Archive for June, 2009

Take ‘em to Church

blog_churchWhile studies continue to find that fewer Americans — especially young ones — consider religion an important part of their lives, churches across the country are adapting in occasionally bizarre ways in order to maintain their followings: A pastor in Kentucky last weekend invited his congregation to bring their unloaded firearms to his service in order to “send a message that there are legal, civil, intelligent and law-abiding citizens who also own guns” (who’s clinging to guns and religion now?); a news service in central Florida provides an update on a “faith-based skate park” where tattooed preachers tend their kickflipping flocks between shred sessions; the Anglican Church in North America — a conservative splinter group with tens of thousands of members that broke from the Episcopalian Church over the latter’s acceptance of gay clergy — held its first formal assembly in a Dallas suburb last week; and Triple Canopy provides us with a history of one of the modern age’s most mind-boggling religious contrivances: the Mega-Church.

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Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

blog-mhThe passing of the man who went from an overachieving Midwestern kid to the definition of global pop stardom is an indefinable event: Initial impressions were posted last week by some STOP SMILING regular contributors, including Michael A. Gonzales (read here) and Hua Hsu (read here); and though the tragedies of Michael’s last two decades — the flipside to the stunning work and iconography produced from the late Sixties until his peak in the mid-Eighties — were often the source of wholesale mockery, we’ve compiled here a few classic moments of comedians celebrating the humanity and lighter side of the Jackson phenomenon, including early Eddie Murphy (view), Chris Tucker (view) and Dave Chappelle (view).

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Sensitivity Requests Amid Scandals

blog-ruth“Are you having fun embarrassing me — and ruining my life?” asked Ruth Madoff, wife of Bernard Madoff, while a New York Post photographer captured a snapshot of her seated on the New York City subway beneath an advertisement reading “99 cents does more” (view the image here); South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, while fumbling a national apology about how his mysterious disappearance was the front for an extramarital affair in South America, essentially stated he was entitled to be forgiven, at one point pleading that he “spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina”; and Phil Spector, assigned to a sensitive needs facility after being convicted of murder, formally requested an iPod, TV or computer to pass the time during his prison term of 19 years to life.

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What, Me Worry?

blog_alfredThe mantra of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman continues to apply to the day’s events: Residents of Hawaii appear unfazed by North Korea’s recent threat of nuclear attack on the island — as an octopus-cooking interviewee put it to the NY Times, “You are going to go sometime, whether it’s on a wave, or a missile, or your buddy knocking you down and you hit your head;” Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens frames the current Iranian mess in the context of the mullahs’ persistent worrying that Anglo-Saxons will be forever evilly meddling in their affairs, all the while chastising the Obama administration’s nonplussed stance toward the situation: “Want to take a noninterventionist position? All right, then, take a noninterventionist position — but also try to bear in mind that one day you will have to face the young Iranian democrats who risked their all in the battle and explain to them just what you were doing when they were being beaten and gassed;” Finally, the BBC notes in regard to yesterday’s fatal train crash in Washington, DC, that transit officials may have adopted too Neuman-esque a stance when they ignored warnings from the National Transportation Safety Board in 2006 to replace the trains that wrecked. ***STOP SMILING interviewed Christopher Hitchens in its Rebels + Outlaws Issue.

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Back in the Land of Lincoln

blog_pattibEver since Barack Obama won the presidency, Chicago-style politics, for better or worse, have made Illinois a national laughing stock, even as the Windy City brain-trust of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod and President Obama successfully guide the country’s agenda; meanwhile, the fallout from ex-Governor “F-Bomb” Blagojevich’s removal from office took a few new turns in the last week worth noting: First up, Roland Burris, the current junior senator from Illinois, it turns out, won’t face a perjury charges over statements he made to state lawmakers investigating how he got his job; Blago’s former chief fundraiser was sentenced Monday to three years in prison for “hiding the use of his company’s money to pay thousands of dollars in gambling debts and other expenses;” and finally, Blago’s wife Patti, survived another week in the jungle on the NBC reality show I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here after beating out The Hills’ Heidi Montag and former supermodel Janice Dickenson.

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The Heat Goes to Nevada’s Head

blog_nevadaWhile the entire world will face the effects of global warming, an editorial published in today’s Las Vegas Sun, titled “Brutal Century Ahead,” reminds us that the American Southwest, with its already scorched and arid climate, looks forward to even less fun than most areas (this weekend’s NY Times reminds us, though, that Hawaii is the only US state that faces a true existential threat from global warming); efforts in Nevada to fight global warming recently encountered a major setback, as opposition from the US Air Force shut down a company’s plans to build one of the world’s largest solar power plants near a top-secret base; while unemployment in Nevada hit its highest point ever last month (11.3 percent), a Canadian entrepreneur who sells jet-driven surfboards threatened to sue the state for $30 million dollars after being arrested at gunpoint; and artists from around the country have transformed Reno’s roach motels into temporary roach galleries; (check out more on Nevada in the STOP SMILING Gambling Issue). -SS

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Life Was Hard, Then the Snakes Came

blog-snakesFew things make tough times worse than plagues of snakes: Iraqis in the country’s agricultural south have been tormented by drought, war, UN sanctions and lack of investment, and now dams upriver in Turkey and Syria have dried up the Tigris and Euphrates, worsening farming conditions and driving scores of snakes into villages where they attack people and buffalo; enemies of the Israeli military have a new weapon to fear — it recently unveiled a robotic snake with a camera and microphone installed in its head that is being developed for combat missions; police in a Sierra Leone town have yet another worry besides patrolling the war-torn country, as up to 400 snakes, mostly cobras and vipers, occupy their headquarters; in India, however, members of the nomadic Vadi tribe continue their tradition of training children as young as four to become snake charmers (see pictures), even though the practice is officially banned in that country.

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Oh! How They Woo Us

blog_obamaPolicies and platforms are never enough to make a politician — they need something that appeals to the people’s gut; Barack Obama has a touch of romance, which he emits with each gallivant to New York for a date, or every stroll down the Champs-Elysees — activities that have prompted awe, and some ire; Hugo Chavez has his own method of speaking to folks, which includes lots of Venezuelan slang, like using a word that means “penis” to refer to a cell phone; Italian playboy prime minister Silvio Berlusconi uses his media empire to show Italy his best side, and it’s effective enough that an ongoing sex scandal that would have dethroned others barely put his party down in a recent poll; and Iran’s President Ahmadinejad has long used his gritty background to win the hearts of the poor and the military, but now veterans of the Iran-Iraq war are turning their support toward the reform candidate days before presidential elections, even alleging that the incumbent fabricated his war service. -SS

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The Latest Mysteries of the Deep

blog_oceanThe world gets weirder, but what’s happening in the ocean? Salon reports that this week a Florida fisherman “reeled in a live missile in the Gulf of Mexico and kept it on his boat for 10 days”; William Saletan of Slate pondered recently whether the next terrorist attack will come from submarines; and the Independent continues its reporting on how the bluefin tuna is being fished to extinction. Don’t stir the waters.

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Shed a Dove Tear for 25 Years

blog_princePopMatters pays tribute this week to the silver anniversary of a pop Revolution as it celebrates 25 Years of Purple Rain — articles, interviews and multimedia explore the importance that one short man from Minneapolis with a fondness for scarves and a penchant for genre-bending had on music, movies and American pop culture; sadly, it seems that Prince will have a feeble time celebrating the milestone, due to hip problems he refuses to fix because of his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness (read this recent LA Times piece for a primer on JW principles); meanwhile, a series of articles looks at another aspect of bygone Minneapolis — the vintage signs scattered among the city’s rooftops, “like Andy Warhol pop art popcorn but without the kitschy elements of cultural irony”. -SS

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