The Riff - August 2009

Café Est?

| Mon Aug. 17, 2009 1:03 PM PDT

Even by Berkeley standards, Café Gratitude is considered hippy-dippy. The menu items are organic, vegan, and mostly raw, and ordered via affirmations like "I Am Beautiful," "I Am Luscious," and "I Am Sassy." On my first visit there last week, I was offered a free algae shot and asked what nourished me the most that day ("Ummm…the food here was pretty nourishing," was the best I could muster.)

So it wasn't surprising to read in the East Bay Express that the café is connected to Landmark Education, the radical self-realization company recently profiled by Mother Jones.

When I ate there, I found traces of the Landmark Forum—a corporate descendant of the famed 70's movement est (Erhard Seminar Training). The bookshelf by the front door was stocked with copies of The Secret, and a card at my table contained creeds such as "Look at your life and see what you say you 'should' or 'have' to do, that you don't enjoy...Consider you are the one creating it as a 'should' or 'have' to."

In theory, there's nothing wrong with this—coconut water with a side of self-help never hurt anyone. But as the Express reports, the café discriminates against staff not on board with Landmark's ways. It also requires managers to attend the introductory Landmark Forum and cough up half the $500 fee, and in at least one case, fired a manager who refused to do so.

And this is hard to stomach. If you're going to endorse open-mindedness and acceptance, shouldn't you be, well...open-minded and accepting?

Read Mother Jones' article on Landmark here.

Read the East Bay Express article about Café Gratitude here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Paso Doble and DeLay

| Mon Aug. 17, 2009 11:12 AM PDT

Ever fantasized about Tom DeLay doing the foxtrot? Then you're in luck: Today, it was announced that the former House Majority Leader will grace the stage during the upcoming season of Dancing with the Stars.

So does DeLay have a shot at beating out fellow contestants like Macy Gray and Donny Osmond? Word is he fancies boogying with his wife, and has a daughter who won the country dancing championship. But a better indicator might be his political track record:

Whale Billboard: PETA, Please.

| Mon Aug. 17, 2009 9:17 AM PDT

PETA is like your eccentric uncle who shows up drunk at weddings: Most of the time, his annoying antics are sort of harmless and funny, and let's face it: Were it not for him, your family wouldn't have a whole hell of a lot to talk about. But sometimes he totally crosses the line and does something truly mortifying.

Oy.

HT Feministing.

Music Monday: Pissed Jeans Grow Up (+ Free MP3)

| Mon Aug. 17, 2009 3:30 AM PDT

Pissed Jeans
King of Jeans
Sub Pop


To people whose last whiff of Sub Pop came sometime in the late '90s—as grunge's last fart lingered just a little too long—Pissed Jeans probably sound like an evolution of sound. Their hard, slow-swinging punk is soaked in the patented, scuzzed-out heaviness that once made the label a king maker.

A critical distinction, though: Pissed Jeans have an absolutely ferocious angst creeping through each song, and deep punk roots, which makes them palatable to people (like myself) who could never get down with the Northwest grunge scene. Hailing from Allentown, Pa., the band draws its sound more from the old Amphetamine Reptile roster of noise rock or, going further, from the hectic noise of Touch & Go's Jesus Lizard and Butthole Surfers, or even Flipper.





 

Music Monday: Following @_M_I_A_

| Mon Aug. 17, 2009 12:04 AM PDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Aug. 17, 2009 12:04 AM PDT

Best Female Hip-Hop Artist M.I.A. Thats funny coz my mum writes my raps

http://bit.ly/1dcgr BILL GATES / MICROSOFT SUPPORTS GENOCIDE!!

Neeto------Go ! n 2 cut my hair later!

TAMIL CAMP UPDATE!! "1,400 people dying weekly in the camps. At this rate there will be no IDPs in 4 yearS" Govment set release time. WTF?

So go the 140-character-or-less thoughts of Sri Lanka-born British artist/rapper/grimestar M.I.A., aka Maya Arulpragasm, aka pop's rebel princess, whose mash-up asthetic and exotic pedigree (the daughter of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, she split her childhood between South London, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka) made her an indie darling long before "Paper Planes" was a noxiously overplayed stoner anthem, before she showed up to the Grammys on her due date wearing an enormous blue cupcake paper or joined the handful of South Asians nominated for a Slumdog Oscar. Back when she was remixing with Diplo and having her American visa suspended over her dad's ties to the Tamil Tigers and finally moving to Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy against Kanye's advice.

In case you're not familiar, M.I.A. is half of the musical genius behind the Slumdog Millioniare theme and the person you can blame for those neon jeans on the clearance rack at Urban Outfitters. After a pair of mega-watt albums, 2005's Arular and 2007's Kala, she's as recognizable for her DayGlo schizophrenia-as-fashion-sense as for her music. A song like "$20" layers New Order's "Blue Monday," The Pixies' "Where is my Mind," and Arulpragasm's own languid rapping: I put people on the map that never seen a map/I showed 'em something they never seen and hope they make it back. As of this second, she's back in the studio, making even more seizure-inducing gangsta mash. Distill that into 140 characters, and you've got liquid platinum. In theory, at least.

 

The White House: They're Just Like Us!

| Sun Aug. 16, 2009 8:38 PM PDT

President Barack Obama speaks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) by phone in the Oval Office on July 17, 2009. He is joined by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs Phil Schiliro.

 

 

This shot says a few things:

Long live the landline.

It's apple season!

Nerf's not game enough for the Oval Office.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Dogs Go to Heaven, Vick Goes to Eagles

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 12:29 PM PDT

Bwahh?! Michael Vick, star football quarterback and notorious dog fighter, has reportedly agreed to sign a two-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, worth as much as $10 million. This is surprising for a few reasons. First, $10 million seems like a lot for a QB who is only getting older and has been shunned by much of the football world. Also, Eagles head coach Andy Reid has been known for his loyalty to another aging Eagles QB, Donovan McNabb, who will now have to fight with Vick for the top spot.

As a former Philadelphia resident, I was disappointed that the Eagles decided to sign Vick. For the past few years, the Eagles have been a scrappy team that never succeeded as much as it deserved to. The public can get behind this kind of team. But signing Vick undermines that underdog status. Now they're just another middle-of-the-pack team hoping to capitalize on an aging star...who also happens to be a dog killer.

Unsurprisingly, many animal rights groups are outraged. In a statement on its website today, PETA wrote that Vick has given little indication that he regrets his actions. "At this point, all Eagles fans can do is cross their fingers and hope that they won't ever have to explain to their sons and daughters what a 'rape rack' is and why their favorite player was using one, as Falcons fans once had to," it said.

But others take a more... uh... sportsmanlike approach. Citing Vick's recent volunteer work with the Humane Society, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a HUGE football fan, said "I also believe strongly in the tenets of rehabilitation and redemption. I believe Michael Vick has paid a strong and just penalty for his horrific acts, but he has endured that penalty with dignity and grace. He seems to be genuinely remorseful for what he has done."

Who knows? Maybe Vick will become a leading advocate against the torture and murder of animals. I can see it now: "I don't torture dogs anymore and neither should you." Thanks for the heartwarming PSA, Mike.

Shepard Fairey: Say It, Don't Spray It

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 9:43 AM PDT

Yesterday, I wrote about pop-propagandist Shepard Fairey's decision to put a graffiti-resistant coating on his LA studio's brick walls. This morning I received a friendly email from him saying he thought I'd been unfair in questioning the move. That was a accompanied by a far less friendly message that he says he sent to Eastsider LA, the site that originally reported on this:

Jesus,

Your post about the sealer on our building was very obnoxious. Do you just not give a shit about objectivity? My practice as a street artist has NEVER included putting my work on pristine or operational buildings unless asked to do so. I'm not mad at the graff artists who have hit our building, I just like the brick  unadorned. I've always been a champion of street art and graffiti in the same way I'm a champion of free speech. I think it is important for people to be able to speak freely, but if I'm watching a channel whose content is not my cup of tea I may choose to change the channel. It does not make me an opponent of free speech. Preferring my brick unadorned does not make me anti-graffiti. Every time I put a piece of art on the street I know it may be cleaned. That is the nature of the art form. Our building houses a fucking gallery and we show street artist's work there and on banners on the side of the building. For you to portray me as anti-street art is very revealing about YOU and YOUR agenda. Are you pro-street art or graffiti? If the answer is yes, then I'd assume based on your portrayal of me, that you'd welcome graffiti on your house or business lest you be revealed to be an anti-art hypocrite. If you have any integrity you will post my response along with your home and office address as an invitation for people to display their art there. Your attempt to portray me as hypocrite was thinly veiled incitement for people to tag our building. I have been arrested 15 times and know the risks of street art. Do you know the risks of being an irresponsible journalist? I responded to your inquiry very politely and you disrespected my candor by taking a cheap shot... writing something irresponsible and sensational to get people to your site. You could have written something more sophisticated and balanced that could have created a worthwhile discussion about public art. Instead you were lazy and obnoxious. Maybe the economy has made you desperate, or maybe you are always slime. Either way, you should be ashamed.
-Shepard

Jesus, indeed! Worthwhile discussion of public art aside, this is way off the mark. If you read the original Eastsider post, you'll see that the only openly critical part is its headline: "This is one wall Shepard Fairey wants to keep free of self-expression." The rest is pretty straightforward reporting. It was the commenters who accused Fairey of hypocrisy and suggested that his studio might now be an even bigger target for spraypainters. C'mon, Shepard—you know how to tell the difference between mild-mannered bloggers and their less restrained commenters. Just as you no doubt appreciate the difference between, say, a street artist who says he never messes with other people's property without permission and the anonymous fans who plastered gazillions of his Andre the Giant Has a Posse stickers around the world.  

 

 

Mrs. (Insert Husband's Name Here)

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 8:41 AM PDT

This week, the American Sociological Association held its annual meeting here in San Francisco. Researchers from Indiana University and the University of Utah presented findings from a national survey of 815 people on family and gender issues. Apparently, 71 percent of Americans believe a woman should take her husband's last name, and half believed it should be a legal requirement.

The results shocked even the researchers:

"The figures were a bit sobering for us because there seems to be change in so many areas. If names are a core aspect of our identity, this is important," said Brian Powell, professor of sociology at IU Bloomington. "There are all these reports and indicators that families are changing, that men are contributing more, that we're moving toward a more equal family, yet there's no indication that we're seeing a similar move to equality when it comes to names."

So the government should not be heavy handed when it comes to legislating things like health care or banking, but it should determine how women identify themselves after marriage?

Not quite. It seems that for the majority of Americans, the issue is less about naming conventions and more about who (ahem) wears the pants in society. One of the researchers said that respondents "told us that women should lose their own identity when they marry and become a part of the man and his family." The family identity, however, is not tied to the name itself. Half of respondents said it would be fine if men changed their names, because "a man should be able to do it because he's a man."

Survey responses also reflected the belief that if we cannot assume that a woman will automatically change her last name, the resulting confusion will lead to catastrophe: "They said the mailman would get confused and that society wouldn't function as well if women did not change their name."

As it so happens, I am one of the 5-10 percent of American women who did not take my husband's last name. But, I'm pretty sure the United States Postal Service functions the same way in the rest of the country as it does in the Bay Area, which means they deliver based on address. Which is why I've received mail addressed correctly to me, to my first name with my husband's last name, and to the cringe-inducing "Mr. and Mrs. Husband's First and Last Name." Then again, I also get mail addressed to the last four tenants.

My husband and I have also managed to file our taxes, utilize health and car insurance, and open a joint credit card with last names that don't match. Thus far, "society" hasn't come to a screeching halt. But then, we also live in a state where larger issues surrounding marriage are questioned (our marriage license even reads "Party A" and "Party B").

The researchers believe that the study reveals more than just what Americans think about last names, "Because it's not politicized, people just answer the question without really thinking about it...It sort of taps into people's views about all kinds of things." In other words, things like who should be able to get married, what a family should look like, and just what types of gendered identities we should adhere to.

What To Read, What To Read

| Thu Aug. 13, 2009 11:30 AM PDT

Maybe I'm late to the online book-recommending party, but I just came across Book Seer, a site that allows you to enter in a book you've enjoyed, and based on that book, pulls up a few suggestions (compiled from other sites like Amazon, Library Thing, and Book Army). This is the kind of thing that really can suck me into an Internet vortex, but I have a frighteningly long to-do list this morning, so I decided to give myself some rules for experimenting with Book Seer: three books only, one fiction, one nonfiction, one poetry. For fiction, I chose David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, since I was curious to see whether Book Seer had any other books up its sleeve about addiction, tennis, and Quebec separatists. My nonfiction choice was Angler, Barton Gellman's Dick Cheney biography, which I haven't read but always intend to, and my poetry pick was Jane Kenyon's collection Let Evening Come, since I recently finished it and was pretty moved by it.

1. Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace).

The results: Amazon uncreatively recommends a bunch of other DFW titles, Library Thing does the same, plus some DeLillo and Pynchon (fair enough), but Book Army has this list:

I guess the idea is coming of age stories? Which I guess Infinite Jest is. Sort of.

Most intriguing recommendation: Winning Ugly: Mental Warfare in Tennis-Lessons from a Master (A Fireside book) by Brad Gilbert

2. Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency (Barton Gellman).

The results: Kind of a weird mix of books about business and books that are in some way related to the presidency, including:

Most intriguing recommendation: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner

3. Let Evening Come (Jane Kenyon).

The results: Lots of Mary Oliver, who, like Kenyon writes about the natural world (and New England specifically) plus some greatest-hits-of-poetry type suggestions (The Waste Land, Leaves of Grass, Shakespeare's sonnets: all good, though not particularly Kenyon-ish).

Most intriguing recommendation: Without: Poems by Donald Hall

Okay. Back to work.