The Riff - December 2009

Music Monday: Califone Goes to Sundance

| Mon Dec. 14, 2009 6:30 AM EST

The Chicago-based band Califone just finished touring the US in support of an album and a feature film, both called All My Friends Are Funeral Singers. The "multimedia event," which the band spent almost two months dragging around the country, featured live versions of songs from the album to accompany the film. After their show in San Francisco last week, the band dropped a bombshell, announcing that the first cinematic effort from writer-director-front man Tim Rutili, has been accepted to the Sundance Film Festival, which happens in January. "It feels unexpected," Rutili tells me over the phone a few days later. "It goes beyond what we thought was going to happen. We thought we would just make the film to go with our record, as a kind of add-on."

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Mother Jones Beats Salon at Trivia Showdown, Begins Beautiful Friendship

| Wed Dec. 9, 2009 2:59 PM EST

It began with a tweet.

Some fighting words were exchanged.


And last night, after much online trashtalking, the long-awaited trivia battle between the staffs of Salon and Mother Jones took place deep in the heart of San Francisco. The intensity was palpable, as the two teams wrestled over the most important issues of our time, like how many bones are in a baby's body at birth? And what was 1885 Biff's nickname in Back to the Future III?

 Team MoJoTeam MoJo
Team SalonTeam Salon
Also, there may or may not have been some livetweeting going on from across the room.

Yes, muckrakers are also nerds.Yes, muckrakers are also nerds.

Long story short, your very own hellraisers triumphed. 60-51. Yes, it's true. We hippies store extra knowledge in our leg hair.

Salon was a great sport, and their staffers were kind enough to present us with an award, a fancy Ralph Waldo Emerson quote emblazoned with a tiny Salon logo. We tried to understand the meaning of this quote paired with the tiny logo, but the sweet taste of victory and/or malt beverages distracted us from Chris' full explanation.

Thank you, we accept.Thank you, we accept.
In any case, great fun was had by all. We met some cool people. We succeeded in wrenching useless information from our brains. And we won an award. It is now proudly displayed in our conference room, nestled among, you know, some other awards.

 

Thanks to everyone for showing up, and keep those trivia hats at the ready. We're still scanning the San Francisco media horizon for the next poor, unsuspecting publication to defeat.

P.S. Salon has courageously requested a rematch. The liberal elite, what can I say, they're just suckers for pain.

For Hanukkah, a Mormon Touch

| Wed Dec. 9, 2009 2:09 PM EST

A bit of balagan, as my family would say, has broken out over Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch's first foray into Jewish music, such as it is. Though his song, "Eight Nights of Hanukkah", bears no resemblance to any traditional Jewish music, it does treat an obviously Jewish theme—the story of Hanukkah—and was meant, in all earnestness, as a gift to the Jews. The New York Times called it "nonreturnable,"  probably an apt description for the way many American Jews feel about evangelicals and their love of all things Old Testament. Which is, truth be told, a little bit feh. After all, many American Jews are a) secular and b) liberal, whereas American Evangelicals are essentially the opposite.

Still, there is a treasured American tradition of Mormon- and Evangelical-on-Hebraic love, and Orrin Hatch loves Jews. Like, keeps a Torah in his office kind of love. Like, has more mezuzot (to be fair, also more doorways) than my house kind of love. 

"I feel sorry I'm not Jewish sometimes," Hatch told the Times. Aww. 

As with most Jewish holidays, the Christians read their own special meaning into the teachings of Hanukkah, a minor holiday celebrating the rebellion of a group of religious zealots in Jerusalem that occurred about two hundred years before the first Christmas. The senator—an avid hymn writer—does not himself carry the song, relying instead on the very talented Rasheeda Azar of Indiana. Talented, sure, but Ofra Haza you are not, sweetheart.

 "So all it is is a hip-hop Hanukkah song written by the senior Senator from Utah. That's all it is." Priceless. 

Eight Days of Hanukkah from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

Obama Challenges Charlie Brown, Christmas, For the Spotlight

| Mon Dec. 7, 2009 8:38 PM EST

For many Americans, December 1 was a night to crowd around the fireplace, drink hot cider, and treat themselves to a once-a-year viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. But that very same night also featured a major policy speech by President Obama on the war in Afghanistan. Coincidence?

Arlington, Tenn. mayor Russell Wiseman doesn't think so. Taking out his channel-surfing frustrations on (where else?) Facebook, Wiseman saw the speech's timing as a carefully crafted ploy to blur the true meaning of Christmas:

"Ok, so, this is total crap, we sit the kids down to watch 'The Charlie Brown Christmas Special' and our muslim president is there, what a load.....try to convince me that wasn't done on purpose" [sic].

Meet Nonja, The Amazing Photographing Orangutan

| Mon Dec. 7, 2009 5:23 PM EST

Nonja isn’t the only animal on Facebook, but she might be the most popular. News coverage of the amazing photographing orangutan has boosted her Facebook fan tally from 3,000 to over 50,000. How does an orangutan become a photographer? Nonja, who resides at the Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria, was given a specially designed Samsung ST 1000 that dispenses a raisin whenever a photograph is taken. She is steadily snapping away, and has even captured a few self portraits.  At this rate, Nonja is on her way to Koko's kitten-level fame. CNET has more.

A Song About Paul Krugman

| Mon Dec. 7, 2009 4:05 PM EST

Enjoy:

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Music Monday: Frank Zappa’s Midwestern Spawn

| Mon Dec. 7, 2009 6:30 AM EST

Tin Huey
Before Obscurity: The Bushflow Tapes CD
Smog Veil

A reissue of art rock from the heart of the Midwest circa mid-1970s. Tin Huey were from Akron, Ohio, and share some of the more far-out music sensibilities that permeated not just the region (Pere Ubu, Devo), but the whole musically adventurous landscape of the 1970s. Bands like this, formed by competent if not downright talented musicians who strived to take the piss out of the music scene, lyrically and compositionally, seemed to exist in every town with a decent sized college. Cue the Gizmos from Bloomington, Indiana. Many of these bands of geeks got swept up (or lumped in) with punk rock when it hit. But most of didn't even really fit the bill as outcast punks.

For Tin Huey, comparisons to Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and, to a lesser degree, Soft Machine all fit the bill. Plenty of dizzying key changes and tempo shifts to keep things interesting. They're playing with music. Good stuff, particularly those who can really get down with the wacky and witty side of Zappa or more generally with weirdo Midwest skronk rock. These recordings were made between 1978 and 1979, some live, some in the studio. A few members went on to form the more pedestrian, but popular, Waitresses, but don't hold that against Tin Huey.



 

Eminem's Rape Brag

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 5:54 PM EST

Was anyone else aware that Eminem recently performed a song at the AMA's in which he bragged about 17 rapes? I just found this out while reading the comments section of an Entertainment Weekly blog. Meanwhile, Adam Lambert has been pitchforked by the public and blackballed by ABC for (gasp!) kissing a guy on the same show. Because, you know, that's offensive.

Coincidentally, hours before reading about Slim Shady's rape boast, I came across a Center for Investigative Reporting report about how college campuses routinely mishandle sexual assault cases. Apparently, more than 95 percent of students who are sexually victimized do not report to police or campus officials, and those that do are often encouraged to drop their claim or submit to a gag order.

It's hard enough as is to report sexual abuse. Victims shouldn't have to deal with Eminem's brags, ABC's hypocrisy, campus' injustices, or a culture that just says "meh."

Glenn Beck, Thespian

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 5:01 PM EST

If you skipped last night's Glenn Beck holiday special, The Christmas Sweater: A Return to Redemption, you had company. The live event, beamed into 475 movie theaters nationwide, sold 17 tickets apiece in Boston and New York, and 30 in Washington, DC. At the downtown cineplex in San Francisco, a brisk walk from Mother Jones headquarters and the only theater in the city to air the program, the crowd could be counted on just two fingers—three, if you include this reporter.

The program revolves around a pre-taped, one-man stage production of Beck's semi-autographical novel, The Christmas Sweater (now available in children's book form), in which a young boy, Eddie (played by Beck), rejects his mom's knitted gift, only to watch in horror as she dies in a horrific accident that evening. Eddie runs away from home and hits rock bottom—which a teary-eyed Beck illustrates by collapsing to the floor into a fetal postion—before finding finding salvation and discovering the true meaning of Christmas. It's a real heartwarmer.

MySpace, Facebook Unfriend 3,500 Sex Offenders

| Wed Dec. 2, 2009 10:00 AM EST

As long as there have been screennames, there have been perverts with screennames. If you happen to be a registered sex offender in New York State, you can bet the Attorney General's office is watching yours like a hawk.

Despite the internet's reputation as the last bastion of anonymity and a safe haven for nefarious things, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that his office has wiped 3,500 sex offenders from social networking platforms MySpace and Facebook. Or as he put it, "purge(d) them from their online worlds."

Under the new Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP), New York offenders must register their email addresses and usernames, in addition to their physical addresses with the state. So far, only Facebook and MySpace have agreed to help the state, but that's kind of like saying only Apple and Microsoft have signed on.

It's unclear from the attorney general's statement whether the sweep actually caught anybody attempting to do something illegal, but the e-STOP law is pretty stiff. Depending on offenders' parole status and the nature of their crimes, some offenders are barred from ever opening a profile. Which to someone like me who came of age in the aughts, sounds like the best way to keep the online Humberts and Lolitas of the modern world apart, and also just a teensy tiny bit Orwellian. 

If social networking is a privilege you think sex offenders should universally forfeit  (and I'm not necessarily disagreeing), consider this: only about 8,000 of New York State's nearly 30,000 sex offenders are registered under Cuomo's internet database. If, as America's Most Wanted host John Walsh said in the press release, "social networking websites have become the private hunting grounds for sexual predators," someone might want to start, you know, collecting those screennames.

What do you think? Should more states take New York's no-tolerance line? Is purging an offender's Facebook profile going too far? In a world as slippery as the internet, will offenders just find a work-around?