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by Sarah Zupko

17 Mar 2009

Eight years ago this week, Welsh agit-rock band Manic Street Preachers released their sixth album, Know Your Enemy. The album’s style was highly idiosyncratic and more varied stylistically than earlier Manics albums. Notably, it’s the first time lead singer James Dean Bradfield penned a lyric for the band in the form of “Ocean Spray,” a song that hit #15 on the UK charts. Here are the singles for the record as well as a live version of “Baby Elian”.

Manic Street Preachers - “So Why So Sad”

Manic Street Preachers - “Ocean Spray”

Manic Street Preachers - “Found That Soul”

Manic Street Preachers - “Let Robeson Sing”

Manic Street Preachers - “Baby Elian” (Live)

by Rob Horning

17 Mar 2009

Barry Ritholtz provides an object lesson in breaking down a financial story that has been framed in an entirely misleading way. On the screen in my building’s elevator this morning—a pretty good distillation of what has been deemed considered newsworthy for regular office workers—I saw that home starts were up a surprising percent in February, which was being touted as a welcome piece of good news for the housing industry. The further implication was that the rumors of the demise of homebuilding have been greatly exaggerated. This was exactly the sort of thing we’d like to hear—that the economy is not as bad off as it seems and our “animal spirits” should be perking up right about now. Maybe Obama was right to be sending optimistic signals last week.

Ritholtz takes apart the data though and reveals nothing to be optimistic about:

If we look at the breakdown by unit types, the gains in starts were mainly in multi-family units; single family starts were little changed. And, February was still down nearly 50% from prior year. The past 4 months rank as the worst housing start figures since the data was collected. The past 2 quarters have 6 of the 10 worst seasonally adjusted figures.
This is reflecting the secular shift in trend to renting from buying. Home ownership rate is receding form the 68% level a few years ago — artificially inflated via ultra low rates / abdication of lending standards — back towards to a normalized 64% level.
Peter Boockvar suggests today’s data “is a reflection of where construction money is going.” And, the decline in permits though in this sector means that the building pace in February is unsustainable.

The question to consider here is whether the skewed reporting of economic data is a matter of incompetence or design. (Economist Dean Baker’s ongoing exposés of poor economic reporting on his blog are relevant to this question as well.) Often, numbers are framed in a congenially reportable way by trade organizations (think, the National Association of Realtors, whose onetime president wrote the already infamous Are You Missing the Real Estate Boom?: The Boom Will Not Bust and Why Property Values Will Continue to Climb Through the End of the Decade - And How to Profit From Them). Reporters and headline writers have little incentive to question this spin, since it comes ready-made and tends to conform to what editors assume readers want to read. And in general, they are trained to defer to expert opinion, in this case, the industry economists who have an interest in shading the statistics. The problem is that pertinent analysis tends to be buried in most reports of economic data, and if it exists at all, it tends to be presented as a battle between competing experts who say the opposite, leaving the slant of the headline as the final arbiter. So economic reporting in nonfinancial papers is ultimately about gauging the zeitgeist and trying to establish and exaggerate confidence or, more rarely, exploit fear. It’s a dubious place to go if you want to understand the data itself.

by Diepiriye Kuku

17 Mar 2009

“Your president’s on TV,” my aunty kept saying in the days after the election of Barack Obama. I could not be home for the inauguration, but I am told that families like mine all through the South grilled meat, made dressings and salads, fried fish and chicken, smoked ribs, got together, played cards, laughed and drank, slapped hands and talked politics.

The politics they talked had to do with education: “The sooner we get our young girls out of the city schools, the better off we’ll all be.” Black folks talked about nutrition: “Are they steal taking away those kids’ lunch at school?” Folks talked about the war: “How’re my cousin, his wife and their two kids? Are they in any danger of being deployed?” The war lingers and all bets are off for military families.

Over a games of Spades, folks talked about the economy: “Winn Dixie is having a sale on shoulder bones, and Kroger is selling out just about everything.” Plus, I would add, gas is down. Over a slice of Pound Cake or Seven Layer Bars while recapping the Reverend Lowery’s benediction, folks spoke about infrastructure: “It’s cheap to build houses here; materials might be a little bit cheaper, but folks are out of work and will work for less.” In our area outside of Montgomery (YES one of those areas from which folks walked during “the” Boycott), the only industry to have not come to a grinding halt is healthcare, oh, and fast food. So, during Obama’s inauguration, while I was unable to fly back from my sunny south Delhi apartment, to the sweet Southern sun, I am told that the folks are all just fine.

I wanna be like Mike. I wanna fly like Jordan, soaring, throwing hoops.”
President Obama’s first 50 Days is popular news spreading faster than the tribulations of a young couple struggling with stardom, fame, and the inheritance of violence in our lives. “Take a cue from your president,” aunties like mine would tell Chris and Rihanna, “he’s on TV”. Obama is the new icon for every little brother and sister, despite the emergence of the new “Black Overclass”, examined by reporter Lee Hawkins regarding these near miracle moneymakers. They have their hoops and their dreams, but here is something more real, no disrespect to Mike Jordan, Jackson, Tyson, Steele, or any other stiff who fails to speak prophetic truth.

Go Obama, go!”
Instead of wanting to be like some pop icon, I’d rather be like Obama. Or, I wanna be the kind of guy Obama would hire. We can address the economy, healthcare, war and peace in isolation and never coordinate our efforts into anything meaningful. Now, in the comfort of your own home and with he power of the Internet, you can take notes on the president’s weekly chats. It’s not all about Mike’s airtime anymore.

Through the White House’s YouTube account, for example, or the myriad of reports, reactions, reductions and sponsorship exploring popular politics, we have all iconic information at hand. You can decide to inspire yourself to aspire to something greater, not just some piece meal approach of ‘if and then’. “If I can save up enough, I’m gonna buy me a pair of Jordans.” Or we might say, “If I can loose ten pounds, then I can fit back into those old jeans and just feel better about myself.” We sit at our desks and wonder, “If I can just do this job a little longer, then…” And this cycle never ends. “If I could just get my credit together, then…” or “If I could just finish/go to school, then…”

Will we end see the perpetual cycle of hunger and unfulfilled desire we feed ourselves? We even feed this hunger—literally—with fast food, stuffing the emptiness we otherwise feel at home, dissatisfaction in our careers, troubles in our relationships, or generally residing to one’s old own lot. Piecing all this back together would take an eternity. We need a more holistic approach, and fast. “Everybody knows about Mississippi, Goddamn!”

Desegregation? Too Slow! Mass participation? Too slow? Reunification? Too slow! Do things gradually and folks will suffer further tragedies of loosing their homes, more civilians and combatants will die in war, and still more teenage girls will get pregnant, especially by older guys. Families collapse in those climates, and communities erode, lest we take good care. Folks will feel demoralized if not for the mass participation. Obama? Just in time.

Barack Obama’s historic speech on race, inequality and resolution

by Bill Gibron

17 Mar 2009

Imagine if, right after A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven took a directorial detour and started making animated sci-fi video game adaptations. Or what if Dario Argento, sick of stylized giallos and fever dream frightmares, decided to give up on macabre and instead make slick sex comedies. That’s what it was like back in 1992, when after helming the third Evil Dead film (Army of Darkness), a certain fright film icon named Sam Raimi decided to branch out beyond the scary movie arena. With a western (The Quick and the Dead), a thriller (A Simple Plan), and an ode to baseball (For the Love of the Game) under his belt, it looked like Raimi would never come back to terror. Even 2000’s quasi-chiller The Gift seemed to signify the end of his direct association with dread.

Of course, he’s never really left, even if he has spent the last nine years moving a certain webslinger around his vast comic book superhero canvas. As a producer, Raimi was responsible for cementing J-horror’s fandom West with his Grudge remake. He also used his Ghost House production and distribution label to bring more independent and b-movie style fear to the big screen. But with Spider-man taking up most of his time, it looked like Raimi would never return to the balls-out in your face freak show repulsion of his earlier, scarier films. Now he’s back - at least temporarily - to the artform that made his legend, and all indications are that his May release - Drag Me to Hell - is a rock ‘em, sock ‘em return to form.

The recently released trailer couldn’t be more timely. Alison Lohman plays an account executive at a small bank, making loans and other money oriented decisions. When a lack of cut throat careering threatens her chances at a key promotion, she doubles up and denies an extension on an old gypsy’s refinanced mortgage. As they say in the action ads, B…I…G…M…I…S…T…A…K…E. Lohman is cursed by the crazy old coot, forever to be haunted by a Terminator-like demon with only one goal - to drag the young woman right down to the very bowels of Satan himself. With bubbly boyfriend Justin Long providing the necessary skeptics perspective, and a whole lot of creepy, atmospheric set-ups, this could be something really special. Early word from a recent Midnight screening at SXSW seems to indicate as much.

And that’s great news for us certified Raimaniacs. Ever since Bruce Campbell woke up in the post-apocalyptic future, the victim of his own inability to remember the Necronomicon‘s vital magic words (AoD fans know what I’m talking about, right?), we’ve been praying for something, anything that would remind us of the visceral thrill and sidewinder chill of the original Evil Dead. We’d even accept some of the masterful, shivers meets slapstick lunacy of the re-sequel-boot Evil Dead 2. But with Plan and Gift offering little in the way of true terror, it seemed like the fright facet of the Raimi career arc was dead and buried. Even the man himself poo-poo’ed the notion of returning to the genre, consistently arguing against ideas like Evil Dead 4 (though he’s apparently producing a remake).

Still, this begs the question about expectations and box office returns. As with any niche audience, Raimaniacs can only bring so much dosh to the cinematic coffers, and when you look at the director’s career in totality, more fans probably know him from his work on Spidey than anything else. Remember, he’s been out of traditional horror since 1992. That means, a 17 year old lover of all things Marvel might not know that Raimi even made fright flicks. Even worse, the true demo for something like Drag Me to Hell - 15 to 25, weren’t even BORN when Evil Dead (1981) came out. On the plus side, cable channels like Sci-Fi and AMC have made a mint off of endless repeats of the Dead‘s third Medieval monster mash-up. Additionally, Anchor Bay has revamped and re-released the first two films so many times on DVD that most admirers have had a chance to catch up.

Yet it’s not clear whether any or all of this will lead to twisting turnstiles and butts in seats. It’s one thing to proclaim your love of all things Raimi on a messageboard (or film blog). It’s another to have that affection translate into a more mainstream acceptance. And considering that horror is consistently described as the bastard stepchild of celluloid circles, the critical community won’t be helping much. Even those of us who appreciate a well-made experiment in terror can’t compete against a biased backlash that never gives macabre a decent break. One assumes there will be the typical geek love letters to Raimi and Drag Me to Hell‘s hyper-happenings. But even with universal praise, a Summer season scary movie is still a tough sell.

Of course, the perfect postscript for all this celebrating is Raimi’s recent announcement that Spider-man 4 is indeed a go. Just when you thought all big budget blockbuster aspirations had been cast aside, just when you thought that The Dark Knight and Watchmen redefined the superhero spectacle forever, just when you thought the wonky third installment in the series had circumvented the franchise, it’s time for more radioactive bug to boy goodness. It’s kind of a shame that Raimi is reverting back to the comic book movie form. True, he helped generate the massive interest in the genre. It would be nice if he could go off and be a true maverick again. After all, this is the man who made Crimewave, co-wrote The Hudsucker Proxy, and acted as mastermind for the TV titans Hercules and Xena, Warrior Princess. There is much more to him than Peter Parker.

The same could be said for horror. Indeed, there are probably some in the readership wondering why Raimi would go back to his roots after being away from the fear fray for so long (and being hugely successful in the process). In fact, one could argue that it indicates a real limitation on the man’s part that, instead of going off on another cinematic tangent, he’s back doing the gory grindhouse stuff. Naturally, Raimi himself would argue that you should stick with what you love, and with Drag Me to Hell, he’s doing just that. Perhaps one day he’ll drop the pretense and do nothing but nasty, dark things. Maybe he’ll make a musical. No matter what, Raimaniacs will be there in full force. Let’s hope the rest of the moviegoing masses can find it in their frame of reference to agree.

by Sean Murphy

17 Mar 2009

This is the reason you always remain humble, if not entirely content in the knowledge of how little you actually know. Not only about all the great art we know is out there, (and can’t get around to acquiring all of); but the great art that is not out there, obscure, undiscovered, without a champion. Without a story.

The subject is Death, and here’s the story, from Sunday’s New York Times.

Wow. This is Bad Brains before Bad Brains, The Ramones before The Ramones. Punk before punk, as Mike Rubin opines in his excellent NYT article.

It is enough of a commentary to even name-check Bad Brains without embarassment (I say this as an intrepid advocate for that band), because their debut album inspired a whole slew of styles and imitation, sprouting like weeds through concrete. It is almost beyond belief that Bad Brains did what they did in the early ’80s; to think that Death (three brothers, literally and figuratively, from Detroit) was making proto-punk like this in the mid-’70s in almost utter obscurity is staggering, to say the least. 

It doesn’t get any better than this.

But it does: if the legend is true, rock impresario Clive Davis dug what he heard, but couldn’t get past the band’s name. Change it, and I’ll back you, he said. Fuck that, Death said. And the rest is, until now, three decades and change of unwritten (and almost unrecorded) history.

It gets better, still: this would be a wonderful story, a readymade movie even, regardless of the actual quality of the music. But check it out: the music is astonishing. As I say, to invoke Bad Brains would be ballsy, even gratuitous. Here’s the incredible thing: their song “Politicians in My Eyes” can stand alongside any of Bad Brains’ seminal early ’80s output. How is this possible? Don’t listen to me, listen to your ears: the ears never lie.

Here’s hoping Death lives in 2009, and cashes in some heavy and overdue karma to become the best story of the year: 1975 and now. Do what you have to do: MySpace.

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

READ the article