Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng


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

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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 His favorite movie is either Apocalypse Now or Pirahna 3D, depending on the day or mood.

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The Latest Conservative Outrage Is About Duck Penis

| Tue Mar. 26, 2013 10:19 AM EDT

The $16 muffin ain't got nothing on duck penis.

On Monday afternoon, posted this poll to its opinion section:

duck penis study poll fox news
The Yale animal behavior study, titled "Conflict, Social Behavior and Evolution," is headed by Dr. Richard Prum and Dr. Patricia Brennan.

News of Duckpenisgate was broken to a shocked and outraged nation by, a conservative news site run by the Media Research Center, an organization dedicated to raging against secularism and the mainstream media. From there, Fox Nation and Fox News radio host Todd Starnes picked up on the duck penis/federal waste exposé. The duck penis news easily found its way onto other conservative outlets such as Human Events and birther website WorldNetDaily.

If you think that less than $400,000 spent on a scientific study is a prime example of waste, it's worth noting that that's roughly 0.0000001 percent of what the federal budget is likely to be in 2013. Also, the study, funded by the National Science Foundation (a government agency responsible for assigning billions of dollars to research and education), is not actually a waste of tax dollars. Science writer Carl Zimmer explains:

Studying animals is also a way for us to look in the evolutionary mirror. We share a common ancestor with other animals, and the same kinds of evolutionary processes play out in both us and them. Now, you may wonder what ducks—with gigantic cork-screw-shaped penises and a gigantic cork-screw-shaped reproductive tracts—could possibly have to do with us. The manifestation of sex evolution may be different in different species. But the process is similar.

As in many other species, the evolution of ducks has been driven in part by something call[ed] sexual conflict...Other scientists first explored sexual conflict in many other species first—species including ducks. That's just how science works, no matter what culture warriors may claim.

(For related reality checks, click here, here, and here.)

There's really no reason whatsoever for any of the right wing's snarky outrage, no matter how ridiculous federally abetted duck-penis research may sound.

But hey, things could always be worse. It's not like we're all freaking out over how much it cost for the vice president to stay at a hotel in Europe, right?



UPDATE: My colleague Kate Sheppard reminds us why Republicans (particularly Todd Akin) should love duck penis.

The US Has Officially Transferred Controversial Bagram Prison to the Afghan Government

| Mon Mar. 25, 2013 3:01 PM EDT

An aerial shot of the Parwan Detention Facility in 2009.

On Monday, the US military handed over the Parwan Detention Facility (a.k.a. the Bagram military prison) to the Afghan government. It was the last prison in Afghanistan still under American control. The transfer ceremony took place at the detention facility—renamed the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan—as US Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise visit for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top American commander in Afghanistan, was in charge of transferring the facility at the ceremony.

Al Jazeera English reports:

Afghanistan has taken full control of Bagram military prison from the United States, as US-led forces wind down more than a decade of war.

The handover on Monday follows an agreement reached after a week of negotiations between US and Afghan officials, which includes assurances that inmates who "pose a danger" to Afghans and international forces will continue to be detained under Afghan law...The United States last year agreed to hand over responsibility for most of the...detainees at the prison to Afghanistan and held a transfer ceremony in September.

US soldiers remained at the prison, however, and controlled the area around it.

The detention center, located near the US-run Bagram military base north of Kabul, holds over 3,000 prisoners, the vast majority of whom were already under Afghan control. About three dozen non-Afghan detainees will stay under American control. Transfer of control has been one of messier issues of contention between Kabul and Washington as most US forces prepare for an exit in 2014. Though the facility never enjoyed the same kind of name recognition as Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, it was at the center of major controversies and allegations of torture and human rights abuses. Here is some essential background on the detention center and the Bagram air base:

Your Guide To Al Pacino Screaming, From "Dog Day Afternoon" to David Mamet's New HBO Film "Phil Spector"

| Sat Mar. 23, 2013 6:59 PM EDT

Phil Spector
HBO Films
91 minutes

Al Pacino yells a lot in this movie. Granted, that could be said of any number of Al Pacino movies.

Phil Spector, which premieres Sunday, March 24 at 9 p.m. ET, is the second time in three years that Pacino has starred in a Barry Levinson -produced HBO movie in which he plays a highly controversial real-life figure who ends up going to jail. (The other being 2010's You Don't Know Jack, for which he won an Emmy for his portrayal of physician-assisted suicide proponent Dr. Jack Kevorkian.) This time around Pacino is the eponymous record producer, the unhinged musical genius behind the "Wall of Sound" studio production technique—a thickly layered sound heard on classics like The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and The Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road." Spector had long enjoyed a reputation for being a lunatic; his eccentricities were often eclipsed by allegations of a pattern of violence against women. Less appalling tales involve him doing things like holding The Ramones at gunpoint during a recording session in 1979.

All his wild and vicious behavior culminated in the shooting death of actress/model Lana Clarkson at his California mansion in 2003. For this, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder in 2009, and sentenced to 19 years to life.

The Moral, Economic, Political, and Literary Philosophy of "Spring Breakers"

| Fri Mar. 22, 2013 2:42 PM EDT

Spring Breakers
92 minutes

This movie strives for realism.

Who among us didn't fund our college spring break trip with money stolen from a diner in a poor, predominantly black neighborhood? Who among us didn't go to Florida with our friends and our Disney Princess backpacks, only to drunkenly strip naked in an alleyway and start flipping off passing cars for absolutely no reason? And who hasn't dry-humped James Franco on a bed covered with $100 bills and loaded Uzis before embarking on a bikini-clad killing spree in a mansion?

In this sense, the violent and lotus-eating Spring Breakers is exactly like your average college spring break vacation.

I'm not going to waste too much time recapping the film; I've embedded a trailer below, which should more than suffice. The best way I can describe Spring Breakers (other than "Scarface meets Britney Spears," which was already taken) is that this is Piranha 3D, except the piranha fail to show up. It's a feverish and frenzied story about four spoiled, staggeringly immature, narcotics-addled white girls who have major race issues, but it's not Girls on HBO. The film, directed by the fairly notorious Harmony Korine, torpedoes the Disney-era memories of Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in a haze of bare bodies, murdered hedonists, and snorted blow.

There have been so many fact-sheets and think pieces written about Spring Breakers that it's nearly impossible for me to contribute anything novel at this point. And the film is so dense in its perverted ridiculousness that it would take me a three-part book series to unpack it all. I will however provide you with a brief guide to the rich philosophy—economic, moral, literary, political—of Spring Breakers, presented in digestible quotes from the film. Here you go:

Education reform

"Fuck school!"


"Big booties...This is poetry in MOTION, y'all!"

Surmounting life's many obstacles and coming out a winner

"You can't be scared of shit! You gotta be HARD!"


"Seeing all this money makes my pussy wet."

"Disaster Capitalism"

"Let's just [steal] this fucking money, and go on SPRING BREAK, Y'ALL!"

The American Dream (transcription via Kyle Buchanan)

"This is the fuckin' American dream! This is mah fuckin' DREAM, y'all! All this shee-yit! Look at my shit:

  • I got… I got SHORTS—every fuckin' color!
  • I got designer T-shirts!
  • I got gold bullets! Motherfuckin' VAM-pires!
  • I got Scarface—on repeat. SCARFACE ON REPEAT. Constant, y'all!
  • I got ESCAPE! Calvin Klein Escape! Mix it up with Calvin Klein...Smell nice? I SMELL NICE!
  • That ain't a fuckin' bed, that's a fuckin' art piece. My fuckin' spaceship! U.S.S. Enterprise on this shit. I go to different planets on this motherfucker!
  • Me and my fuckin' Franklins here, we take off. TAKE OFF!
  • Look at my shee-yit. Look at my SHIT!
  • I got my blue Kool-Aid.
  • I got my fuckin' NUNCHUCKS. I got shurikens; I got different flavors: I got them sais. Look at that shit! I got sais. I got blades!
  • Look at my sheey-it! This ain't nothin', I got ROOMS of this shit!
  • I got my dark tannin' oil—lay out by the pool, put on my dark tanning oil! ...

Look at my shit."

Race relations in America

"I was the only white boy in my neighborhood."

Gun rights in America

"I got machine guns...A fucking army up in this SHIT...I'M THE FUCKIN' DEATH STAR...DROPPIN' PLANES!!!!!"

Sexual politics

"I love penis."

(Quotes featured here are applicable in virtually any situation or argument, really.)

Spring Breakers gets a wide release on Friday, March 22. The film is rated R for practically everything that's in it. Click here for local showtimes and tickets.

Click here for more movie and TV coverage from Mother Jones.

To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To listen to the weekly movie and pop-culture podcast that Asawin co-hosts with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg, click here.

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