an official Expelled t-shirt, a baseball hat, a backpack, and a luggage tag emblazoned with the film's unintentionally yet tellingly anti-intellectual slogan, "No Intelligence Allowed." Usually, documentary makers are eager to get copies of their films into the hands of the press and have no money for tchotchkes. The backwards-seeming media campaign for Expelled suggests that either the filmmakers don't want advance reviews and/or are more interested in buzz than substance. But who am I to say what the creators' master plan is?

Justice Department Approves XM-Sirius Merger

| Tue Mar. 25, 2008 4:39 PM EDT

mojo-photo-xmsirius.gifIn the latest example of two wrongs desperately hoping to make a right, satellite radio rivals XM and Sirius are one step closer to blissful orbital matrimony as the Justice Department has approved the companies' merger. It still has to get past the FCC, but Justice accepted the networks' argument that HD radio, iPods and, uh, player pianos constitute adequate competition in the face of what sure looks like a monopoly to anyone with eyes. Assistant attorney general Thomas O. Barnett laughs off your suspicions, though:

In several important segments of their business, with or without the merger, the parties simply do not compete today and therefore the merger would not be eliminating any competition between them.

Right, so can Apple and Microsoft merge, because people can just use typewriters and read magazines? Hooray!

Live Review: Vampire Weekend @ Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 4:12 PM EDT

mojo-photo-vampire2.jpgAppropriately enough, just getting to this show sucked the life out of me like a bloodthirsty Transylvanian. I'm happily relaxing with friends at around 9:15pm, having a spirited argument about Hillary Clinton and political dynasties, and I get a text message from Friend A: "R U cming 2 vamp?" I reply: "yes." Friend A: "Show starts in 15." "Minutes?" I reply. "Yes," comes the answer. As I get my jacket on, another text comes from Friend B: "Can my girlfriend be your +1"? Er, I don't have a +1. "Do you have the # of [Friend C who works at the label]"? I text it to him. Friend A texts again: "I'm here with [Friend D, lead singer of a notable Bay Area rock band], he says 'hi'." Okay. Friend C texts to tell me I now have a +1 and it's for Friend B's girlfriend. I arrive at the show, no sign of Friend B or the girlfriend. "Whr r u," I text. "At the kebab place around the corner." That kebab place is like 3 blocks away! "I'm here, band is on," I text madly, as I hear the strains of "Mansard Roof" through the door. A woman bicycles up and asks the security guy if he saw anyone selling tickets. "Someone was selling a ticket for $60 earlier," he says. "Do you think it's worth it if I wait?" she asks, and he says, "nah, I wouldn't." Minutes and two more songs pass, and no sign of my friends, but then Friend C from the record label shows up and puts Friend B on the list anyway, and I can finally enter the venue.

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Gender Bending Language

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 3:05 PM EDT

Last week I examined the issue of gender-neutral language, and demurred at the tendency of the English language to fall back on male-dominant pronouns. Having poked around in a few writing style guides, I concluded that their rules negate the need to pander to linguists looking to strip our pronouns of any association with gender or sex. What my heterocentrist discussion—similar to that of most people—overlooked is how our current construct of language fails to accommodate or even recognize the marginalized transgender or "gender nonconforming" population. An article in New York Times Magazine featuring Rey, a transmale (born female but identifies as male) student, finds that on gender-sensitive campuses "students will often use gender-neutral pronouns like 'ze' and 'hir'—especially if they post on campus message boards." And the appearance of terms such as "gender nonconforming" and "genderqueer" in the article signifies that our relationship to gender is transforming.

"…today many students who identify as trans are seeking not simply to change their sex but to create an identity outside or between established genders—they may refuse to use any gender pronouns whatsoever or take a gender-neutral name…"

Mother Jones took a look at the evolution of gender-neutral pronouns in our March/April 2008 issue. So although our writing style guides allow us to circumvent the current, although heterocentrist, gender pronoun debate, in the future—as our discussions evolve—they might need an update as well.

—Joyce Tang

LOST: Last Pre-Strike Episode Not So Striking

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 8:00 PM EDT

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Last night's episode of LOST was the last we'll see until April 24. And it was the last written before the infamous strike. Will there be a difference between pre-and post-strike shows? We can only hope so, as the "Meet Kevin Johnson" episode yesterday felt rushed and ultimately unsatisfying.

The episode takes place almost entirely in flashbacks, a trademark of the series. The flashbacks, which reveal critical stories from characters' pasts, have been an easy way for viewers to learn more about characters and their motivations in the present. But some episodes, like last nights', seem to be nearly entirely flash-backs, making it feel contrived and hard to jump back into the present and still remember what's happening. Combine it with the innovative use flash-forwards (which happened in last week's show) and you've got a recipe for confusion in an already complex TV series. Some TV shows and movies (Tarantino's Kill Bill and his inspiration Kung Fu) do flashbacks seamlessly. But it seems to me, when flashbacks start to take up more than 70 percent of an episode, you're asking for trouble.

In last night's flashback, I mean episode, the story of Oceanic flight 815 survivor Michael (aka Kevin Johnson) was interesting, since he was the first Lostie to make it off the island. But it wasn't nearly as fascinating as another character's glossed-over revelation that the alleged remains of Flight 815 found at the bottom of the ocean, were, in fact, planted. But by whom is still a mystery: Bad guy Ben's henchmen say it's industrialist Charles Widmore.

But would Widmore really put his company's real name on a purchase order to buy the same model of plane that crashed? And could a Boeing 777 commercial airliner really cost only $450, as the receipt indicates? To me, that enters the realm of fantasy more than the idea that busy businessman Widmore took 300+ bodies from a Thai cemetery, put them in a plane, and shoved them into the ocean, all so he could hide an island with special powers from the rest of the world.

Another unsatisfying detail of last night's installment was the perfunctory shooting of Danielle, mother of bad guy Ben's daughter, and Karl, boyfriend of said daughter, just before the episode ended. One can only hope the April post-strike episodes will be a bit tidier, since writers got some, er, rest during the five-months they weren't working.

Photo courtesy ABC

MoJo Staff Picks: March 21

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 7:20 PM EDT

mojo-staff-picks-250x200.jpgThe "staff picks" shelf at the record store sucks me in every time. My rationalization: These folks work at a record store, so they must know what they're talking about. Right? Well, we work at a magazine, so, uh...anyway, a few of us here at MoJo decided to compile our own favorites-of-the-moment list. Like it? Super. Hate it? Tell us something better to listen to. Especially if you happen to work at a record store.

We think our picks this week are worth a listen or two. But as LeVar Burton would say, you don't have to take our word for it:

1. "Along the Way," DeVotchKa: Gary saw DeVotchKa perform this song in Austin last week at SXSW, and it's been stuck in his head ever since. Old-world gypsy folk that's pretty and sad at the same time.

2. "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks," Los Campesinos!:
Welsh indie pop band with names almost as twee as their music: Neil, Ellen, Ollie, Tom, Gareth, Harriet, and Aleks.

3. "Organism," Tommy Guerrero: At a recent live performance in San Francisco, Guerrero and his band drove through songs like this with scary precision. Hip-hop beats + thick, reggae bass lines + funky guitar = Tommy Guerrero.

4. "Zhong Nan Hai," Carsick Cars: We hear tinges of Mission of Burma and the mighty Joy Division in this Beijing band's sound. What do you hear?

"Garfield Minus Garfield" A Troubling Lesson on Late Capitalist Anxiety?

| Wed Mar. 19, 2008 7:10 PM EDT

There have been a few "comic remixes" that have probably landed in your e-mail boxes over the years: The Dysfunctional Family Circus predates the internet, in fact, replacing the originals' cloying observations with sick jokes about incest and drugs, while "Marmaduke Explained" attempts to find humor in this bafflingly non-funny comic via deadpan explanations that are even less funny. But recently I've come across a reinterpretation of a much-derided comic that's pretty stunning, not only because it makes the originals funny, but because it does so not through addition, but through subtraction.

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Garfield Minus Garfield has a simple formula: erase (presumably through the magic of Photoshop) every instance of the irrepressible, overweight feline, leaving only Jon Arbuckle to talk to himself. The results are devastating (and hilarious) treatises on loneliness, without punch lines or jokes, reminiscent of the appallingly bleak early Peanuts strips.