The Riff - December 2007

I Think We're All Turning Japanese

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 1:47 PM EST

Check out this poor bastard. Only 30 and dead from over work, a problem so common in Japan it has a name and a legal remedy. Others aren't 'so lucky;' in 2002, six hundred and fifty suicides there were deemed work related. Japanese 'salary men' are clocking 100-160 of over time per month with email, black berries and home offices all helping to make work inescapable. Probably on top of all that after-work drinking they're forced to do to schmooze clients.

Throw off your blackberries, America (and Japan). We have nothing to lose but...ok, our jobs. But what good is a job and no life?

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The 'Mo with the MoJo: Yet Another Reason Why I love Dan Savage

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 1:28 PM EST

A while back, I got myself into deep doodoo trying to send a love letter to Dan Savage. Came out all kinds of wrong. Dan forgave me so I won't go there again; just believe me when I say that I love that little faggot. He's my main gay and here's why; he has a BS detector that could pinpoint nonsense in outer space and believes, as do I, that not only are there such things as stupid questions but that those who ask them should be summarily informed of same.

I never miss his column and often am plain old flabbergasted by his wit, wisdom, ill temper, arcane sexual knowledge and, most of all, his fearlessness. Homey can be mean though and, when I first began reading him, I thought he was one of those dinosaur fags who had to hate women to love men. But, read him regularly and you realize that he doesn't hate women. He hates hypocrites, BS artists, double standards and cowards. Which brings me to his sneaky side. He's just pulled one of the most dastardly tricks ever witnessed in the blogosphere.

I won't give it away; I enjoyed it too much! You simply must read this week's column.

As a militant feminist, I spend lots of time reading, and dismissing, 'critiques' of feminism and the crap that women pull. Gotta say, though, nothing brought home women's BS better than what Dastadly Dan pulled off this week. Once again, my hat is off to you, Dan Savage. You de man.

Supersize Coup - Morgan Spurlock Finds Osama?

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:50 PM EST

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It's still only a rumor, but word is that the payoff of Morgan Spurlock's new documentary, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, is, well, Osama Bin Laden. Alt-film blog SlashFilm reports that in February, the Weinstein Co. bought the film after seeing only 15 minutes of footage, quoting the film's director of photography as saying that Spurlock "definitely got the holy grail."

While I find it hard to believe that the irreverent Spurlock actually located, spoke with, or filmed Bin Laden, I'm a little worried about his fate if he did. Our government doesn't take kindly to embarrassment, and if he got anywhere near Bin Laden, Spurlock's contact list alone is probably enough to earn him a visit from Homeland Security. Hopefully, though, when it premieres next year at Sundance this film will do what Sicko did for the healthcare debate and help us shift our energies towards where they're really needed.

—Casey Miner


Party With Saddam

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:15 PM EST

Fishbone, a ska/funk/metal/rock band that formed in 1979 and has continued to tour and release albums ever since, has a song from their newest CD, Still Stuck in Your Throat, called "Party With Saddam" that is arguably the cheeriest, most hopeful, and most danceable song I've heard about the former Iraqi president.

The song is a standard ska romp, and it's catchy chorus goes like this: "We won't see the end / If we party till our colors blend / Party till Saddam's your friend / Never drop a bomb again / All right / We can break the chains / If we party like our blood's the same / Party till we lose our aim / Never shoot a gun again." The song was actually released in Europe in August '06, but after Saddam's death last December, the band has since been inviteded to talk about/perform the song (a crowd favorite) on radio stations. Here's one acoustic performance:

Fishbone's been around for decades (I've seen them live a dozen times), and despite having only two original members, they keep making socially-conscious, energetic, up-tempo music that most of their musical peers probably can't—or just don't want to—keep up with anymore.

Lefty Think Tank Sells Itself on eBay

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:02 PM EST

I've never even sold so much as a lamp on eBay, but the owners of a Bay Area think tank are taking the idea of peddling wares online to a whole new level: They're selling the whole damn tank. Their ad reads: "Own This Think Tank: BACVR for Sale on eBay - Perfect Holiday Gift for Political Junkies."

Allegedly the first to do so (eBay did not return my call or email), the Bay Area Center for Voting Research (BACVR) has garnered a few bids, one at approximately $5,100, according to co-founder Jason Alderman.

"You don't need to be an Ivy League professor or a former administration official to run a think tank. There's an enormous number of smart Americans out there that can do this, and this is a great way to solicit their help," Alderman told me at the end of last week.

"Everyday Math," Every Child a Loser

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 12:55 PM EST

Who says American education isn't working? Via Slate, I just learned that our children are being taught something called Everyday Math that is going to make every day of their adult lives quite math illiterate. This is so stupid, it's hard to believe it's actually going on right now in class rooms across America. What the f*&^ is our problem? You know things are bad when you have to go to that nutball Michelle Malkin for ammunition (see below) that just adds up all too dismally. From Slate:

The [Everyday Math] authors also firmly believe that children are capable of learning a great deal more than previously expected."

Especially if they use a calculator. Or take a simple multiplication problem and turn it into a "cluster" of five other, simpler problems. Or make a pretty "lattice" box and input numbers. Apparently, like Barbie once said, "Math is hard!" and we have to dumb it down for everyone rather than figure out ways to let the smartest kids excel and provide help to those who need it. This video that Malkin posts is long but well worth watching. The woman in the video--who went back to school to facilitate a midlife career switch and was startled to see the youngsters in her class struggling--shows how bizarre and convoluted this "new new" math is.

As critics are pointing out, kids are not learning better with these techniques. Children aren't learning multiplication in third grade, since they are repeating the addition and subtraction they should have learned in first grade. And check out this sample question from a fifth-grade text:

A. If math were a color, it would be --, because --.

God help me, I put on a gas mask and forced myself to Malkin's site to watch one of the most disturbing videos I've ever had to endure. No wonder people home school; EveryDay Math in action must be seen to be believed. I've saved you the horror of visiting Malkin's site, so click the link above (it's You Tube), then call your child's school and make sure that Everyday Math is not on your child's curriculum unless you want to spend your dotage helping them figure out how to cut a recipe in half or balance their checkbooks.

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Sad but Necessary and Inevitable? Cataloguing the Decline of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 12:27 PM EST

Ever heard of Wiley College? Me neither. But we all will when the great and powerful Denzel Washington's new movie hits on Christmas. From the New York Times:

When the light at University Avenue is green, drivers can pass Wiley College without a glance. There was a time, however, when this small black liberal arts college here caught the attention of a nation: in the 1930s, Wiley's polished team of debaters amassed a series of victories over white competitors that stunned the Jim Crow South....
On Dec. 25, "The Great Debaters" will appear in theaters with Denzel Washington as its director and star, and Oprah Winfrey as producer. The film depicts Wiley's most glorious chapter: 1935, when the black poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson coached his debating team to a national championship.

What a tragedy that this bastion of black excellence fighting the good fight in the depths of Jim Crow so neared extinction that it's faculty has had to accept unpaid furloughs and seen its student body dwindle to only 400. What a cruel irony that the very civil rights victory it helped bring about now spells it's own doom as black students opt for newly integrated educational opportunities. Read the Times article for a gloomy update on the slow death of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) which produced the greatest black American minds to date. Integration is here to stay, but at what cost? Perhaps the relevance of even trying to maintain the HBCU system is today's great debate.

Don't Trifle with the Truffle: A Lost Opportunity for the Art World

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 8:37 PM EST

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A gigantic 3.3 pound white truffle mushroom was unearthed in the hills nearby Pisa, Italy last month and sold at auction for $340,000 this past weekend. Art star Damien Hirst and his fellow bidder Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi were defeated by Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho, who thus deprived the art world of another potential Hirst blockbuster. We may never know which of his regular tricks the world's most expensive living artist would have employed to transform a humble mushroom into an art object worth more than its weight in gold. Would he have suspended the fungus in formaldehyde or encrusted the dug-up edible with diamonds? Perhaps the exceptional Tuber magnatum would have inspired him to produce some more really detailed paintings. Most importantly, would this project-in-the-making have surpassed his previous $100 million price tag? Somewhere in Russia, a billionaire collector mourns the loss.

—Cassie McGettigan

Requiem for Swiss Skiing

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 3:19 PM EST

While the New York Times reports on the threat posed to luxurious Swiss ski resorts as a result of global warming, one fan of the indie band HEALTH has produced an unofficial video that sounds the alarm on another potential casualty of a suddenly sultry Switzerland: the heroic ski jumper.

To view the video, take a look at this post on our environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

—Cassie McGettigan

From the Oxymoron Department: Sunday School for Atheists

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 12:10 PM EST

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?