Great news if true: “We hear that fans of Arrested Development can relax. Word is Showtime not only picked up the canceled Fox show but also ordered 26 more episodes.”
Great news if true: “We hear that fans of Arrested Development can relax. Word is Showtime not only picked up the canceled Fox show but also ordered 26 more episodes.”
Typo of the day: “I’m not Catholic but I am getting ready to celebrate Lint.”
Also, got some pretty good news today. At this point, it’s secret good news, but it’s still good.
(Addendum: For those of you who have called me excitedly, thinking the good news was something life-changing — “You’ve been named pope!” “You’re now managing editor of The Washington Post!” “Someone has decided to pay you $1 million to write a book about the meaning of national borders in contemporary society!” — I hate to disappoint. The good news is just good news, nothing that involves a major life dislocation.)
I haven’t seen this anywhere locally, but: A new Apple Store in Dallas is set to open its doors Saturday. It’s at NorthPark, 10 a.m.
I’ve never done the Apple-Store-opening thing, in which an overjoyed line of hundreds of Macheads forms hours before the doors open. I guess it’s always been that nagging thing called pride that’s stopped me. But Apple always gives away a lot of stuff at their openings, so I might show up.
The canonical Apple Store opening has always been the 2003 opening of its first store in Japan. Click that link if you want to see something amazing: the longest line I’ve ever seen. The first folks in line waited 28 hours in the rain for the privilege. The line, about 2,500 people long, stretched 10 city blocks.
I went to that store in October (hoping to score a new iPod for the flight back to the U.S.), and I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a space that packed. I ended up leaving iPodless because the line to get to the cash register was an hour’s wait.
Had my iTunes library on random over the weekend when up came “Today,” by Jefferson Airplane. (MP3 here.) That piercing jazz-guitar lick a few secs in? It sure seemed familiar, so I went hip-hopping around my hip-hop collection and came across…”Similak Child” by Black Sheep, which samples it. (And ends up with a better song than the Airplane’s, which would only be enjoyable surrounded by a thick cloud of pot and patchouli.)
Anyway, further googling found someone called The Rap Nerd who had noticed the same song’s appearance, both in the Black Sheep track and a Pete Rock classic.
I also found what has to be the coolest radio show in all of Winnipeg: Born in the Breaks, where a DJ plays classic hip-hop and the original songs those hip-hop samples were taken from. They did a whole show on that Black Sheep album (a little-appreciated early ’90s classic), for instance. They seem to be into exactly the hip-hop I am. A whole show tracing Booker T. & the MGs samples! Multiple hours playing songs that use the drum break from a single Al Green song! I’m in hip-hop love! If only they had audio archives.
(And, for the record, this is two posts about small Canadian radio programs in less than a week. My canadaphilia is burning bright these days.)
A request to my Austin readers: Anyone want to give me a couch to sleep on during SXSW in a couple of weeks? (Specifically, we’re talking the nights of Friday, March 10 through Monday, March 13.)
I’d appreciate it greatly; my desire to pay for a hotel is vanishingly small. I promise (a) not to be a bother — you’ll barely notice I’m there, (b) not to drag some raucous PHP/MySQL coding party into your living room, and (c) access to the greatest kickball game of all time, if desired, and (d) to buy you the lunch or dinner of your choice.
My email’s jbenton at toast dot net.
How to write about Africa, from Granta. As someone who has written a handful of stories from Africa, I can tell you it’s awful hard to open your eyes and step past the stereotypes. And I don’t mean racial stereotypes — I mean writerly stereotypes.
In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.
Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African’s cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.
Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.
The African middle class gets horribly undercovered, and stories do tend to rob Africans of their individual agency. In Western stories, things always happen to Africans; Africans rarely do much worth mentioning. (It’s at least somewhat symbolic that the sine qua non of modern African heroes is Nelson Mandela, a man most famous in the West for sitting stoicly in prison for 27 years.) This happens with even the most well-meaning reporters; hell, it probably happens more with the most well-meaning reporters. My funeral story from Zambia probably falls in that category.
What’s strange is that these stereotypes don’t go back as far as you might imagine. The “beaten-down, pathetic” stereotype (better or worse than the old “savage” stereotype?) only became dominant in the ’70s or so, by my reading — after Biafra, after Idi Amin, and gaining speed with the Ethiopian famines and AIDS in the ’80s. Which is why it’s so bracing to read stuff from Africa in the early ’60s, with the sense of optimism that came with decolonialization and men like Nkrumah and Kenyatta and Nyerere and Kaunda. Africa didn’t seem helpless.
Getting past those stereotypes is, to me, what that “Cultivating Loneliness” essay I linked to a while back was all about: Having the courage to write what you see, not what the 20 people before you have seen.
Holy MP3! If you’ve got an iPod you’re looking to fill, this BitTorrent file will download 2.5 gigabytes of legit MP3s, from a healthy portion of the 1,400 bands playing at SXSW next month. It’s 713 songs in total, all legal.
I downloaded this last year, and I feel I should warn you: A really substantial chunk of these songs are crap. But there are also plenty of jewels to be picked, however surgically, from the stercus.
Addendum: Here’s another torrent with 229 more MP3s. Presumably from the bands who didn’t have their act sufficiently together to get their MP3s in on time.
For dedicated Apple fanboys like myself, there’s little better than a Macworld keynote — the once-a-year event when Steve Jobs climbs on stage and unveils the latest Apple goodies. But even we can appreciate this compilation of screwups from past keynotes. The OpenGL bit by Phil Schiller — he’s the guy who looks like the third-base coach at AAA Shreveport — is particularly choice.
An interview with Whit Stillman. It’s a shame he’s disappeared from the scene; he’s produced nothing since The Last Days of Disco, which started my (not particularly long-lasting) obsession with Kate Beckinsale.
Strangely, reading that interview gives me two contradictory feelings: “Whit Stillman seems like a pretty cool, reasonable guy” and “Whit Stillman is probably secretly crazy — you can just tell.”
While I’m focused on French ’60s pop: A full page of France Gall videos. Some great songs there, plus several supremely creepy Serge Gainsbourg appearances. More contemporary francophiles may recognize “Laisse Tomber Les Filles” from the cover version by April March.
I found this through Volume 10 of the “Girls in the Garage” series (previously written about here). The compiler of that all-French volume was DJ Mimi la Twisteuse, who used to host a French-pop radio show in Quebec. The show has passed on, sadly, but she hosts a monthly dance party in Toronto called Zoi Zoi.
More info on that and more cool ’60s French pop over here. And a bonus three-hour DJ set by Mimi over here. One highlight: About 1:48 in, Jean-Pierre Ferland, the Quebecois John Lennon, singing his classic “God Is An American.”
More trouble for foreign desks at regional newspapers. The Boston Globe, the Baltimore Sun, and Newsday — all proud newspapers with strong legacies of foreign correspondence — are all cutting back.
The Globe just shut down its Baghdad bureau, which was until recently staffed by a fellow Yale Herald alum. Newsday looks ready to shut down Johannesburg and Beijing, maybe ready to get out of Iraq, and recently closed its Mexico operation. The Sun, with probably the proudest history of them all, has already closed Beijing and London and may be thinking more.
(And, of course, my own employer has shut down its Bangkok, Havana, and Panama bureaus in the past few years.)
It’s a damn shame, but it’s becoming apparent that the foreign news game is going to be played by an ever smaller number of news organizations. In the newspaper world, you’ve got the NYT, the Post, the WSJ, and the L.A. Times who all have significant networks of foreign bureaus. And that’s about it. Everyone in that second tier — the Tribune, the DMN, the other papers mentioned above — are getting out of the business. (Knight Ridder has been something of an exception, although that could change at any moment.)
I mean, how can it be a good thing journalistically to have two fewer American bureaus in Beijing? Precisely at the historical moment when China is becoming America’s chief rival in a dozen ways?
A warning to the heterosexual men in the audience: You are about to view the cutest girl in human history.*
Eurovision is a strange bird, a 50-year-old televised competition in which European nations come up with their best song and singer and compete against one another. It’s like “American Idol,” but if it were Italy versus Norway instead of Justin Guarini versus Kelly Clarkson. (I first heard of it via a Monty Python sketch in my youth.)
Anyway, France Gall was a 17-year-old French singer who somehow ended up representing Luxembourg. Her song was “Poupee de cire, poupée de son,” which isn’t as dirty as it sounds, despite the fact it was written by notorious French lecher and ugly dude Serge Gainsbourg. (Serge would later write a hit titled “Les Sucettes” for Gall, which she sang innocently until she realized all its talk of “lollipops” was, in truth, about fellatio.)
Man, in that video, she is cute. Is it the occasional bite of the lower lip? Is it the slight self-consciousness? Is it the joyfully dorky headbop at the end of every verse? Is it the fact that she really can’t sing at all? Or is it just the driving, ’60s orch-pop music behind her? (That instrumental break is pretty great — terrific rolling drums.)
And, just because any mention of Serge Gainsbourg requires repeating this story: When Serge told Whitney Houston on live television he wanted to fuck her.
* By “cutest girl in human history,” of course, I mean “with the exception of all women I’ve ever dated or will ever date.” Hi, past and future honeys! You’re all much cuter than silly old Frenchie!
Bonus: Video of Serge Gainsbourg singing “Le Poinconneur des Lilas,” probably circa late 1957. Not sure I get the chicken-pox motif, but a good reminder of why French pop from that era was so great. Also, a good reminder that Serge Gainsbourg was the ugliest dude to ever schtupp hotties like Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin.
There was a time, in the late ’60s, when the Beatles were considering adding a juggler to their act — in particular, one who could accompany the pop-symphonic second side of Abbey Road. The idea was to find a replacement for Paul, who’d been killed tragically in a car accident.
Sadly, it never worked out (damn you, Yoko!), but here is video proof of how it might have looked.
Pointless soft-drink/chemical-reaction videos of the day:
I got to know about him via Jaylib, his collab with Madlib. “Champion Sound” is aces, and “McNasty Filth,” while lyrically lowbrow (Jay Dee could make beats, but the man was not much as a rapper) kicked major dancefloor ass. But he’s worked with just about everybody in the Hip-Hop-Liked-By-Grad-Student-White-Boys subgenre (A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Slum Village, The Roots, Common, etc.)
Hear some more of his stuff on his Myspace page. (Try “Two Can Win” [bouncy hip-hop that would fit on a “Blueprint”-era Jay-Z disc], “Anti-American Graffiti” [smooth psych for backpackers], and “Don’t Cry” [updated Marvin Gaye soul] to get an idea of his range.)
I was all ready to blow up when I saw the headline on this Village Voice review: “MF Doom: Worst Rapper Ever?”
MF Doom is a god among men. I mean, there’s Madvillainy, one of the best hip-hop records of the 2000s, but there’s also the freakier Viktor Vaughn sides, the snack-food concept album, the Ghostface collaboration (available on a file-sharing network near you), and a thousand more.
And, of course, the Danger Doom album, which was to my mind the most accessible great hip-hop album of recent times. The beats (by DJ Danger Mouse) are so bright and shiny and fun that I have trouble imagining anyone not liking it. (Four tracks here, “Sofa King” and “Old School” especially.) Then again, I underestimate some people’s hatred of hip-hop all the time.
And dude, the man wears a metal mask whenever he’s in public. That’s awesome.
Anyway, upon further reading, that Village Voice article gives Doom his due. He’s “muttering fascinatingly free-associative non-sequitur rhymes, and crafting disorienting beats from chopped-up shards of quiet storm and hotel-lounge jazz…These days, he’s just about the only thing in underground rap worth anyone’s attention.” And: “MF Doom is a great rapper, an enigmatic master of persona shifts and weird transitions; he turns traditional battle-rap into an exercise in sidelong expressionism and internal-rhyme virtuosity…his under-the-breath all-tangent flow is compellingly mysterious, especially when paired with swirling low-fi beats.” But the writer claims Doom sucks live. And I don’t doubt it: His music is, as he writes, best on headphones, and beyond the mask, Doom on stage is just a chubby guy standing still.
And it does seem strange that the great Big Daddy Kane was reduced to opening for Doom. No surprise that Kane apparently put on a great show. Last I heard from him was his guest on Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves.
Two random side notes:
- An MP3 of Dealership’s “Tetsuo,” the one song most likely to cause me to play airdrums.
- I’m going to SXSW again this year, No. 5 in a row. If you’re going too, let me know.
On the great list of crabwalk.com hobbyhorses — somewhere below the deity of Dean Smith and mid-’90s Canadian indie rock, but above West Coast rapper Madlib and the evils of the brokerage industry — lies the media’s reporting on AIDS.
Here I write about a misguided attempt to say the elderly are increasingly infected; here I write about a misguided attempt to tie heterosexual anal sex to high viral rates; here I write about how increasing condom use might not be the most effective way to stem the African epidemic.
The problems with all these stories is that they’re well-intentioned — but willing to let those good intentions cloud the facts. People my age remember, in the late 1980s, being told that by the time we were all adults, a quarter or a third of Americans would be dead of AIDS. (Oprah famously said in 1987 that 1 in 5 heterosexuals could be dead within three years.)
The people who told us that were well-intentioned — they wanted people to think of HIV/AIDS as a disease that extends beyond gays and IV drug users, and they played up the Ryan Whites of the world and exaggerated the ease of transmission to accomplish that goal. I support those good intentions, but oppose cooking the numbers to do it.
Anyway, here’s today’s example. CNN.com front-page headline: “HIV hitting blacks harder.” Stop a moment and think about what you expect this story to say.
Then be surprised when you actually read the story and see this:
“[CDC scientist Tonji] Durant and colleagues found that the rate of HIV diagnosis fell by 6.8 percent annually among black women and 4.4 percent annually among black men between 2001 and 2004. The HIV diagnosis rate even fell by 9.7 percent every year on average among black male users of injected drugs, the CDC study found.”
Look at those numbers! That’s a 20 percent drop over three years in women, and a 12.6 percent drop among men. Hell, that’s even a 26.4 percent drop among one of the highest-risk groups out there, black male IV drug users!
So how does this turn into “HIV hitting blacks harder”? The headline writer can probably get out of jail free by saying HIV is hitting blacks harder than other American racial categories — whites, Hispanics, Asians, etc. But that’s (a) clearly not the impression the headline gives and (b) not news, since infection rates for blacks have been higher than other races since the 1980s. Clearly, the headline is intended to imply things are getting worse for blacks, when the opposite is thankfully true.
I wonder if this headline was written by the same person at CNN.com who wrote my previous headline bete noire, “HIV cases increasingly older and straighter,” atop a story that (a) didn’t deal with the straight/gay issue at all and (b) did not support the “older” thesis one iota.
One final note: The CDC study this story is based on isn’t new — it came out in November.
(Sorry, wish I had something more interesting to say than “How cool is this?” My answer, for the record, is “like, totally cool.”)
I was just thinking yesterday about what a shame it was that the age of exploration is essentially over. I was reading this fine piece in CJR — which, by the way, sums up my aspirations for a travel-writing/reportage mish-mash eerily well — and thinking how unfortunate it was that, not only are there no more spots on the map marked “Unknown,” every square inch of earth now has a Lonely Planet volume to match. But apparently I was just being self-centered and short-sighted. Shocking, I know!
(Sidenote: The area described, the Foja mountains in Papua New Guinea, are not completely unexplored. Jared Diamond — of Guns, Germs & Steel fame — actually did a lot of work there in the 1970s and seemed to find the same sort of Edenic environment: “No European had previously set foot in this vast range, and no native people inhabit it. The animals were entirely tame, birds of paradise displaying to Diamond within metres of his face, while undescribed kinds of tree-kangaroos stared at him as he walked by.” Compare that to the CNN article linked above. I wonder if this is as new as the scientists might have us believe.)
Video of Charles de Gaulle’s famous “Vive le Quebec libre” speech from 1967. The speech came during the Montreal World’s Fair, Expo 67, and came when Quebecois separatism was just gaining momentum. De Gaulle, in town for the fair, went to the the balcony of city hall and, before a hyped-up crowd of thousands, started making trouble.
He made a number of insupportable statements — like obliquely comparing English Canada to Nazi Germany — and generally built a fantasy of a Greater France ready for global conquest. (France was feeling particularly frisky in 1967, having recently dropped out of NATO’s military command and expelled all foreign troops from the country. It had already gone nuclear, and it was a few months away from developing the H-bomb without American assistance. De Gaulle was in the middle of what he called “la politique de grandeur,” an attempt to make France a strong, independent force on the global stage.)
The speech is shockingly aggressive, really, and whatever one thinks of their merits, de Gaulle’s speech — and especially the crowd’s reaction — gives you chills. It feels like a rebel leader about to order a storming of the capital, not boring old Canada. The applause lines kill — particularly at the 5:50 mark, when he unexpectedly (at least to English Canada) follows up a “Vive le Quebec!” with a “Vive le Quebec…libre!”
A transcript is here, in the original French and an English translation, so you can follow along.
De Gaulle’s remarks were not spontaneous. Rather than fly into English Canada, he’d spent a week crossing the Atlantic on a French warship so his point of arrival could be Quebec City. Before leaving, he’d told his son-in-law: “I will hit hard. Hell will happen, but it has to be done. It’s the last occasion to repent for France’s cowardice.” (Meaning France’s cowardice in giving up Quebec to the Brits in 1763. De Gaulle was nothing if not historically-minded.) After the speech, he said: “Of course, I could, like many others, get away from [making trouble] by uttering some courtesies or diplomatic sidesteps. But when one is General de Gaulle, one does not get away with those kind of expedients. What I did, I had to do it.”
Of course, it’s the height of diplomatic rudeness to put on this kind of show in someone else’s country, particularly a NATO ally. Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson — a Nobel Prize-winning, immigration-loving, peacekeeper-inventing badass in his own right — told de Gaulle to, in essence, fuck off, saying “Canadians do not need to be liberated.” De Gaulle was chased out of the country and told never to come back. He didn’t.
Perhaps the best rebuke came from Pauline Vanier, wife of Canada’s governor general. Upon seeing de Gaulle after the speech, she pressed a scrap of paper in his hand. Its message, in its entirety: “1940.” She might have written “Juno Beach” instead, but the point was made.
More on the Gaullist politics of grandeur here.
And the 2006 Hottie for Most Attractive Former Prime Minister of Ukraine goes to…Yulia Timoshenko!
And in the Strangest Hair category…it’s Timoshenko again!
They may be the competition, of a sort, but happy 100th birthday to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. (Or, as everyone in media circles calls it, the Startlegram.) Amon Carter, the paper’s grandaddy, built quite a legacy for himself and his city, from the museum that bears his name to his positioning of Fort Worth as the de facto capital of a big swath of the American southwest. And his intense hatred of Dallas always had a nifty populist edge; his slogan for Fort Worth was “Where the West Begins,” and his corollary for Dallas was “Where the East Peters Out.” (Legend has it Carter always took food with him when business took him to Dallas for the day, so he wouldn’t have to spend any money there.)
Joshua Benton is the director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, among other things. Before that, he was a staff writer and columnist for The Dallas Morning News. (More.)
Any opinions expressed here are solely mine, and not those of my employer. In many cases, they may not even be mine.