The Riff

Boots Riley Is Sorry to Bother You

| Mon Jan. 3, 2011 4:47 AM PST

It's been a few years since we last checked in with Raymond "Boots" Riley, front man of the Coup—a funk and hip-hop group known for its humor, intelligence, and in-your-face agitprop. Steeped in radical street politics, the Oakland, California-based group has been shaking things up for two decades with albums like Kill My Landlord, Genocide & Juice, Steal This Album, and Party Music—which gained notoriety for songs like "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO," but revealed a softer Riley in cuts like "Wear Clean Drawers," a heartfelt facts-of-street-life for his baby daughter. The band's 2006 Epitaph album, Pick a Bigger Weapon, which made Rolling Stone's Top 50 albums of that year, includes the track "BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin'Crazy." Nowadays, besides raising three kids and working on new Coup material for an indie film, Riley is collaborating with Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello in a newer group called the Street Sweeper Social Club. For a Mixed Media special in our November/December issue, I asked him about his recent projects, favorite tunes, and the joys of fatherhood.

Mother Jones: You're working on your first new album since 2006, right? Give us a taste for where it's headed, thematically.

Boots Riley: Actually, I put out an album in 2009 and an EP in August 2010 with Street Sweeper Social Club. The next album by The Coup will be the soundtrack to a movie that I've written, and in which I play the lead. It's a dark comedy with magical realism inspired by my days as a telemarketer. It's called Sorry To Bother You.

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10 Great MoJo Long Reads

Thu Dec. 30, 2010 4:00 AM PST

Conventional wisdom is that people don't read long magazine stories online, but Mother Jones readers regularly prove otherwise. Every time we run a compelling, multipage article on our website, we find that many of you read all the way to the end...and comment, tweet, Facebook, and Tumble enthusiastically about details deep into the story. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over a long weekend (including you lucky ones with new iPads)? Below, a selection of our (and our readers') best-loved MoJo long reads from 2010.

What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?
A nighttime raid. A reality TV crew. A sleeping seven-year-old. What one tragedy can teach us about the unraveling of America's middle class.
By Charlie LeDuff

Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason
Glenn Beck loves them. Tea Partiers court them. Congressmen listen to them. Meet the fast-growing "patriot" group that's recruiting soldiers to resist the Obama administration.
By Justine Sharrock

The Ongoing Mysteries of the Elizabeth Smart Case
The verdict is in. But questions—about polygamy, prophecy, and insanity—remain.
By Scott Carrier

The Deadly Corruption of Clinical Trials
When you risk life and limb to help test a drug, are you helping science—or Big Pharma? One patient's tragic, and telling, story.
By Carl Elliott

Glenn Beck's Golden Fleece
How Beck and other right-wing talkers turned paranoia into a pitch for Goldline, the gold dealer one congressman says is conspiring to "cheat consumers."
By Stephanie Mencimer

What's Killing the Babies of Kettleman City?
Maybe it's the toxic waste dump. Maybe the pesticides, or the diesel fumes, or the arsenic. How a small-town mystery could change the way we look at pollution.
By Jacques Leslie

The Juan Doe Problem: One Woman's Search for Dead Migrants' Roots
How do you identify a dead border crosser when all that remains is a pile of teeth and bones?
By Andi McDaniel 

For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question
Living with the crazy, fearless young men who risk life and limb to document Burma's genocide.
By Mac McClelland

Fannie and Freddie's Foreclosure Barons
How fishy foreclosures earned millions for lawyers like David J. Stern—and made the housing crisis even worse.
By Andy Kroll 

The BP Cover-Up
BP and the government say the spill is fast disappearing—but dramatic new science reveals that its worst effects may be yet to come.
By Julia Whitty

In Ratatat's Dreams

| Mon Dec. 27, 2010 4:30 AM PST

The first time I saw Ratatat live, the energy of the music prompted me and my college friends to sing through most of the experience—not an unusual reaction for a concertgoer, except when you take into account that Ratatat's songs have no lyrics. A combination of rhythmic force and the lyrical personality of the central riff made us feel encompassed by a rock or hip-hop ballad—soon the entire room was shaking along to the beat.

The duo, made up of multi-instrumentalist Evan Mast and guitarist Mike Stroud (who's also played with Dashboard Confessional and Ben Kweller), carves songs out of electronica, hip-hop, and heavy-metal grains, though what sets them apart is their ability to provide clear shape and definition to their instrumental melodies. With their LP4 album, relased in June, they dish out more of these imaginative-yet-controlled tracks—"Party With Children" and "Drugs" being the most climactic. I recently emailed Stroud to ask about his favorite music, guilty pleasures, and fantasy venues.

Is This The Worst Song Of the Year?

| Wed Dec. 22, 2010 4:43 PM PST

The Village Voice just put up its list of the 20 worst songs of 2010, and...it's pretty compelling. Trade Martin's impeccably named "We've Got to Stop the Mosque at Ground Zero" is #17; Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" clocks in at #1:

There is less soul in the entirety of Train than in the palest single member of Collective Soul. "Hey, Soul Sister" is soul for people who refer to peanut butter and jelly as "soul food." It makes the California Raisins look like the second coming of Sly and the Family Stone. It's so white, Sarah Palin just named it her running mate for 2012.

Snap, crackle, and pow!

Anyway, having spent a quarter of the year driving around aimlessly in a car, I feel somewhat qualified to offer my opinion on the horrible sounds that came from FM radio. So here's one they missed: "Way Out Here," by Josh Thompson. Thompson mixes the mandatory checklist of a pop country hit—truck, truck being fixed, truck with girl standing next to it, yeoman farmers, yeoman farmers with trucks—with an aggressive "Real American" streak; unlike other kinds of people who shall remain nameless, Thompson croons, "We won't take a dime if we ain't earned it." With apologies to Train, if any song of 2010 were to be Sarah Palin's running mate, it'd be this one.

So is it worse than "Hey, Soul Sister"? You be the judge:

Not to be an insufferable fact-checker or anything, but what's up with the flag in this video? It's got the requisite 50 stars, so why does it look like it survived Washington's Crossing?

Update: South African rappers—and friends-of-the-blog—Die Antwoord check in at #10. Check out their Riff interview with Michael Mechanic from back in October.

Failed Koran Burners Execute Santa Instead

| Mon Dec. 20, 2010 12:55 PM PST

Some of you may remember Repent Amarillo as the far-right group whose planned Koran burning last September was foiled by the shirtless "Dude, you have no Koran!" dude. As its name suggests, the group's mission is quite simple: pressure the Texas city's 67,000 godless residents to repent for their sins and find Christ. To that end, organizers have created their own nifty "prayer map," which carefully charts various local hotspots for spirtual warfare (the group has already claimed victory for shutting down a Masonic lodge, a swingers bar, and a strip club.)

Now, Repent Amarillo has set its sights on an institution more powerful, even, than the Crystal Pistol: Santa. Here's a video the group just released, in which they execute the big man via firing squad, as part of an effort to teach kids the true meaning of Christmas. Guys, Fred Clause wasn't that bad!

Learning Japanese With Weezer's Rivers Cuomo

| Mon Dec. 20, 2010 4:25 AM PST

Hurley, the latest release from irreverent alt-rock foursome Weezer—and the band's first on indie label Epitaph—debuted at No. 6 on Billboard's chart of the Top 200 albums—not bad for a band whose loyal old fans had been griping that something (presumably something dark and evil) had become of the band they grew up on. The album marks a reversion to Weezer's earlier self, and not just stylistically; most of the lyrics evoke a state of perpetual adolescence. In "Memories," front man Rivers Cuomo recalls pissing in plastic cups before we went on stage / playing hacky sack back before Audioslave was in rage. And, in "Trainwrecks," We think it's uncool to be on time / Mooching off our friends is not a federal crime. The album is simple and nostalgic, with plenty of raw guitar hooks.  

Hurley also addresses the band's present: In "Time Flies," Cuomo croons: Look into the mirror, there were lines around my eyes. And: I'm still in the race, and I'm barely keeping pace, but it's worth the ride. Which all might look kind of depressing on paper, but Cuomo still delivers his lines with the characteristic flippancy his fans so love: Even when I'm gone this stupid damn song will be in your head / I'll be looking down with a twinkle in my eyes. There's no forgetting that Weezer's still just a bunch of overgrown kids proud to put their nerdiness on display. We caught up with Cuomo recently to ask about his favorite music, aging rock stars, and what's on his iPod.

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The WikiLeaks Bollywood Anti-Terror Conspiracy (Video)

| Sat Dec. 18, 2010 4:00 AM PST

Kurbaan starts just like any other Bollywood flick: An unknown woman is irritated by an unknown man who'll eventually win her heart. In this case, the man tricks her and takes the cab for which she was waiting in line. But this film is not your typical Mumbai-based song-and-dance production: It's a heavy-handed action film...and a cautionary tale for terrorists! And according to a WikiLeaked State Department cable, it may be the product of a conspiracy between American diplomats and Bollywood bigwigs to propagate an "anti-extremist genre" in Indian films.

How is Fox News Like the Communist Party?

| Fri Dec. 17, 2010 2:33 PM PST

The publication of an email from Bill Sammon, managing editor of Fox News's Washington bureau, encouraging reporters to broadcast "wildly misleading" claims about climate science reminds me of my other favorite news-spinner: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Sammon's email from December 8, 2009, which Media Matters revealed to the public on Wednesday (h/t MoJo's Kate Sheppard), is similar to an October 2009 email he wrote to Fox reporters on covering health care legislation, excerpted below:

Subject: friendly reminder: let's not slip back into calling it the "public option"

  1. Please use the term "government-run health insurance" or, when brevity is a concern, "government option," whenever possible.

  2. When it is necessary to use the term "public option" (which is, after all, firmly ensconced in the nation's lexicon), use the qualifier "so-called," as in "the so-called public option."

  3. Here's another way to phrase it: "The public option, which is the government-run plan."

  4. When newsmakers and sources use the term "public option" in our stories, there's not a lot we can do about it, since quotes are of course sacrosanct.

Sammon is not the first nor only person who has sent out such directives (Iran, Burma...) regarding wording of sensitive issues. One re-wording enthusiast of particular notoriety is the CCP, which routinely circulates instructions to the Chinese press, and which, in turn, journalists affectionately call "Directives from the Ministry of Truth."

Great Moments in #Senatehate (Cannibalism Edition)

| Fri Dec. 17, 2010 11:55 AM PST

Yesterday will be remembered, if at all, for two especially traumatic events: The Senate, as per custom, suffered a total meltdown and scrapped its spending bill (the one they'd been working on for the last year). And an Amtrak train en route to Philadelphia was delayed for 10 hours, without power and in freezing temperatures, leading Stephen Tschida of New York's ABC 7 to live-tweet the worst day of his life. Sample tweet:

"God, I'm this close to crying again. I NEVER cry. Just want out. This might be a life-changer."

And another"1 man grabbed intercom demanded answers. Another started screaming we have 2 get home. Now total silence."

But what if the two situations were somehow combined? That is, if a train full of Senators were delayed for hours without power and no end in sight? If you're thinking, "They'd probably eat at each other, but not before engaging in frustrating demonstrations of comity, decorum, and procedure" well, Mark Twain's got your back—he envisioned this exact scenario more than a century ago. Enjoy:

"MR. HALLIDAY of Virginia: 'I move to further amend the report by substituting Mr. Harvey Davis of Oregon for Mr. Messick. It may be urged by gentlemen that the hardships and privations of a frontier life have rendered Mr. Davis tough; but, gentlemen, is this a time to cavil at toughness? Is this a time to be fastidious concerning trifles? Is this a time to dispute about matters of paltry significance? No, gentlemen, bulk is what we desire—substance, weight, bulk—these are the supreme requisites now—not talent, not genius, not education. I insist upon my motion.'

"MR. MORGAN (excitedly): 'Mr. Chairman—I do most strenuously object to this amendment. The gentleman from Oregon is old, and furthermore is bulky only in bone—not in flesh. I ask the gentleman from Virginia if it is soup we want instead of solid sustenance?

I yield.

Need a WikiLeaks Condom? Maxipad? Dog Sweater?

| Fri Dec. 17, 2010 4:00 AM PST

Since WikiLeaks first made waves back in 2009, the site's secret document dumps have spawned myriad political debates, international pearl-clutching, and blog pandemonium. But that's not all: Businesses, artists, and advertisers are now capitalizing on the whistleblower site's near daily headline-grabbing (as well as founder Julian Assange's newfound celebrity), creating strange leaps of logic to tie things like maxipads to Assange and WikiLeaks's cache. Below are a few of the weirdest products inspired by the WikiLeaks hype.

Condoms

Considering the rape allegations of Assange hinge on his not using a condom, possibly the most contentious item in the WikiLeaks product empire is the DickiLeaks condom. According to Condomania, DickiLeaks condoms claim to "leak more than the truth!" Realizing perhaps that advertising a condom that doesn't do what it's supposed to do, that is, you know, to protect against STIs and pregnancy, Condomania adds a disclaimer: "Um, please note that none of the above is true. We lied....DickiLeaks condoms do provide unsurpassed protection and do not leak." Well, that's a reLeak, I mean relief.

Sanitary Pads

Butterfly, a sanitary pad company, unveiled two billboards recently in Pakistan's capital city of Karachi. There's also a print campaign and a third billboard in the works. The tongue-in-cheek slogan is: "WikiLeaks… Butterfly doesn't." It's only been a few days since the ads have gone up, but photos of the billboard have gone viral, according to Pakistan's Express Tribune. While these pads may do nothing to stop the flow of... information, it's rather refreshing to see a feminine hygiene product conveyed with intentional humor, as opposed to the unintentional ridiculousness of commercials showing frolicking in fields and twirling in slow-motion on the beach