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.

The New Bryan Cranston "Godzilla" Trailer is Awesome—and Explicitly Calls Out US Nuclear Testing

| Tue Feb. 25, 2014 6:55 PM PST

The upcoming Godzilla reboot (set for a May release) will offer its own modern take on the origin of the famous city-squashing monster. It's directed by Gareth Edwards, and stars Bryan CranstonElizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The new trailer is out, and it's pretty great:

At about the minute mark, you hear characters explaining how mankind created its own colossal nightmare. Their explanation seems to call out actual American nuclear testing, specifically Operation Castle. Here are some lines of dialogue narrating images in the trailer:

In 1954, we awakened something.

With those nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Not tests...

They were trying to kill it.

And thus Godzilla comes back as a radioactive beast to destroy and rampage.

The nuclear "tests" mentioned in the trailer (and presumably the film) likely refer to Operation Castle, a series of nuclear tests conducted by the United States in early 1954 at Bikini Atoll. The original Godzilla film (Gojira) premiered that same year, and was cleverly critical of that kind of testing. (The critically maligned 1998 Godzilla, directed by Roland Emmerich, blamed Godzilla's wrath on nuclear tests in French Polynesia.)

Here's a declassified video on Operation Castle:

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Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Kal Penn Set to Appear at the White House's First Student Film Festival

| Tue Feb. 25, 2014 3:05 PM PST

On Friday, the White House East Room is set to host its inaugural Student Film Festival. The winning entries, which include stop-motion animation and special-effects-peppered fare, were selected from over 2,000 submissions. The White House announced the contest for American students, grades K-12, last November, and put out a call for short films (three-minute max.) that demonstrate how technology is used in schools today and how it might change education in the future.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to make an appearance at the White House Student Film Festival—as are the following celebrities:

  • Bill Nye (the Science Guy), who has been on a pro-science, anti-creationism/denialism warpath lately. "I fight this fight out of patriotism," Nye told me last year. "[Nye has] been instrumental in helping advance some of the president's key initiatives to make sure we can out-educate, out-innovate, and out-compete the world," an Obama administration official said.
  • Kal Penn, the 36-year-old actor who served stints as associate director for the Office of Public Engagement in the Obama administration and delivered this speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He was at the White House Science Fair last year. He also wants to help sell you on Obamacare.
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson, another friend of the Obama White House and science luminary.
  • Conan O'Brien, though unlike the previous three, he is not set to appear in person. He'll be sending a video address.

The film fest will also include a sneak peek at the Fox series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (the successor to the show that made Carl Sagan famous), which will be hosted by deGrasse Tyson and executive-produced by Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow.

Click here to check out some of the White House honorable mentions in the festival. Here's one, titled "A Day In The Life of a Tech Nerd":

UPDATE, February 28, 2014, 7:04 p.m. EST: On Friday, Bill Nye posted the following photo of him, President Obama, and Neil deGrasse Tyson—a "Presidential Selfie" in Nye's words:

"So, an astrophysicist, an engineer, and the President of the United States walk into The Blue Room...." reads the caption on Nye's Facebook page.

Here's Comedy Legend Harold Ramis' Advice to Young Filmmakers

| Mon Feb. 24, 2014 1:03 PM PST

Harold Ramis, the influential comedy filmmaker, died on Monday in his hometown of Chicago from complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. He was 69.

Ramis is best known for directing acclaimed comedies such as Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, and Analyze This, and for cowriting and starring in Ghostbusters. His work has had a huge impact on American comedy over the past 30-plus years. "The simple idiot's advice I give to screenwriters who say they want to sell a screenplay is, 'Write good,'" Ramis said during an interview for American Storytellers in 2002. "Nothing sells like a good screenplay."

Here's more advice for young filmmakers from Ramis' American Storytellers interview. It's worth taking to heart:

You have to live your life with a certain blind confidence that if it's your destiny to succeed at these things, it will happen, if you just continue to follow a straight path, to do you work as conscientiously and as creatively as you can, and to just stay open to all opportunity and experience. There's a performing motto at Second City...to say yes instead of no. It's actually an improvisational rule…It's about supporting the other person. And the corollary to that is if you concentrate on making other people look good, then we all have the potential to look good. If you're just worried about yourself—How am I doing? How am I doing?—which is kind of a refrain in Hollywood, you know, people are desperately trying to make their careers in isolation, independent of everyone around them.

And I've always found that my career happened as a result of a tremendous synergy of all the talented people I've worked with, all helping each other, all connecting, and reconnecting in different combinations. So…identify talented people around you and then instead of going into competition with them, or trying to wipe them out, make alliances, make creative friendships that allow you and your friends to grow together, because someday your friend is going to be sitting across a desk from you running a movie studio.

Watch the full video below:

Is "House of Cards'" Most Principled New Character Also a War Criminal?

| Fri Feb. 21, 2014 4:00 AM PST

Democratic congresswoman and war vet Jacqueline Sharp (played by Molly Parker) is one of the most sympathetic characters on the Netflix political drama House of Cards. In a series populated by dark, purely self-interested, and/or corrupt characters, Sharp is something of a refreshing outlier. She is smart and strong, particularly when in a room of cynical, powerful old men. She is generally a kind and upfront person. She demonstrates an aversion to unethical deal-making. And she isn't a heartless mass-manipulator on the scale of Vice President Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey).

"I don't think that this character is a sociopath. I think that she has a conscience," Parker said of her character. "I think that she's a principled woman in terms of her point of view, her perspective as a soldier."

However likeable or principled she may be, could she also be the show's first war criminal?

In the first episode of season two, Underwood informs Sharp that he wishes to have her succeed him as House Majority Whip. When she asks why he is so adamant, the morally bankrupt Underwood reveals that he picked her because of her "ruthless pragmatism" in wartime. He asks her about the number of missile strikes she ordered during the war, and how she ordered them knowing many innocent women and children would perish in the attacks. "I had orders to eliminate the enemy," she says, rationalizing the civilian casualties. "I watched apartment buildings, entire villages, gone, like they were never there."

Her actions clearly haunt her. In a subsequent episode, when she is in bed with her lover, she confesses in sorrow that she "killed a lot of people," before she tells him to continue bringing her to climax.

Why Ben Affleck Is Qualified to Testify Before the Senate on Atrocities in Congo

| Thu Feb. 20, 2014 4:10 PM PST

On Thursday, John Hudson at Foreign Policy reported that actor Ben Affleck is set to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Wednesday to testify on the mass killings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Affleck's inclusion among the experts scheduled to testify invited some predictable skepticism and ridicule. In response to the news, Washington Post digital foreign editor Anup Kaphle tweeted, "zzzzzz..." National Review correspondent Jim Geraghty joked, "If a Congressman asks about his qualifications as a Congo expert, Ben Affleck should simply answer, 'I'm Batman.'"

"People serious about resolving problems—especially problems related to life and death—want to have serious conversations with experts and leaders in the field; not celebrities," a Republican aide at the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Foreign Policy's "The Cable." (House Republicans reportedly declined to hold a similar, Affleck-inclusive event.)

It's pretty easy to laugh at the idea of the Gigli and Pearl Harbor star now lecturing senators on atrocities in Central Africa. But the Oscar-winning future Batman knows his stuff. He isn't some celebrity who just happened to open his mouth about a humanitarian cause (think: Paris Hilton and Rwanda). The acclaimed Argo director has repeatedly traveled to Congo and has even met with warlords accused of atrocities. Here's his 2008 report from the country for ABC's Nightline, in which he discusses mass rape, war, and survival:  


ABC Entertainment News|ABC Business News

Affleck previously testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the humanitarian crisis in the African nation. That same year, he made the media rounds with Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) to discuss renewed violence in Congo. In 2011, he testified before the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee. In 2010, Affleck founded the Eastern Congo Initiative, an advocacy and grant-making 501(c)(3) organization. On top of all that, he made this video this month (in which he and Matt Damon humorously trade insults) to help raise money for the Initiative.

So, are there experts who know more about the Democratic Republic of the Congo than Ben Affleck? Of course—and some of them will also testify before the Senate committee next week. But celebrities testifying before Congress, or heading to the Hill to make their case, isn't exactly new. Harrison Ford has swung by the House and Senate to talk about planes, and Val Kilmer visited Capitol Hill last year to push for the expansion of Americans' ability to claim religious exemptions to Obamacare's health insurance mandate.

With Affleck, you get testimony from a famous person who has really done his homework.

Click here to check out our interactive map of celebrity humanitarian efforts in (and the "celebrity recolonization" of) Africa.

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