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.

Lana Del Rey Cares Way More About "Intergalactic Possibilities" Than Boring, Old Feminism

| Wed Jun. 4, 2014 3:46 PM EDT

Famous singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey has a weird quote about "feminism" (and space exploration, I think) in the latest Fader cover story. Digest it here:

For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept. I'm more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what's going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities. Whenever people bring up feminism, I'm like, god. I'm just not really that interested…My idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever she wants.

Okay.

The 27-year-old singer joins a chorus of female celebrities, including actress Shailene Woodley, who distance themselves from feminism, or from describing themselves as feminists. This is strange to hear (whether the famous person is female or male), simply because your average dictionary is very straightforward about the definition of the term "feminism." It is as follows:

The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.

It's really that simple: Words have meanings. Maybe too many of us have, over the years, conflated the word "feminist" with "extreme, radical, militant, War-On-Men-waging individual?" I dunno. Anyway, Ann Friedman explains this general topic better than I ever could, and you should read her piece here.

(H/t Matt Zeitlin)

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Wait, So the New "Transformers" Movie Is a Pro-Immigration Allegory?

| Fri May 30, 2014 5:39 PM EDT

Michael Bay's big, loud action movies sometimes have plot elements resembling political messages. The Rock (1996) depicts the blowback from illegal American covert operations overseas. In Armageddon (1998), the NASA-recruited team of deep-core drillers agree to embark on a dangerous mission to save the planet from an asteroid—on the condition that they never have to pay taxes again. In Bad Boys II (2003), the film's heroes illegally invade (and destroy large chunks of) Cuba, all in the name of fighting the drug war.

But could the 49-year-old director's latest film, Transformers: Age of Extinction (in theaters June 27), actually be an allegory for the plight of undocumented immigrants in modern-day USA? Well, the film is currently being marketed that way. As flagged by Entertainment Weekly earlier this week, the Paramount Pictures-associated website TransformersAreDangerous.com documents the (obviously purely fictional) rise of anti-Transformer sentiment in America. In the previous Transformers film, some of these alien robots killed a bunch of people and blew up a lot of stuff in Chicago, so the advent of a "KEEP EARTH HUMAN" movement isn't exactly stunning.

Much of the anti-Transformer/pro-human propaganda certainly resembles what you might expect from anti-immigration hardliners. Here are a couple posters from the website:

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

And here's a fake PSA on the "fall of Chicago":

So will this dose of mindless, robots-battling-robots summer fun also double as Michael Bay's impassioned cry for immigration reform? Dunno. We'll have to wait until the end of June to find out. In the meantime, here's a trailer for the upcoming Transformers flick:

Here's Mindy Kaling's Hilarious Speech to Harvard Law: "You Will Defend BP From Birds."

| Fri May 30, 2014 3:10 PM EDT

Here's actress/comedian Mindy Kaling speaking at this year's Harvard Law School Class Day on Wednesday:

With this diploma in hand, most of you will go on to the noblest of pursuits, like helping a cable company acquire a telecom company. You will defend BP from birds. You will spend hours arguing that the well water was contaminated well before the fracking occurred. One of you will sort out the details of my prenup. A dozen of you will help me with my acrimonious divorce.  And one of you will fall in love in the process.

Later, on a more serious note, Kaling urged graduates to "please just try to be the kind of people [who] give advice to celebrities, not the other way around." She continued: "You are entering a profession where no matter how bad the crime, or the criminal, you have to defend the alleged perpetrator. That's incredible to me."

You can check out other highlights from her speech here, and you should watch the whole thing above.

The Story Behind That Video of Whisper, the BASE Jumping Dog

| Thu May 29, 2014 5:31 PM EDT

You just watched a video of four-year-old Whisper, the world's first wingsuit-clad, BASE jumping dog. She was strapped to her owner—Adidas-sponsored, Santa Barbara-based free climber and BASE jumper Dean Potter—when she took a dive from a 13,000-foot mountain peak in the Swiss Alps. The footage was captured with a GoPro camera. The YouTube video, posted on Tuesday, currently has more than 450,000 views and has received enthusiastic coverage from USA Today, the Daily Beast, Glenn Beck's TheBlaze, The Today Show, and BuzzFeed, among other outlets. "So it looks like Whipser lives her life by the YOLO philosophy," Mashable reported.

"I got Whisper when she was a little puppy and I hated leaving her at home, because I would go on these six-to-eight-hour hikes—I would BASE jump every day, and I'd have to leave her behind," Potter tells Mother Jones. To solve this problem (at least for one jump), Potter got to work on a special backpack to safely hold Whisper on his back. "It took three times, and the first two prototypes, we didn't even get out of the shop," he says. "And we finally got it on the third try. We did some test runs with her favorite stuffed animal, her lion toy…And just to make sure she was okay with speed, I rode around with her on my bicycle and motorcycle, cruising at about 80 miles an hour…So I knew she liked speed."

The short video is sneak peek at When Dogs Fly, a 22-minute film starring Potter, his girlfriend Jen Rapp, and Whisper. (Potter and Rapp produced, and Potter directed.) According to Potter, various networks, including National Geographic Channel, Discovery, HBO, and CNN, have shown interest in purchasing and airing it.

The video has also provoked criticism from those who see Whisper's BASE jumping as animal abuse. "Although both the dog and owner land safely, being strapped to a person's back and dropped by parachute is likely to be a cause of significant stress and fear for the dog," a spokesperson for Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said, for instance.

Potter insists that he and Rapp had already taken this into consideration: "BASE jumping is dangerous, and it made me and Jen think a lot about whether we were doing the right thing," he says. "We're not stupid people, and we questioned if what we were doing was the right thing to do, just like any parent would."

Potter wrote in a recent blog post:

I want you all to know that I do not force Whisper to do anything she doesn't want to do. When we wake up in the morning, if Whisper wants to stay at home or camp, she is free to do so…Last summer when I was wingsuit BASE-jumping with Whisper she never once didn't want to come along. In fact, whenever I put on my wingsuit or pack my parachute, little Whisper nestles close and begs to come along.

In no way do I want others to try to emulate what I do with Whisper without proper knowledge and training!

So what's next for Potter? Along with selling When Dogs Fly, he says he is currently working with NASA scientists, finding new ways to trick out his wingsuit. "One of the fundamental dreams man has ever had is to truly fly the human body, so that's my biggest fascination right now," he says.

Now here are a couple pics of Whisper, courtesy of Potter's Instagram account:

LeVar Burton Wants To Bring His New "Reading Rainbow" to Low-Income Kids for Free

| Wed May 28, 2014 5:17 PM EDT

LeVar Burton wants to revive his acclaimed educational show Reading Rainbow, and has started a Kickstarter campaign to do it. The 57-year-old actor and his team are looking to raise $1 million to launch an online version of the series, which originally aired on PBS from 1983 to 2006.

But here's the really cool part (via TheWrap):

Burton's "Reading Rainbow" campaign will create a new version of the show available to any child with access to the internet.

He also plans on offering a "classroom version" of the program for teachers and is spearheading a not-for-profit that will give copies of "Reading Rainbow" away to low-income schools for free. The campaign offers various rewards for donating, including potentially getting to wear his famous "Star Trek" visor.

"So lets do it this, y'all," Burton said. "Together we can create and deliver a proven tool for encouraging the love of reading to millions of children. We can genuinely change the world, one children's book at a time."

As of writing this, the campaign has 14,367 backers, and $652,622 has been pledged. There are 34 days left in the crowdfunding campaign.

"I believe that every child has a right, and a need, to be literate," Burton's Kickstarter page reads. "We have a responsibility to prepare our children… and right now, the numbers show that we, as a society, are failing in that responsibility."

Watch the Kickstarter video here:

(H/t Jeb Lund)

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