Friday, March 31, 2006

The Italian phrase means “(expletive) you.”

Okay, I like this, Justice Scalia responds to his critics:
[A] Herald reporter asked the justice how he responds to critics who might question his impartiality as a judge given his public worship.

"The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, 'To my critics, I say, 'Vaffanculo,'" punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin, Smith said.
A Supreme Court Justice shouting down critics just like a gangsta rapper constitutes a twofer for AMillionMonkeys. Scalia denies he said "Vaffanculo" and claims to have made a different Silician hand gesture entirely, but a photographer confirms the reporter's story. And it's not too hard to believe: Scalia is hunting buddies with Dick "Fuck Yourself" Cheney, after all, so some salty language is to be expected.

UPDATE -- Here's Scalia's letter to the Boston Herald, punning on the reporter's name and explaining that his gesture wasn't profane at all. Maybe he's telling the truth...

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Vacation pictures

Pictures from our trip to the Bay area...

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Centerfolds, averaged

Artist Jason Salavon has created images like these by combining a decade's worth of Playboy centerfolds. This one covers the 70s. See also his amalagamated videos of late night talk show hosts, and 76 Blowjobs. (h/t Peter Darbyshire)
Nice wedding! Food and wine! People! Blogging is bound to be light this week, as Laura & I taste wines and read books and hopefully visit some Bay-area friends. Go see some photos at publicprivate...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tying the knot revisited

Congrats Dmnkly & Jern!

Punditing

No upsets in the races I was paying attention to, but the results of yesterday's Illinois primary are interesting anyway for what they say about the coming races in November.

Governor (Democrat) -- Incumbent Blagojevich won the nomination, naturally, but challenger Edwin Eisendrath ended up with nearly 30%, a frankly disastrous number for the Gov. Since no one expected him to win, you've got to assume that pretty much all of the Eisendrath votes were cast as protest against Blagojevich, and 30% indicates a huge number of dissatisfied Democrats. Even if most of these voters won't cross over to Topinka, Blagojevich is going to be saddled with a sluggish, divided base at a time when Republicans are fiercely united against him. This is ultimately his own damn fault, of course, but his campaign had better be looking hard for a way to cast him as a "reformer" again...

Governor (Republican) -- The Republican winner, Judy Baar Topinka, also had a rather weak showing, receiving a plurality of 38% in a crowded field. Dairy maven Jim Oberweis's final tally of about 32% is closer than expected, and is almost certainly tied to the vicious negative ads his campaign ran in the last couple of weeks. I haven't been able to find them online, unfortunately, but one showed a home video of Topinka dancing with disgraced/soon-to-be-incarcerated former Governor George Ryan at some fundraiser, with narration tying Topinka to Ryan's corruption and reminding voters of her own ethics issues. Could the same approach work for Blagojevich, or would attacking Topinka just open up the gov. to more attacks on his own corruption troubles?

House District 6 (Democrat) -- Iraq war veteran and double amputee Tammy Duckworth won with 44% to Christine Cegelis's 40%. Lindy Scott, a candidate I liked on paper, came out with only about 16%. Cegelis seemed to me like the worst candidate for this race--too liberal for the district, pretty much--but her strong showing on very little money indicates the importance of grassroots, face-to-face politics. Duckworth lives adjacent to rather than inside the district and her candidacy is synthetic rather than grassroots, having been handpicked by Rep. Rahm Emmanuel. Still, she should be able to easily acquire all of Cegelis's voters, the better to start convincing swing voters to choose her over Republican State Senator Peter Roskam. (It's a purple district, but the seat has been held by Republican Henry Hyde since the beginning of time.) This morning on NPR, Duckworth was very gracious in accepting victory, emphasizing the similarities she and Cegelis share on the issues, and she was very efficient at changing the subject to November, dusting off one of James Carville's old slogans to ask if voters wanted "more of the same" or "positive change."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

AMillionMonkeys endorses


Talib Kweli, Right About Now ... Still one of rap's best wordsmiths, over a booming Jay Dee beat on "Roll Off Me" or on the affecting "Ms. Hill."

Juvenile, Reality Check ... Juve's New Orleans rasp takes on the weight of the world. Bounce music's longest-standing superstar surveys his territory.

Madlib, Beat Konducta Volumes 1-2: Movie Scenes ... A collection of about 40 minute-and-a-half beats, some of which are sketches, some full symphonies.

Ghostface Killah, Fishscale ... Best so far of 2006, I am pretty sure.

Monday, March 20, 2006

One thing people sometimes do that confuses me is use the terms "rap" and "hip-hop" as if they signify different things. But the terms are interchangeable, aren't they? I am really asking.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

March sadness

I see I have overestimated the importance of "momentum" to success in this year's NCAA tourney: I chose Big East tournament champions Syracuse to go to the Sweet 16, Big Ten tournament champions Iowa to go to the Elite 8 and Big 12 tournament champions Kansas to go to the championship round, where I had them losing UConn. (UConn, my bracket's last hope.)

In other NCAA news, Missouri Valley Conference represent! I been knowing Bradley since the Hersey Hawkins days, and I am now predicting that Bradley will waltz past Memphis and Gonzaga/UCLA, then defeat Duke in the Final Four; meanwhile Wichita State will dispense with George Mason and UConn and whoever else for an all-MVC championship game, which Bradley will win by a score of 99-1.

Reader vs. Stop Smiling

It's not exactly Cam'ron vs. Jay-Z, but I guess beef is beef... Martha Bayne has a sort of gentle attack on Stop Smiling in this week's Chicago Reader. (Article is here, it's a .pdf file.) She calls it "a polite and pretty little magazine" complementing its features and its layout, but chides the magazine as "strangely toothless."

Since most of Stop Smiling's press tends toward the adoring, Bayne's cautious criticism is a welcome change of pace. All the same, some of it seems misplaced. She criticizes the magazine for running an interview with Da Mayor that discussed the White Sox instead of "the hired truck scandal, or the water department heroin ring, or the Millennium Park budget debacle, or the smoking ban." But surely the novelty of talking to Daley about baseball is sorta funny, too, and not every magazine must put its energy into investigative journalism. (Nor is the toothless Daley interview likely to slow Patrick Fitzgerald's ongoing investigation into his administration, nor drastically impact the mayor's political standing.) One of the reasons I like Stop Smiling is its focus on personal stories, literary history and other curiosities--I like that the focus of this particular magazine is something other than self-serious hard news or facile trendspotting.

But this paragraph in Bayne's piece is big news:
The magazine lets subjects vet articles and request changes before they’re published. "Sometimes it’s such an accomplishment to just be able to be speaking to some of these people, that we know that, obviously, they’re going to be looking at the piece later," says [managing editor James] Hughes. "Where we’re at, it’s just better to be more symbiotic than adversarial. We’d never try to out someone on something that they’re hiding from. We’re not looking for scoops. If we’re going to spend this much time on something, then the people on the cover who gave us an awful lot of their time, then they’d better be happy with it too."
Symbiotic is not all bad, but this seems over the line to me, privileging the magazine's celebrity subjects over its readers. No matter how cool or down-to-earth the person being profiled is, this vetting process will inevitably lead writers to self-censor even where 'hard' censorship doesn't occur. In fact, the potential for self-censorship may apply doubly when the subject is pretty cool and not the sort of person likely to demand changes or deletions.

What do you think? Is taking the attitude that subjects "better be happy with" the piece written about them negative, positive or neutral?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

I totally came up with this slogan in 2000. Of course it didn't occur to me then that I could profit from such vile sexism...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Machine Man

Moderate evangelicals, Pt. 47

Via NewDonkey, Thomas Schaller has an argument against reaching out to moderate evangelicals here, which I is kind of instructive in its wrongheadedness. Schaller equates this strategy with Karl Rove targeting "secular, professional single women of color living in eastern seaboard cities"--that is, the people least likely to vote Republican--and argues that Democrats shouldn't bother with white evangelicals because:
The country is getting browner, not whiter; women are increasingly out-registering and out-voting men; the country is becoming less religious and more secular; and the number of unmarried (whether single or divorced) women is rising. In other words, Rove's strategy would actually be less absurd [than Democrats targeting evangelicals] because at least single, urban, professional women of color are a growing sub-demographic. Conservative, married, white, male evangelicals are not.
(Emphasis is Schaller's.) First of all, it's a mistake to succumb to demographic messianism--the fallacy that demographic shifts in America (toward brown, female, secular, whatever) will automatically mean Democratic gains. That would be nice, of course, and might even happen, but hello!, we're in an election year this year, and the electorate is not going to be so much "browner" in '08, either.

More to the point, though, this argument is symptomatic of an over-literal way of looking at electoral politics. Part of the point of forming a message that woos moderate evangelicals is that it simultaneously dispels misconceptions about Dems still held in other demographic subgroups. The negative caricature of Democratic politicians is that they are a.) godless heathens who want to take your guns away and show pornography to your third-grader, and b.) wonky nerds obsessed with technical details about policy (as opposed to G.W.Bush's broader "vision"). Wooing moderate evangelicals doesn't entail changing any of Dems' traditional policy positions; rather, it entails changing the way we talk about these policies. It means moving the moral questions to front and center on a host of issues--universal health care because it's wrong for people to be denied basic health services, robust sexual health education because we do want to reduce the total number of abortions, job training programs because the un- or under-employed should have the same opportunities that the better-off among us have. Appeals of this sort will burnish Democrats' credibility on a whole range of other issues, because all voters--even single urban professional women--want politicians with a strong moral center.

Or, look at it this way. On the side of Democratic politicians who openly speak in moral language are Bill Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama. On the side of politicians who speak in technocratic secular language are John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean. Which wing of the Democratic party do you suppose is more likely to win elections?

Matisyahu

Jody Rosen makes an interesting point about this guy in Slate:
The truth is, Matisyahu isn't really a novelty--his is the oldest act in the show-business book. Minstrelsy dates back to the very beginnings of American popular music, and Jews have been particularly zealous and successful practitioners of the art. From Irving Berlin's blackface ragtime numbers to Al Jolson's mammy songs—from jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow, who passed as black, to Bob Dylan, who channeled the cadences of black bluesmen, to the Beastie Boys—successive generations of Jewish musicians have used the blackface mask to negotiate Jewish identity and have made some great art in the process.

Matisyahu is the latest in this line, and while his music is at best pedestrian, his minstrel routine may be the cleverest and most subtle yet. Matisyahu is like a thousand other white guys from the suburbs who've smoked a lot of dope, listened to some Burning Spear records, and decided to become reggae singers. But as a Hasid, he has a genuinely exotic look—that great big beard and the tzitzit fringes flying—and the spiritual bona fides to pull off songs steeped in Old Testament imagery. It's an ingenious variation on the archetypal Jewish blackface routine, immortalized in The Jazz Singer (1927), when the immigrant striver Jolson put on blackface to cast off his Jewish patrimony and become American. In 2006, Matisyahu wears Old World "Jewface," and in so doing, becomes "black."
Worth noting, too, that there's not a one-to-one relationship of minstrelsy to suckiness. Whatever grad studentish "Who Stole the Soul" some people are still on, the fact remains that as an aesthetic matter, there are a lot of great minstrel acts. Matisyahu just isn't one of them.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

T.S. Eliot is so played out

Go here and vote against stuffy Anglophile T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" for America's Favorite Poem. I mean come on; America's favorite poem can't possibly include the couplet "I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. / I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each." Yet this old man apparently leads the pack with 28% of the vote!

Me, I voted for Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," a contender at 21%, but other acceptable choices include William Carlos Williams' "To Elsie" (3%) (its first-line alternate title is much better: "The pure products of America / go crazy") or Emily Dickinson's "My Life had stood --a Loaded Gun" (7%) or, hell, even Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (13%). Do not underestimate Frost! But seriously, enough already with the Eliot love. "The Waste Land," please...

Bubble report

Well I rate this film one plastic doll-thumb up. But what exactly is the deal with Stephen Soderbergh's Bubble? An exercise in formalism? An attempt to democratize film? Pretentious, manipulative avant-gardism?

Peopled with non-professional actors who also look like non-professional actors and shot on location in Belpre, Ohio, Bubble is systematically shorn of the traditional signals of movie-drama. Presented in flat DV with a lot of static compositions, it has the feel of a documentary with occasional forays into expressionistic artiness. Debbie Doebereiner and Dustin James Ashley play two workers in a (real-life) doll-making factory whose routine is disrupted when a rebellious young woman (Misty Dawn Wilkins) joins the crew. Like everything else, the characters' dialogue is ultra-naturalistic, as the actors speak in their natural tone and dialect while the camera plays fly-on-the-wall, sometimes filming from a different room to emphasize non-intrusion.

I found the actors pretty fascinating to watch. This isn't stunt casting in the John Waters sense, where you're watching the spectacle of Patty Hearst doing a bad job of acting, but people who aren't accustomed to thinking of themselves as "actors" do signal their emotions differently than pro actors would. The surprising thing here is how unstilted the performances are, and how effectively the actors convey complicated tensions and emotions with small gestures.

Of course, that's not to say that everything comes together effortlessly. The plot is as bare-bones as can be, and there can be a fine line between conveying ennui and inducing boredom in the audience. The images from inside the doll factory, while quite compelling in themselves, introduce a note of surrealism that doesn't really click with the rest of the film. Better to have them producing aluminum siding, no? And while I thought the film treated its actors with respect, it didn't help that one of the special features had the screenwriter talking about the cast in literally the same tone you'd expect her to use talking about the Special Olympics--they're so brave, so great, etc.

Bubble compares favorably to another arty movie about small-town Ohio, Harmony Korine's terrible Gummo, which was a parade of grotesques and bitter stereotypes. But the best film about Belpre, Ohio would be made by someone from Belpre, Ohio, and you get the sense that Soderbergh kinda knows this. As DV continues to become cheaper and more accessible (another nugget from the special features is that Ashley has begun making digital shorts of his own), people from small towns all over the world become able to tell their own stories. I like that a well-connected egghead like Soderbergh is illustrating the ways that these towns and these folks can work as anti-cinema; let's hope that the next step transfigures them into cinema-cinema, with no anti- about it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Yeah, well Martin Scorsese never wrote "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"

Three 6 Mafia, still infectiously enthusiastic and likable as all hell:
Juicy J: One minute, people didn't know Three 6 Mafia... Now the Oscar, everybody. It's an overnight success. It is. Man, we won that Oscar. That night, I went to sleep, woke up the next morning, everybody in America and all over the world knew who we were. ...

Pitchfork: Do you feel like most of the people who've been interviewing you know who you are and what you've been doing for so many years?

Juicy J: No, a lot of people didn't know who the hell we were. They were just finding out. But they show love, man. Everybody's not going to know who a person is, but it's all good, man. They know who we are now.
Emphasis is Juicy J's.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Music

Dabrye is a protege of G. Scott Herren's who defined his sound on the records One/Three and Instrmntl--a clean, elegant, appealingly efficient funk-for-robots--and continues to improve. His new single "Air," which you can listen to here, offers MF Doom rapping over some synthed-out ascending cello scales and handclaps. Upcoming rekkid Two/Three will be enjoyed by people who like pastoral, electronica-flavored hip-hop beats and are bored with Prefuse 73. Given Prefuse's recent output, this promises to be a growing category...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Stalking the moderate evangelical

Amy Sullivan writes in Washington Monthly about one of my favorite subjects, the potential for Democratic gains among moderate evangelical Christians. The whole article is great, largely following the transformation of a new-to-the-Democratic-party evangelical leader named Randy Brinson. Here is the gist of the broader argument:
In the last election, evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate, and 78 percent of them voted for Bush. That sounds like a fairly inviolate bloc. And, indeed, the conservative evangelicals for whom abortion and gay marriage are the deciding issues are unlikely to ever leave the Republican Party. But a substantial minority of evangelical voters--41 percent, according to a 2004 survey by political scientist John Green at the University of Akron--are more moderate on a host of issues ranging from the environment to public education to support for government spending on anti-poverty programs. ...These moderates have largely remained in the Republican coalition because of its faith-friendly image. A targeted effort by the Democratic Party to appeal to them could produce victories in the short term: To win the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry needed just 59,300 additional votes in Ohio--that's four percent of the total evangelical vote in the state, or approximately 10 percent of Ohio's moderate evangelical voters. And if the Democratic Party changed its reputation on religion, the result could alter the electoral map in a more significant and permanent way.
41 percent of 26 percent is too juicy a slice of the electorate to ignore. And these folks want to vote for Democrats; they just don't know it yet.

Above

Peace to Wesley Willis.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

McCain defeats Hillary in '08

I've been dreading a Clinton vs. McCain race in '08 for some time now, and I still am, but these numbers aren't all bad. Her favorables among Democrats are way higher than McCain's are with Republicans (no surprise there), and among independents the favorable ratings of the two match up pretty evenly. Fewer than half of self-identified "Liberal Democrats" have a strongly favorable view of Hillary, which I'd consider a good sign for her national prospects.

A stunning 57% of Democrats and 61% of "Liberal Democrats" have a favorable view of McCain, but these numbers are probably a mirage. We like him now, when Bush is the national face of the Republican party, but in an actual match-up against a Democrat, that support is unlikely to hold.

Most worrisome is the fact that 33% overall are "strongly unfavorable" on Hillary, compared to only 11% for McCain. It seems to me that a certain amount of right-wing vitriol toward Hillary can work in her favor--if her most vocal detractors seem completely unhinged, and especially if they seem sexist, the result may be to make her more attractive to independent voters. But 33%, that's too high; it makes it hard to argue that Hillary-hating is a fringe activity. What's worse, despite having decent favorables with independents, 32% of independents give her "strongly unfavorable," compared to McCain's 10%. That is probably reason enough to keep the Draft-Obama movement going, hopeless as it may seem at the moment...

But is he too weird for America?

The weirdest-looking of the American Idol contestants is, as usual, my favorite. Taylor Hicks, the gray-haired singer with the Joe Cocker mannerisms, is more fun to watch than any of the show's well-groomed teens, and his aw-shucks demeanor feels more genuine than that of certain other contestants. Plus, he's got pipes, and an ease of performance that some of the technically-correct contestants lack.

Besides calling it the best performance of the night, Simon Cowell said that Hicks put on a "great radio performance," a dig at Hicks's unorthodox looks. But I think even Simon knew that wasn't true: the fun of Taylor Hicks is the collection of tics and surprises, the weirdness is exactly what makes him one of the most telegenic contestants.

So is he too weird for America? Maybe in the long run, but not this week. I tried to vote for him, but the line was still busy over an hour after the show had finished.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Beginning next Monday Slate will publish an serialized online novel by Walter Kirn, author of one of my favorite books of last year. Cool.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Good medicine

for my head cold is hot tea and Mad Decent Worldwide Radio, part of the burgeoning Diplo empire. DJ set full of dirty techno beats, some interview segments and mixed-in oldies "Twist and Shout" and "I Got a Woman." So good that at one point it achieves the impossible: it makes a "My Humps" sample enjoyable.

Friday, March 03, 2006

I am a citizen journalist

My account of a reading & discussion at 826CHI that featured Jeff Chang (Can't Stop Won't Stop) and others is now up at the Chi-Town Daily News.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Concert review haiku: GZA and DJ Muggs @ Abbey Pub 3/1

GZA drops science
Wu Tang extravaganza
hard rhymes, no freestyles

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

You are dust

I guess I hold some fuzzy, limited belief in the supernatural, but despite my Presbyterian upbringing I am not a religious man. I do love religious books, though--the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Dhammapada, Koran--for their poetry and advice, and the aphorism offered to believers on Ash Wednesday, adapted from Genesis 3:19, is especially pretty and profound: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Every Ash Wednesday, I think about the night I spent in Canterbury, England, when I attended an Ash Wednesday service and slept on a park bench. I was studying abroad in Maynooth, Ireland, and on a break from school I had traveled alone to London, then taken a train to Canterbury to see the Cathedral. Due to what can only be called extraordinarily poor planning, I found myself touring Canterbury with no more money than the 10 pounds or so I was carrying in my pocket, and no place to sleep, no hostel, no B&B. It was cold and I was by myself and bored from solitary travel, so when I wandered past a small Anglican church holding its Ash Wednesday service I found myself walking inside and taking a seat in the back. I mouthed the words to the songs I found in the hymnals, I inhaled the incense that was burned, and I had the pastor smear ash on my forehead and tell me to "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return." When I left the service, I bought a bottle of red wine with the few pounds left in my pocket, drank it in a park while I read a book (Lipstick Traces, if I recall correctly) under a streetlight and then found a darkened bench to sleep on.

Late that night, quite late especially for England, a small group of kids gathered on the gazebo in the park passing cans between them. Stirring from my bench, I joined them, and ended up with an invitation to sleep on some dude's couch, I forget his name now. I do remember that we listened to Mule Variations by Tom Waits and talked philosophy, which both of us studied in college. The next day I found a train to Liverpool, where I was able to get some money to get me on the ferry back to Ireland. But that is another story...