Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng

Reporter

Asawin Suebsaeng is a reporter at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. He has also written for The American Prospect, the Bangkok Post, and Shoecomics.com.

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A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., Asawin came back to DC with hopes of putting his flimsy Creative Writing major, student newspaper tenure, and interest in human rights and political chicanery to some use. He started cutting his teeth at F&M's student-run weekly, The College Reporter, serving as editor in chief. He has interned at The American Prospect, been a reporter for the Bangkok Post, and scribbled for ShoeComics.com. His favorite movie is either Apocalypse Now or Pirahna 3D, depending on the day or mood.

8 Badass Photos From the Real-Life "Monuments Men"—Who Saved Art and Treasure From the Nazis

| Fri Feb. 7, 2014 7:42 AM PST

On Friday, George Clooney's new film, The Monuments Men, hits theaters. It's based on the true story of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program (whose men and women were known as "Monuments Men") established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 to help rescue art and cultural property from obliteration during World War II. The Monuments Men included servicemembers and art historians who aided in tracking down, identifying, and returning priceless works of art stolen by Hitler's forces.

Here's an example of their heroic efforts being used during the Nuremberg Trials as evidence of the Nazi's large-scale looting of cultural treasures:

Before you decide whether or not to see Clooney's film (which also stars Matt Damon, Bill MurrayCate Blanchett, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin), here are some badass photos of the real-life Monuments Men and other members of the US armed forces as they uncovered hidden and stolen art and treasure:

 

1.

Monuments Men
MFAA officer James Rorimer (who inspired Damon's character) supervises American soldiers recovering paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

 

2.

Monuments Men
In a cellar in Frankfurt, Germany, Chaplain Samuel Blinder examines Saphor Torahs (Sacred Scrolls) stolen from across Europe. National Archives

 

3.

Monuments Men art
Loot found at a church in the German town of Ellingen. National Archives

 

4.

Monuments Men
  Master Sergeant Harold Maus of Scranton, PA, checks out an Albrecht Dürer engraving uncovered at the Merkers salt mine. National Archives

 

5.

Monuments Men
General Dwight D. Eisenhower inspects art stolen by the Nazis. General Omar N. Bradley and Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. are also pictured.  National Archives

 

6.

Monuments Men
Officials inspecting and posing with a Goya painting at Le Grand-Lucé in France. National Gallery of Art

 

7.

Monuments Men gold
  Gold and art uncovered by the US army in the Merkers salt mine in April 1945. National Archives

 

8.

monuments men
  The truck is transporting paintings recovered by the US Army to Florence, Italy. National Archives

 

UPDATE, February 11, 2014, 1:53 p.m. EST: Bob Clark, the supervisory archivist at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, emailed me a PDF of the following approval document initialed by President Roosevelt. This initialed memorandum essentially created the Monuments Men. "In customary fashion, President Roosevelt initialed and 'OK'd' the memorandum proposing the creation of the commission that had been prepared by Secretary of State Cordell Hull," Clark writes. "In the Roosevelt administration, FDR's 'OK' on a document was considered presidential consent for the action proposed in the document. Subsequent to the President's approval, membership on the commission was finalized and on August 20, 1943, a press release was issued by the Department of State announcing the creation of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe."

The approved memorandum is four pages. Here's the initialed first page:

 

Now, here's a trailer for Clooney's The Monuments Men:

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Christian Right Gears Up to Protest Religious Movie's Rescinded Oscar Nod

| Thu Feb. 6, 2014 4:00 AM PST

The song "Alone Yet Not Alone" is the latest skirmish in the American culture war. It's performed by 64-year-old quadriplegic evangelical author Joni Eareckson Tada, and comes from the little-known 2013 Christian film of the same name. The film, set in 1755, is based on the story of two young sisters threatened by religious persecution and Native American tribes. It was made on a roughly $7 million budget and produced by a team of evangelical filmmakers, outside of the sphere of a secular Hollywood. Very few in the entertainment industry and film press have seen it, but the movie has received endorsements from a who's who of Christian-right big names, such as Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and former Republican presidential contender (and Christian movie man) Rick Santorum, and, to the surprise of many in the industry, an Academy Award nomination for best original song.

The film scored the nod along with four others, including "The Moon Song" from Her and "Let It Go" from Frozen. But on January 29, the Academy announced that it was rescinding the nominations for songwriter Bruce Broughton and lyricist Dennis Spiegel due to a breach of ethics: Broughton, a former rep on the Academy's board of governors, was accused of improperly lobbying (via email) at least 70 Academy music branch members during the voting period.

"How Often We're Blind to Our Own Talent": RIP Joan Mondale, Arts Champion

| Tue Feb. 4, 2014 11:33 AM PST

Joan Mondale, author and former Second Lady, died on Monday in Minneapolis at the age of 83. During the late 1970s, when her husband Walter Mondale was vice-president, she became famous for being one of the fiercest advocates of the arts on the national political scene. She was an avid potter and patron, earning herself the nickname "Joan of Art." For instance, she worked with the Department of Transportation to transform railroad stations into art galleries and raised money for Democratic candidates by auctioning works of art. As honorary chairwoman of the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities, she was President Carter's de facto arts adviser.

"Not since Jacqueline Kennedy has fine arts had an ally so close to the White House," the Sarasota Herald-Tribune wrote in 1977.

Here's Mondale (via the Christian Science Monitor in 1977) discussing the importance of art in American life, often in the frame of politics both local and national:

What I feel that I can do is help people become aware of how pervasive and extensive the arts are, how they affect each one of us in our daily lives—what kind of builds we live in, what kind of clothes we wear, what we see with our eyes. We are often blind to the beautiful things around us.

What I'm mostly concerned about is how often we're blind to our own talent. I think that within each human being there is a creative spirit, and some of us have been fortunate enough to have good teachers and parents who've brought this out and encouraged it, but others haven't.

"Both [politics and art] seek to tell us about the good and the bad around us," Mondale stressed. "The artist often dramatizes the same mood for change and improvement for which the politician is seeking answers."

Here's a photo of Mondale playing drums after a press conference at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, in 1978:

Joan Mondale playing drums
Richard K. Hofmeister/Smithsonian Institution (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Seinfeld-Reunion "Secret Project" Aired During the Super Bowl—Watch it Here

| Sun Feb. 2, 2014 7:23 PM PST

Here's one for those who saw the Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm and wanted more. During a commercial break in the Super Bowl broadcast on Sunday, Jerry and George (and Newman) were featured in an episode of Jerry Seinfeld's web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. This put an end to recent speculation swirling around Seinfeld's "secret project," which included alums of the beloved NBC comedy series. 

Watch the pseudo-reunion here, via the Verge:  

(You can watch the full episode here.)

We shall wait to see what Elaine thought of it.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dead at 46, Spoke Candidly About Addiction

| Sun Feb. 2, 2014 1:46 PM PST

Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his New York City apartment on Sunday, according to law enforcement sources. Authorities are investigating the cause of death, but a drug overdose is suspected, according to the New York Times. Hoffman was 46.

There isn't much I can write about the Oscar-winning actor's tremendous talent that others won't be writing. He was one of his generation's greatest. His performances in Capote, Magnolia, The MasterAlmost Famous, 25th Hour, Charlie Wilson's War, Doubt, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, and many other films will all stand the test of time. "Rest in peace Philip Seymour Hoffman," actress and activist Mia Farrow tweeted. "We who marveled at each of your performances, are grateful and very very sad."

Hoffman struggled with drug and alcohol problems, which reportedly included detox following a heroin relapse this past summer. In 2006, Hoffman discussed his substance abuse, and why he went into rehab at a young age, in an interview with 60 Minutes. Here's part of what he had to say, which includes an expression of deep empathy for young Hollywood:

I got sober [when] I was 22 years old…It was…anything I could get my hands on. I liked it all…I was 22 and I got panicked for my life…I always think, god, you know, I have so much empathy for these young actors, that they're 19 and all of a sudden they're beautiful, and famous, and rich. And I'm like, oh my god, I'd be dead! You know what I mean? Nineteen, beautiful, famous, and rich, that'd be it…I think back at that time, and I think if I had…that kind of money and stuff…Yeah.

Around the time of that 60 Minutes broadcast, Hoffman told The Observer that he felt the show's segment verged on being inappropriate: "You talk to your interviewer for a good four hours over a bunch of days, and that was about two minutes of it," he said. "It's not a major part of the story at all—it happened when I was 22. At the time I had to deal with it, in retrospect it was one of the major events in my life, but there are other events that form you. So to single it out as the one would not only be inappropriate, but not true."

During that Observer interview, Hoffman also talked about how he found it weird that he was becoming a big movie star. "The strange thing is I never thought I'd do films," he said. "I was studying theater, and my dreams were about riding my bike to the theater on Sunday afternoons to do a play, and they still are."

Needless to say, both the theater and film world have lost a remarkable talent.

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