The Riff - March 2008

Superman Felled by Kryptonite-laced Lawsuit

| Mon Mar. 31, 2008 3:28 PM PDT

mojo-photo-supermen.jpgActually, to be honest, there's no proof of any Kryptonite contamination, but attorney Marc Toberoff may turn out to be Lex Luthor. He just won a case against Warner Bros. on behalf of the heirs of Jerome Siegel, one of the co-creators of Superman in the original Action Comics issue 71 years ago. Variety is reporting that this might put the franchise on hold:

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Has Madonna Finally Lost the Plot?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2008 2:46 PM PDT

mojo-photo-madonna.jpgLike any self-respecting homophile dance music enthusiast, I've always liked Madonna. Er, let me put it more specifically: I've always liked her music. While her mining of the underground often seems to slightly misunderstand it (see "Vogue"), she's one of the few artists who have combined massive success with consistent boundary-pushing. Partly as a result of her continued search for hot new producers, her output has remained compelling, even 25 (!) years after her first album. 2003's American Life was a bit of a disappointment, but 2005's Confessions on a Dancefloor brought producer Stuart Price to the foreground for a brilliant distillation of contemporary dance music styles. Anticipation is high for her 11th studio album, Hard Candy, set for release in April; cover art (left) and the first single ("4 Minutes") are out now. What's the verdict?

Reports: Bruno Terrorizing America's Heartland with Sexy Hot Pants

| Fri Mar. 28, 2008 3:22 PM PDT

mojo-photo-bruno.jpgWhat I wouldn't give to have seen this. Apparently, Kansas is the first known location for Sacha Baron Cohen's new movie Brüno, the "sequel" to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, and the expected run-ins with the local populace have started to hit the news. Dateline: Wichita, and the amazingly-named Mid-Continent Airport (like, why not just call it "Bumfuck Airplane Place"?). The Bruno people got permission to film inside the airport, reportedly claiming to be from German TV, as one does (although Brüno is supposed to be Austrian). Things seemed fine, until they turned their cameras on, according to the Wichita Eagle:

The film crew tossed off their coats and did some "kissing" and "fighting" in the hallway leading to the security area at the airport. The security officer called his chief. His chief watched the live security surveillance and reported that no laws were being broken. "At that point, we didn't feel like we had any law enforcement issues," said [assistant director of airport operations Brad] Christopher, who was dealing with the situation that day. But it was "inappropriate," he said. Christopher asked the crew to leave, and the crew left peacefully. "We felt like we were deceived, lied to about the intent and what their true intents and plans were for this film," Christopher said. He said several other locations in Wichita were also targeted.

So, other than "kissing" and "fighting," what, exactly, was inappropriate?

MoJo Staff Picks: March 28

| Fri Mar. 28, 2008 1:55 PM PDT

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.

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

| Fri Mar. 28, 2008 12:13 PM PDT
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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 1:39 PM PDT

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.

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Expelled: An Intelligently Designed Creationist PR Campaign?

| Tue Mar. 25, 2008 9:57 PM PDT
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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 1:39 PM PDT

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 1:12 PM PDT

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.

Gender Bending Language

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 12:05 PM PDT

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