The Riff - February 2008

Innovation from the Left

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 6:30 PM EST

From the Washington Post: Common Cause, Washington Monthly Explore a Common Future

Two of the capital's most venerable institutions -- the lobby group Common Cause and the scrappy magazine Washington Monthly -- are in serious talks about merging.

A decision could come in May, when the Common Cause board plans to discuss the combination.

Officials of both groups said they have not decided how closely they might tie themselves together. It could be a partnership of some kind, or the Monthly could be folded into Common Cause.

What is certain is that conversations have been going on for months and that each side thinks there are good reasons to blend their efforts.

"We all like each other," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. "We are now doing our due diligence."

Common Cause has been working to revive itself after several years of flagging finances and effectiveness, and sees adding a magazine as a good way to bolster its reputation. The Washington Monthly, while influential among an elite audience, has long searched for a financially stable partner, especially one with lots of members (and potential subscribers) such as Common Cause.

But how, you might ask, can a lobby group and a magazine merge? It sounds pretty strange.

Read the entire piece to learn how feisty the thinking left is and how determined to stay alive. (Full disclosure: a bunch of my journalism homies are at the Monthly)

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Fear and Loathing in Romania

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 7:52 PM EST

4-months-150.jpgThe film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, which tells the story of a woman who helps her friend arrange to have an illegal abortion in Romania in 1987, is an incredibly tense movie-going experience. Its dark, gritty images—and the raw emotions that they invoke—have lingered with me for days after seeing it.

LOST: Finally, This Season Gets Going!

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 1:30 PM EST

lostep3.jpgLOST has lost many viewers because they find the series frustrating. It poses myriad questions, has a complex mythology, and lots of confusing flashbacks: All of this moves the plot at a glacial pace. That changed last night, with the third episode of the new season.

Finally, someone's made it off that darn island! And not just in a flash-forward, in real-time. But in typical LOST fashion, the latest plot twist raises as many questions as it answers. Why's Sayid gone all Jason Bourne as a spy for Ben? What's the meaning of Naomi's bracelet? Why does Ben have all those passports in his closet? Why does Charlotte look so much like Nicole Kidman in Dead Calm? Okay, just kidding on that last one, but seriously, about ten new plot lines will now have to be explored.

Valentine's Day Videos: Heartbreak Songs

| Thu Feb. 14, 2008 6:04 PM EST

mojo-photo-heartbreak.jpgJezebel's got the spirit, using today's holiday as an opportunity for lonely, heartbroken singles (sigh) to express our misery in song. It's satisfying, but honestly, good heartbreak songs aren't hard to find: agony beats ecstasy on the "great songs" tip by like 1000-to-1. Here are five for your viewing pleasure; why not add your favorite (or least-favorite) misery-loves-company tracks in the comments, since it's not like you've got anything else planned tonight.

The Remix: Drowning Pool Saved by DJ Sega

| Thu Feb. 14, 2008 4:49 PM EST

mojo-photo-bodiesremix.jpgIn today's remix-happy culture, you never know where songs might end up; new versions sometimes make songs sound older, dance-pop cheese can take on rock intensity, and a track you thought you hated is suddenly on repeat on your iPod. This remix of of the latter variety. Texas metal band Drowning Pool were known for their 2001 alt-radio hit, "Bodies," whose on-air life was cut short when the 9/11 attacks made the line "let the bodies hit the floor" seem kind of inappropriate. But it's a pretty unbearable song anyway, revolving around a single muddy note and a guttural, screamed chorus that seems designed to repel:

New R.E.M. Sounds Kind Of Like Old R.E.M.

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 3:52 PM EST

R.E.M.And I mean that in the best possible way. The legendary combo's new album, Accelerate, comes out April Fools' Day, but via Pitchfork comes a just-released single and video, and it's got a little of that old R.E.M. magic. While the intro kind of inverts the start of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go," the rest has that wistful sound R.E.M. patented: "And you cry and you cry," sings Michael Stipe, and Mike Mills does that awesome background thing, "ay-ee-iy-yiy!" Kind of makes you want to get out your dusty copy of Murmur and put it on the hi-fi. Anyway, the video's after the jump.

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Six Words, Six Months to Come up with Them

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 8:55 PM EST

How lovely. Six word memoirs.

I know. Me, too.

Had to be a crappy ad gimmick or college drinking game, but it's not. It's addictive and sadly beautiful when not slyly sexy or funny or enigmatic. The good kind of enigmatic, not the annoying kind usually meant just to show off.

From SMITH magazine, bathroom reading that may spoil us all for the dreck we usually settle for in...you know...there. No one can resist the challenge. Check this and this and this and this....

I'll never sleep again until I pull this off. And realize I'm depressed by the truth I've managed to tell on myself. Here's a taste (from Ron Rosenbaum's site, above):

Torchwood: A New Approach to Sexuality on TV?

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 5:24 PM EST

mojo-photo-torchwood.jpgThe BBC hit series Torchwood is a spin-off of a spin-off, really: an extension of the new Doctor Who series that is itself only vaguely related to the classic long-running original. Torchwood's creators were apparently inspired by the still-underappreciated Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show that used elements of fantasy as illustrations of (and counterpoints to) the characters' lives, and on the surface, the shows have a lot in common: Doctor Who attracted fans as much for its winking humor as its geeky sci-fi, and on Buffy, the satire was built in.

Torchwood has also followed in Buffy's footsteps in another way: towards the end of the latter show's run, two of the female characters fell in love, and their relationship evolved into the most fully-realized same-sex couple on television at the time. In Torchwood, a secretive X-Files-type agency is led by a mysterious (and apparently immortal) guy named Captain Jack Harkness, and he's typically courageous and handsome. He also appears to be gay, or at least bi: his romantic entanglements are with men, whether it's the cute office guy or the interstellar co-conspirator.

Is Lucy Liu the New All-American Girl?

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 5:50 PM EST

LucyLiuresized.jpgLast month ABC premiered its new Sex and the City-ish show Cashmere Mafia, starring Lucy Liu as Mia Mason, a high-powered publishing executive in New York City. Not since Margaret Cho's All-American Girl (also ABC) has an Asian American been featured as a main character. But All-American Girl was criticized by some for exploiting stereotypes for laughs, and Cho and network executives argued over just the right formula of "Asian-ness." After the whole debacle, Cho spiraled into various forms of self-destructiveness, and the show was canceled after one season. That was 1994.

Over the past few decades Asian Americans have been slowly eking their way into casting rooms and onto sets in Hollywood. (Think Lost, ER, Grey's Anatomy, Heroes, Entourage, Gilmore Girls, etc.). Exposure is a good thing, but Asian Americans for the most part are still relegated to ancillary roles.

New Music: The Duke Spirit - Neptune

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 5:47 PM EST

mojo-photo-neptune.jpgOkay, I have to clear my head of all that Grammys negativity by talking about something good. The Duke Spirit hail from Cheltenham, England, a "spa town" off in the west by Bristol; it's a little isolated, and their sound is too: a kind of throwback to '90s grunge with a liberal helping of Queens of the Stone Age-style riffs. Their first album, 2004's Cuts Across the Land, was an underappreciated gem of fuzzy, bluesy rock, made even more unique by lead singer Leila Moss' chiming voice. Critics compared them to PJ Harvey or Patti Smith, but more than anything they reminded me of Salt, another underappreciated female-fronted hard-rock band who had a minor hit in '95 with "Bluster." In any event, The Duke Spirit seemed mysteriously, intriguingly out-of-sync.