The Riff - October 2009

MoJo Guide to Last Minute Halloween Costumes

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 3:02 PM EDT

Still stuck without a costume for Halloween? Disillusioned by the onslaught of "sexy" versions of literary characters and public servants? Enraged by the appropriation of other cultures and offensive immigration policies?

Never fear, Mother Jones is here! Some last-minute alternatives for all you busy muckrakers:

George W. Bush—He's baaaaaaaaaack!

Vader in Afghanistan—Pull out your Darth Vader mask from Comic Con and pair with your desert BDU's.

Climate Change—Option 1: Go as a Maldives cabinet member in a business suit and snorkel. Option 2: If you live in a coastal city wear an inter tube and put a line of masking tape to mark how high sea levels will have to rise to put you and your fellow party goers underwater. Add a 350 on the back for good measure,

The Great 2009 Bailout—Wear a burlap sack stuffed full of money, or a suit and stuff the pockets.

Health Care for All—Don't be sick. Hold a Canadian or French passport.

The Yes Men—Um...you just have to figure out exactly what a Survivaball suit is.

Greenwashed Starlet—Wear your favorite eco-slogan shirt printed on organic cotton, stiletto heels, big sunglasses, and carry a bottle of Fiji Water.

Lady Blogger—A lap top case, your Twitter handle on your back, and some symbol of your content (newspapers, tech gadgets, your kid, etc.).

Factchecker/Mother Jones Intern—Give yourself ink stained hands, slip a pen behind your ear, carry a telephone reciever that you talk on periodically, and drink coffee all night long—lots and lots of coffee.

David Corn—Don a trench coat, classic understated scarf, White House Press Pass, and hard soled shoes comfortable for chasing down leads.

Kevin Drum—Don some glasses, bring your laptop, and be accompanied by two pleasantly plump and very photogenic cats.

Just remember, Sarah Palin was soooo last year.

Are there any we forgot?

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VIDEO: Chef Anthony Bourdain goes Anime

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 10:34 AM EDT

Once upon a time, before Bravo was the Top Chef channel and the Food Network was dominated by reality shows, before the world was beset by celebrity chefs, Anthony Bourdain was the unlikely face of a genre, the hard living, heroine skinny, Marlboro smoking, potty-mouthed ambassador of all things food. The year was 2001, and the show, A Cook's Tour, was a revolution in TV form.

I count myself among Bourdian's earliest fans. My copy of his 2000 memoir, Kitchen Confidential, circulated through so many hands by the 11th grade that it literally fell to pieces (my English teacher bought me a new one after a friend of his dealt the original its lethal blow). To my mind, the man who wrote from the dark corners of the "culinary underbelly" and simultaneously brought exotic and dangerous world cuisine to the Food Network could do no wrong. 

Then came the fame, expressed as a long list of guest appearances, a litany of mistakes from Miami Ink to Top Chef, and the dubious title of Celebrity Chef appended to his increasingly cringe-inducing name. Bourdain's Travel Channel series No Reservations has all the old backdrops from Cook's Tour, but none of the magic. Fame has softened the chef, robbed him of his urgency, and introduced an unfortunate paunch into his otherwise chiseled and towering physique. Overexposure, and with it, reality, had set in, and the reality is that Bourdain is a better personality than he is either a writer or a cook. 

So, I was pleasantly surprised to see this trailer for Bourdain's newest venture, an animated web series called Anthony Bourdain's Alternate Universe, which debuts on the Travel Channel website this Monday. It seemed...fresh. Urgent. Weird

Quoth the Newspaper Maven, "Nevermore"

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 5:30 AM EDT

Spotted outside a mystery house in Alameda, California, where local news reporters dwell, pondering their dim fates, as apparitions of former colleagues float despairingly in a fog of alcohol and memories, searching for their shrunken and canceled beats; cursing Craigslist, the blogosphere, consolidation, leveraged CEOs, shareholder expectations—all those things that would not kindly stop for the good people who put good stories on paper, nor yield to the needs of a civil democracy, but rather stumble forward: Relentless. Undead. Bloodsuckers and zombies. Happy Halloween!

(You can't tell from the photo, but the hand extending up from the grave is clutching a copy of Dean Singleton's Oakland Tribune.)

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

 

 

US Military May Deploy Vader in Afghanistan

| Thu Oct. 29, 2009 6:18 AM EDT

This seems not very well thought-out:

For years, the U.S. military employed Ground Moving Target Indicator technology to track potentially hostile vehicles on the ground. Now, the U.S. military is working on a new sensor — customized for service in Afghanistan — that can spot individuals at a distance and track them on a digital map.

Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the head of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, said the new sensor package, called Vader (”Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar“), was particularly well suited for the war in Afghanistan. The bombs are relatively crude there, and the bomb-planters place the explosives far from the roads.

Wired's Nathan Hodge has more, but the point here is obvious: let's not associate the US military with hordes of stormtroopers. We're supposed to be the good guys, right? Unless, of course, the military is taking the Weekly Standard's interpretation of Star Wars as gospel. Then I guess we can go ahead and say "Osama bin Laden: BRING HIM TO ME." Of course, in a world where there are actually fleets of robot assassins patrolling the skies, anything's possible:

Thanks, xkcd.

Alonzo King's Delicious Dance

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 12:03 PM EDT

When introducing the world premiere of Refractions on Friday, the choreographer Alonzo King of San Francisco's Lines Ballet told the audience to treat the dance as food. Even if the food seems strange, King said, taste it anyways. Since he founded his company 27 years ago in San Francisco, King has blended together African dance, ballet and contemporary movement into the ingredients of his choreography. If Refractions, King's latest work, is food, it is a meal of small plates, some quite delicious, others quotidian, brought course by individual course to the audience. King serves it up with the help of legendary New York jazz pianist Jason Moran, who created an original score for this work that owes much to Charles Mingus.

Capitalizing upon the frisson of traditional ballet and contemporary style, King composes Refractions mostly as a string of little dances: solos and duets, and occasionally duets turned trios, upon the arrival of a third dancer who becomes the principal in the next section. In the opening salvo, David Harvey delivers Caroline Roche literally by the hair, and an off kilter tug of war ensues in which the audience is treated to flexing, torso-thrusting movements that are peppered by Moran's jazzy effects. In ensuing courses, dancers contort, pirouette and leap romantically, thuddingly, or jauntily, in accompaniment to a range of music, including some drums. When the movement and music are perfectly intertwined, this works wonderfully; when they aren’t, there’s a sense of hollow shapes being made on stage without consideration for musical propulsion. Still, King and his dancers often achieve a seamless momentum through some lovely sequences.

King is among a handful of venerable choreographers who first harnessed other genres to create new and "strange" movement out of the familiarity of the classical western art form of ballet. Likewise, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre and Philadanco combine ballet, contemporary dance, and African dance to varying degrees, and their popularity has inoculated the audience of the notion that melding these dance forms is exotic. In fact, many contemporary dance companies today regularly fuse ballet, modern and non-western dance, and laboratories for dance such as the American Dance Festival showcase cutting-edge choreographers who interweave dance forms to create new movement that is not just beautiful, but that is truly new and meaningful. In Refractions, King has created some tasty food, but strange it is not.

Lines Ballet will tour various cities in Europe and the Unites States beginning in early 2010.
 

Where Are All the Lady Bloggers?

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 5:30 AM EDT

UPDATE: If you're on Twitter, lots of conversation arose out of this piece. Keep up with it by checking out the new hashtag, #followwomenbloggers. Lots of great suggestions for smart, sassy women whose blogs you should follow.

After the release of The Shriver Report, which lauded our becoming "a woman's nation," the media have been abuzz with talk of the gender gap in the American workplace. Joanne Lipman, former deputy editor at the Wall Street Journal and founding editor in chief of the now-defunct Portfolio, wrote an op-ed tempering the soaring proclamations of progress. Then, yesterday, Vanity Fair released a feature by Nell Scovell, one of seven female writers to ever staff Late Night with David Letterman.

Scovell described what she had considered a hostile work environment and noted, of the late night gender imbalance, "There are more females serving on the United States Supreme Court than there are writing for Late Show with David Letterman, The Jay Leno Show, and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien combined."

And that's not all.

Last week, Technorati released its annual State of the Blogosphere report. Given that women rule the world of social networking, I was interested to find out that the opposite is true of the blogosphere. According to the report, 67 percent of bloggers are men—up a little from the year before.

That's a worse gender imbalance than in American newsrooms, which is saying something. (Mother Jones is a rare exception—by my quick calculation, our editorial department is 61 percent female, but that's hardly the case everywhere.) Women represent only 37 percent of American newspaper staffers, according the American Society of News Editors. And if newspapers are doomed and blogs are to take their place, then this can't be good for the supposed diversity of voices we're getting online.

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Music Monday: Can Rupa and the April Fishes Live Up to The Hype?

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 4:35 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Oct. 26, 2009 5:30 AM EDT

San Francisco loves Rupa and the April Fishes. The local world-beat ensemble recently garnered a nomination in the alt SF Weekly's annual music awards, and packed the space with adoring fans at a performance piece I attended last week.

Part of the appeal lies in the group's personal narrative, which seems designed to bait music editors: Frontwoman Rupa Marya is a physician; their musical influences include gypsy swing, tango, and polka; they sing in Spanish, French, Hindi, and English.

Luckily, their music mostly lives up to the hype. Marya's vocals are a fine blend of slow-burn passion and buoyant belting, and her backing musicians are highly skilled and perfectly synched.

Music Monday: Kerouac's Big Sur Inspires Indie Collaboration

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 4:15 PM EDT

In writing the music for Death Cab for Cutie's "Narrow Stairs" (2008), singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard holed up in a cabin in Big Sur, California, that was once owned by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti—and the place where Jack Kerouac wrote his lesser-known 1962 novel Big Sur. Kerouac's pull evidently lingered with Gibbard. His latest project, released last week, is a soft, melodic collaboration with alt-country rocker Jay Farrar titled "One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur."

Far more melancholic than On the Road or The Dharma Bums, Big Sur describes a fictionalized (though clearly autobiographical) Jack; his flight from fame to the West, his alcoholism, and his ensuing breakdown. Musically speaking, Farrar and Gibbard's interpretation is lighter than that, even as it pulls various lyrics straight from the text. And while the artists meld well in songs like "There Roads Don’t Move" and "Sea Engines," the overall album feels like the work of two distinct artists.

Monday Mental Health Break: Backstreet Boys Edition

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 11:46 AM EDT

Five cubicle jockeys simultaneously lip-dubbing a Backstreet Boys song for webcam doesn't sound like the stuff of great video, does it? But trust me. This 4-minute short will make you happy for no good reason, starting around minute 2. Watch it below.

Military Bans Ghost Riding?

| Tue Oct. 20, 2009 5:42 PM EDT

Via Noah Shachtman comes the shocking news that the Pentagon doesn't want its employees ghost riding the whip (or the MRAP, as the case may be). The military is actually encouraging social media, but telling soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to use it carefully.

None of that means we can't reminisce, though: