The Riff

The Things We Google

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 6:37 AM EDT

It's great when new readers find their way to our website, no matter how they do it. And thanks to a program called Mint, we actually get to see which search terms brought them our way. It's pretty fascinating to scroll through looking at stuff like that when you should be working. In any case, here's a selection of a dozen searches conducted over the past 10 minutes or so—with links to the articles these searchers found...

(Hey, we never claimed that all of our readers are classy.)

1. women who put items in their vaginas

2. schizophrenic obama

3. sex fiji

4. sex in American

5. Yoda of the Rumsfeld Defense Department

6. you tube gay

7. dumping toxic waste on a body of water

8. sarah palin just shut up

9. how old is Gloria Steinem

10. ku klux klan robes

11. all about pandas

And finally, the gift that keeps on giving...

12. cats


 

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Can Phish and the Flaming Lips Get You to Vote?

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Fans of The Roots, Flaming Lips, and Phish should probably answer their phones this week. To close voters' "enthusiasm gap," musicians such as Questlove, Wayne Coyne, and Jon Fishman are calling hundreds of concert-goers with a live reminder to show up for the November 2 election. All 25,000 music fans who signed HeadCount.org's "Pledge to Vote" will get some kind of pledge reminder prior to next Tuesday.

Why focus on voters who've already said that they'll vote, you might ask?

Rising Son: Vieux Farka Touré

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 7:15 AM EDT

Vieux Farka Touré, the Malian guitarist who played at the opening of this year's World Cup, has made a stunningly speedy ascent onto the world music scene. His own history is inseparable from his family heritage of Malian Western fusion. His father, Ali Farka Touré made the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitarists list by bringing the world's attention to the correlation between Western Saharan music and American blues, now often referred to as "Desert Blues."

But Vieux is no mere shadow of his father. In fact, Ali initially discouraged him from pursuing a musical career, but relented after realizing his son's talent. The younger Touré has made a name for himself by reinventing the fusion his father created—bringing funk, reggae, and jam music to the desert-blues genre and carrying this new sound worldwide. I recently asked Touré about growing up Touré, Malian society, and the music he likes to listen to.

Mother Jones: Your father encouraged you to go into the military rather than follow him in music. How come? And why did he have kora master, Toumani Diabate train you, rather than training you himself?

 
 

The Ancient Sounds of Khayyam Ensemble

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

Poetry and Persian music are like needle and thread, the melody acting as a guide for the poetry’s narrative fabric. This marriage of the two art forms is ancient, and so are the instruments used. Consider the ney, a long reed-flute played by Kamran Thunder of Khayyam Ensemble, a San Francisco Bay Area group named after the Sufi poet Omar Khayyam. The instrument is believed to date back up to 5,000 years, which makes it one of the longest continually played instruments known—you'll find in depicted on the wall of Egyptian pyramids.

Many times during Khayyam's recent performance at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage, the ney accompanied vocalist Aryan Rahmanian’s rendition of the great Sufi poets Rumi, Hafez, and Saadi, along with a few lyrics penned by Thunder. The tone of the seven-holed flute can oscillate between the sound of a young girl wailing and the deeper rustle of a whispered lament. The flute’s sorrow is so universally recognized that Rumi wrote about it in the revered Masnavi more than seven centuries ago (as translated by Erkan Turkman):

Listen to this Ney that is complaining
and narrating the story of separation.
Ever since they have plucked me from the reed land,
my laments have driven men and women to deep sorrow.
I want someone with a heart pierced by abandonment
so that I may tell him about the pain of my longing.
He who falls aloof from his origin
seeks an opportunity to find it again

 
 

Bhangra Boy: Panjabi MC's Culture Mixtape

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 6:18 AM EDT

If you’ve ever been to an American club with a bunch of Desi guys, you won't have to ask whether it's Panjabi MC's "Mundian Tu Bach Ke" thundering through the speakers. Immediately, a circle forms. Everyone sends one arm up, finger pointing at the ceiling, one leg pointed toward the center—like children doing the hokey-pokey. Then everyone circles around hopping on one leg. This is the bhangra dance. It may seem like an act of cultural peacocking in the context of a Western pub scene, but it's actually a propos, considering the British-Indian MC's influences. Né Rajinder Singh Rai, he adopted his stage name after fans started calling him "the Indian emcee." There's no such language as "Indian," he told them. His lyrics are Punjabi, the mother tongue of his family, which hails from the north Indian state of Punjab. The bhangra sound amalgamates his heritage with Western hip-hop, blending music and beats from both cultures into an undeniably exotic and danceable mix. But it was a guest appearance by Jay-Z in the abovementioned song from his 2003 album Beware that first got him noticed in the States. With his latest album, entitled The Raj, set to release on iTunes this week, we tracked down Mr. MC to talk about his favorite music, his artistic idols, and bhangra culture.

Mother Jones: How is your music received by Punjabi elders and your family back in India?

Germans Not Hot on Tea Party's Hitler References

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 6:30 PM EDT

Tea partiers do not shy away from comparing Obama to Hitler, but a recent op-ed in Germany's Der Spiegel shows that on the other side of the Atlantic, comparing anyone to one of the most prolific mass murderers in history is not to be taken lightly. Tea partiers not only diminish the true horror of the holocaust when they compare Obama to Hitler, they also make "it easier for people to say 'maybe it wasn't all that bad.'" From Der Spiegel

Back in June Glenn Beck said that children singing for Barack Obama was "out of the playbook … of the Third Reich ….This is Hitler Youth." One can assume that not all of Beck's listeners and viewers know what the Hitler Youth was. Beck himself, an astute, if cynical, student of history, certainly does. The Hitler Youth was the ideological training grounds designed to prepare German boys for a glorious career in the SS murdering anyone who stood in the way of the Führer's dream of a vast and racially pure German Reich. It was not a dictator's private children's choir.

One can forgive those like Glenn Beck and his Tea Party followers for hating Barack Obama... But it is hard to imagine even the most hard-bitten Tea Party activist sincerely believing that President Barack Obama wants to systematically murder over 6 million people like Adolf Hitler did. And that is necessarily the implication.

In 2002 a German politician was forced to resign for simply comparing George W. Bush's political tactics to Der Fuhrer's. One can only imagine the German response if one of their political candidates dressed as a Nazi for fun.

 

 

 

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The Recession—Might—be Tweeted

| Tue Oct. 19, 2010 3:27 PM EDT

Last week, researchers from the Universities of Indiana and Manchester published a paper in the online journal arXiv.org claiming that Twitter can be used to predict the stock market. It's a strange idea, though not without precedent. To understand the Twitter-Dow Jones link, first consider the relationship between ice cream and crime. If you were to compare ice cream sales and crime rates in a city like Brooklyn, you'd probably notice something odd: while one is up, so is the other. When people start buying more ice cream, it seems they also start committing more crimes.

Crime rates and ice cream sales move together because they are both influenced by warm weather. When it's hot, the days are longer, and more people are outside on the street, talking, walking, laughing, buying ice cream, and, inevitably, making trouble. The relationship between ice cream sales and crime rates is used in statistics classes to illustrate the old truism that correlation does not imply causation. Just because two variables move together, that doesn't mean they affect the other's behavior.

But the ice cream example also illustrates another point. We can look at ice cream sales to gain some insight into crime rates. They don't affect one another, but they nonetheless move together, and so we can use information we have about one system to learn about another less-understood one. Getting back to the stock market, it's notoriously difficult to predict. But perhaps there is another system that moves like the stock market—one that is easier to analyze. The paper from Indiana and Manchester argues, essentially, that Twitter might be to the stock market what ice cream is to crime rates.

This is Greil Marcus' Brain on "Shuffle"

| Mon Oct. 18, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

Author and critic's critic Greil Marcus takes a scholarly approach to writing about pop music. He's covered all the greats of rock 'n' roll for a variety of publications over the years, including Rolling Stone, where he was the magazine's first reviews editor. Among the 18 or so books he's written or edited is 1975's acclaimed Mystery Train, in which he hones in on a handful of musicians in his quest to cement rock 'n' roll within a larger American cultural context. Marcus has paid special attention to the likes of Elvis Presley, Van Morrison—the subject of a book earlier this year—and particularly Bob Dylan. His new collection, out this month, is called Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010. I reached out to Marcus with a few questions on his current and all-time music faves, new surprises, and, of course, His Royal Bobness.

Mother Jones: What's your favorite new release this year within your usual realm?

Greil Marcus: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch). Very educated people who somehow get inside the blackface minstrel music of 150 years ago, and come out the other side.

Music Appreciation With Rancid's Matt Freeman

| Mon Oct. 18, 2010 6:51 AM EDT

Matt Freeman has played bass in some ridiculous number of rock 'n' roll outfits over the years. One of my old bandmates introduced me to him way back when outside Berkeley's famed punk clubhouse 924 Gilman Street. That was in the pre-Rancid days, and I'd recently scored a fun little 7-inch vinyl record of Freeman playing bass with Kamala and the Karnivores. (I still have it somewhere.) He'd also played in the Dance Hall Crashers, Downfall, and various other acts he helped put together. But his real street cred came with his "former" status in Operation Ivy, a band on the Gilman scene that was the first to combine ska and punk rock into a high-intensity sound that spawned thousands of imitators. Even after the band split up, the now-defunct Lookout Records sold enough copies of Energy, Op Ivy's one and only full-length, that its members were able to quit their day jobs.

Rancid—formed a few years later by Freeman and Op Ivy guitarist Tim "Lint" Armstrong, and joined by guitarist Lars Fredericksen and lefty drummer Brett Reed—picked up where Op Ivy had left off. They recorded a series of successful albums on Epitaph records and toured relentlessly, indulging in various side projects when they grew restless. During a Rancid hiatus in 2004, Freeman also did a temporary stint with the seminal Southern California punk band Social Distortion. The boys have since grown into middle-aged men, but Rancid plays on, and Freeman has a new album out with Devil's Brigade, his psychobilly side project with Armstrong and drummer DJ Bonebrake from X—one of my favorite bands of all time. Last month, just prior to the CD's release on Epitaph, Freeman was kind enough to reply to a few questions about his own listening preferences, aging gracefully, and the TV series Breaking Bad.

VIDEO: G.A.Y.S. (Guys Against You Serving)

| Mon Oct. 11, 2010 11:37 AM EDT

We're coming tragically late to this party...but witness an all-star cavalcade of celeb comics making the case against gay military service on Funny or Die. We here at MoJo can't decide which we like better: Sarah Silverman on ballerinas or Weird Al Yankovic wearing Axe body spray or "What's next: unicorns wearing capri pants?"

But wait, there's a Part II:

G.A.Y.S. (Guys Against You Serving) from Thomas Lennon with Sarah Silverman, John Cho, Dave Holmes, Alex Fernie, Craig Robinson, Kate Walsh, Ben Garant, Seth, Chad Carter, and Weird Al Yankovic.