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.

Man Fires Assistant For Being Too Hot and "Irresistible," Iowa Court Says He's Within Legal Rights

| Fri Dec. 21, 2012 7:41 PM EST

A warning to women and girls everywhere, via the AP:

A dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant that he found attractive simply because he and his wife viewed the woman as a threat to their marriage, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The court ruled 7-0 that bosses can fire employees they see as an "irresistible attraction," even if the employees have not engaged in flirtatious behavior or otherwise done anything wrong. Such firings may be unfair, but they are not unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act because they are motivated by feelings and emotions, not gender, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote.

An attorney for Fort Dodge dentist James Knight said the decision, the first of its kind in Iowa, is a victory for family values because Knight fired Melissa Nelson in the interest of saving his marriage, not because she was a woman.

[...]

Nelson, 32, worked for Knight for 10 years, and he considered her a stellar worker. But in the final months of her employment, he complained that her tight clothing was distracting, once telling her that if his pants were bulging that was a sign her clothes were too revealing, according to the opinion.

He also once allegedly remarked about her infrequent sex life by saying, "that's like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it."

[...]

Mansfield noted that Knight had an all-female workforce and Nelson was replaced by a woman...Knight is a very religious and moral individual, and he sincerely believed that firing Nelson would be best for all parties, [his attorney] said.

(Read the whole AP story, which is equal doses tragic and hysterical. Read the court's decision [PDF].)

Sadly, this nonsense isn't anything new. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously upheld a business owner's right to fire an employee because the business owner's wife found her threatening. And a couple of years ago, a woman named Debrahlee Lorenzana sued a Citibank branch in Manhattan, alleging that her superiors canned her for looking too much like a supermodel.

Just to be clear, the lesson here is that if you are an accomplished, intelligent, diligent, and thoughtful female professional who's done absolutely nothing wrong, and you happen to look like this:

attractive woman
vgstudio/Shutterstock

...and you work for this:

...then this can legally happen to you:

fired woman
 Ljupco Smokovski/Shutterstock

This is the legal reality of fireable hotness in America today.

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NRA Press Conference Riddled With Weirdly Outdated Cultural References

| Fri Dec. 21, 2012 3:55 PM EST
"Natural Born Killers" (1994).

On Friday morning, National Rifle Association executive VP Wayne LaPierre—the guy who once accused the Clinton administration of tolerating gun violence in America so that Clinton could bolster the case for gun control legislation—held a press conference (finally) in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. LaPierre called on the government to pay for an armed police officer in every public school in America.

He also made a series of dated and often bizarre cultural references in large chunks of the speech. Here are some of the things he blamed for gun violence in our country:

Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here's one: it’s called Kindergarten Killers. It's been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and all of yours either couldn't or didn't want anyone to know you had found it?

Then there's the blood-soaked slasher films like American Psycho and Natural Born Killers that are aired like propaganda loops on "Splatterdays" and every day, and a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life. And then they have the nerve to call it "entertainment." But is that what it really is? Isn't fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?

This all begs the question of what year LaPierre's speech was written.

Of all these specific references, Bulletstorm (2011) and Grand Theft Auto are the most recent—but the debate over the GTA video game series' content has been raging since 1997.

A rundown of why these references were so strange:

  • Bulletstorm was the center of an entirely Fox News-driven controversy. (The video game hasn't been the center of any other major controversy or crime, and the hysterical video-games-will-turn-you-into-a-rapist coverage by Fox probably helped sales.)
  • Mortal Kombat was first controversial when George H.W. Bush was president.
  • Splatterhouse—in which the gamer plays a dude named Terror Mask who fights demons in order to save his lover—was first released when Ronald Reagan was in office.
  • Kindergarten Killers is a pathetic and perverse internet cartoon game that virtually no one has ever heard of or played.
  • While there were widely publicized—and even academic—controversies surrounding both Bret Easton Ellis' novel (1991) and the film adaptation (2000), American Psycho isn't actually known for causing or inspiring murders.
  • The Oliver Stone hyper-violent satire Natural Born Killers is still fairly controversial, particularly for the copycat killings it has allegedly motivated. The film is somewhat of a relic of the mid-'90s.
  • "Splatterdays" refers to the Saturday night double-feature of horror movies that airs on The Movie Channel. Selected films often involve zombies and killers with large knives. "Splatterday" has been at the center of precisely zero controversies, in this country or any other.

So this is where the NRA is today—doing what they typically do when in damage-control mode: Painting arcade games, books, and "Splatterday" as the "filthiest form of pornography," and then blaming them for national tragedy. Click here for things the NRA didn't blame for mass murder in America today.

What Does the "Les Misérables" Movie Have to Do With the Newtown Shooting?

| Thu Dec. 20, 2012 5:41 PM EST
Daniel Huttlestone, right, who plays the child Gavroche in the new "Les Miz" movie

In the days following the horrific Newtown massacre—in which 20 schoolchildren were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary—the folks in entertainment media were especially careful not to offend. Violent and death-related content was suddenly (and quite transparently) deemed bad for business or in poor taste: The Pittsburgh premiere of the Tom Cruise action movie Jack Reacher was postponed, for example, and the LA premiere of Quentin Tarantino's brutally violent Django Unchained was canceled (with Django star Jamie Foxx himself cautioning against gratuitous violence in film). In TV land, the debut of the reality TV special Best Funeral Ever was delayed, Ted Nugent's celebration of gun culture was nixed from the Discovery Channel's schedule, a Blake Shelton Christmas special that features a reindeer assassination was pulled, and the recent season finales of Dexter and Homeland opened with disclaimers. On commercial radio, pop songs like Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" and Ke$ha's "Die Young" received substantially reduced airplay. And let's not forget that Barry Manilow postponed a concert out of respect and concern for the affected families.

This is how the entertainment industry generally reacts when a national trauma occurs. There's no reason to think that altering, delaying, or refusing to air violent television and film scenes will help heal national wounds. But considering the immediate outpouring of PR gestures from across the American entertainment industry, it's curious that the only new movie that prominently features a child being shot to death seems to have gotten a pass. 

The movie is Les Misérables, the big-budget adaptation of the beloved musical set in post-revolutionary France. It's directed by acclaimed filmmaker Tom Hooper, has a star-studded cast, and is slated to be released in the United States on Christmas Day. (Spoiler to follow.)

Anyone familiar with the stage musical or Victor Hugo's book on which it is based knows how this goes: During the June Rebellion in 1832, armed republicans set up barricades in the streets of Paris in an attempt to spark an overthrow of the monarchy. Among the rebels is Gavroche (played by Daniel Huttlestone in the 2012 film version), a prepubescent, singing street child. In a moment of tragic heroism, the boy sneaks out from behind the barricade and is repeatedly shot by royal troops.

Here's the scene, from a stage production of Les Miz that featured Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers as Gavroche:

Out of all the major motion pictures released at the end of this year, Les Miz bears the clearest and most potentially upsetting parallel to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary; Django Unchained and Jack Reacher do not have any direct likeness to the Newtown mass shooting, beyond the mere fact that they contain violent images. And yet the sensitivity and courtesy shown by the PR teams of other violent movies released this month is nowhere to be found with Les Miz.

Aloha, Daniel Inouye; Senator and Amazing WWII Hero, Dead at 88

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 12:39 PM EST

On Monday, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) passed away due to respiratory complications at the age of 88. His last word before dying was, according to his office's press release, "Aloha."

Inouye, the second longest serving senator in American history, was noted for his involvement in both the Watergate and Iran-contra investigations. He delivered the keynote at the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He was the first Japanese American to serve in the US Congress. He was the father of Kenny Inouye, the guitar player in the DC hardcore punk band Marginal Man.

Inouye also served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team—a unit made up almost entirely of Japanese Americans who wanted to show allegiance in the face of internment—during World War II. (The team went on to become the most decorated infantry regiment in US Army history.) He is probably best known for this one time in which he killed throngs of Nazis in a manner closely resembling the climactic scene in the movie The Wild Bunch. But unlike the protagonists in The Wild Bunch, he somehow made it out alive at the end.

Here's an excerpt from a Hawaii Reporter piece, which details how a young Inouye responded to getting his arm blown off by Germans during a firefight in Italy:

On April 21, 1945, Dan's company was ordered to attack a heavily defended ridge guarding an important road in the vicinity of San Terenzo. His platoon wiped out an enemy patrol and mortar observation post and reached the main line of resistance before the rest of the American force. As the troops continued up the hill, three German machine guns focused their fire on them, pinning them down. Dan worked his way toward the first bunker. Pulling out a grenade, he felt something hit him in his side but paid no attention and threw the grenade into the machine-gun nest. After it exploded, he advanced and killed the crew.

Dan continued up the hill, throwing two more grenades into the second gun emplacement and destroying it before he collapsed from loss of blood from his wounds. His men, trying to take the third bunker, were forced back. He dragged himself toward it, then stood up and was about to pull the pin on his last grenade when a German appeared in the bunker and fired a rifle grenade. It hit Dan in the right elbow and literally tore off his arm. He pried the grenade out of his dead right fist with his other hand and threw it at the third bunker, then lurched toward it, firing his tommy gun left-handed. A German bullet hit him in the leg. A medic reached him and gave him a shot of morphine. In his typical stoic manner he didn't allow himself to be evacuated until the position was secured. In the hospital, the remnants of his right arm were amputated.

The attack concluded with 25 dead German soldiers, and eight others captured.

Here is Inouye in his own words:

When my platoon members told me [about what I had done], I said, 'No, it can't be. It can't be. You'd have to be insane to do all that.' I think it's all part of the training where you do things almost automatically. It's a sense of duty. That's what they told me, and the company commander who was also observing from the backside, he said, 'I couldn't believe what I saw, because you were a crazy man.'

In 1947, Inouye received over a dozen medals and citations for his heroic assault, including the Distinguished Service Cross and two Purple Hearts. (In 2000, his Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, which was presented to him by President Clinton.)

Here's an old military photograph of Daniel Inouye, Nazi Pulverizer:

Bill Murray Is Far and Away the Best Franklin D. Roosevelt in Movie History

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 12:58 PM EST

When I spoke with director Roger Michell (Changing Lanes, Venus) about casting Bill Murray to play Franklin D. Roosevelt in his new film Hyde Park on Hudson, Michell was emphatic in defending his pick to portray the 32nd president of the United States.

"I've read that some consider it 'stunt casting,' but in fact the reverse is the case," Michell said. "I ended up realizing that I wasn't interested in making the film without Bill Murray. There are other actors who you'd think would be great in the role, but nobody seemed to have that Wizard of Oz-ness about them, that kind of glorious mischief that Bill has."

The reason Michell's decision might strike some as "stunt casting" is because Bill Murray has (despite his more serious roles) an on- and off-screen persona that many would say is too awesome to seem presidential. I mean, have you seen Stripes? His stint on SNL? How about this photo of him co-hosting Eric Clapton's blues-rock festival in 2007?:

bill murray eric clapton
Truejustice/Wikimedia Commons

Or this scene in which he attacks Robert De Niro:

bill muray robert de niro mad dog and glory
Via Universal Studios

Or this photo of Murray at this year's Cannes Film Festival, clearly shunning any sense of stuffy decorum:

bill murray cannes film festival
Via Getty

See? Bill Murray is probably too awesome and entirely too party to play Franklin Roosevelt. And yet Murray knocks it completely out of the park.

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