Before joining Mother Jones, Benjy reported for Colombia Reports while living in Medellin. He has written for PolicyMic and Wine & Bowties. A slow-travel enthusiast, Benjy also lived in Peru, where he worked in a carpentry shop.
"The power for me is to keep the story of the female in the center, to keep discussing and talking about women as protagonists," Wangechi Mutu said in a video introduction to A Fantastic Journey, her recent exhibition at Duke University's Nasher Museum of Art. For the casual art fancier who happens upon it, as I did this summer, the exhibition was like embedding in Mutu's mind: Black globes of crumpled plastic hang on strings suspended from the ceiling, a looping video of the artist devouring cake flickers on the floor, and triumphant warrior women occupy magnificent collage landscapes on the walls.
Mutu, a Brooklyn transplant via Nairobi, deploys mixed media to grapple with themes of consumerism and colonization, of gender and race—and war. Her large, lush collages draw from images familiar to us, such as magazine photos of bare flesh and car engines, which she transforms into works that are mysterious, beautiful, and somewhat terrifying. Her animated short, The End of eating Everything, done in collaboration with the singer Santigold, depicts a colossal machine/beast/planet feeding on black birds while floating in a vast industrial dead space. In an interview discussing the piece, Santigold praised Mutu for her "explosive renewal" of artistic expression at a time when vapid materialism dominates the popular culture.
Mutu's work has shown all over the globe, from New York's MOMA to London's Tate Modern. On Friday, her Fantastic Journey continues with an opening at the Brooklyn Museum. Mutu took a break from installing to speak with me about warrior women, consumerism, and why magazines are the "fecal matter of society."
In this era of hypercompetitive parenting, more families are choosing to delay their children's entry into kindergarten, under the impression that the kids will have an academic and social advantage. In fact, a 2008 study by Harvard researchers claims that since the late 1960s, the number of six-year-olds in first grade has dropped by 9 percent because they are increasingly likely to be enrolled in kindergarten.
No one disputes the immediate results of "redshirting," a phrase borrowed from the sports world. Six-year-olds categorically test better than five-year-olds in kindergarten, and they enjoy greater social and physical maturity that helps them make friends and win at tag. But there's a growingdebate about the effectiveness of redshirting in the long term—not only for the kids held back, but for their peers, as well.
Some context: Like private school, redshirting is most prevalent among white, Asian, and relatively wealthy families. Here's 2010 data from the National Center for Education Statistics on the percentages of kids delaying kindergarten:
There are several factors at play here, including the traditional wisdom, backed up by research, that shows little boys to be particularly fidgety in kindergarten. That said, the most striking disparity is also the most worrying. For families earning the least in this country, redshirting is cost-prohibitive (PDF). As higher-income families delay their kids' kindergarten entry, children from lower-income families end up "competing" against older and more-prepared classmates—at a crucial time for learning and development.
What's more, a growing body of research suggests that redshirted kids might not enjoy benefits over the long run, anyway. A 2007 paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research argues that "contrary to much academic and popular discussion of school entry age—being old relative to one's peers is not beneficial." (Also, unpublished research from 2012 found that the advantages of redshirting "fade out and appear to reverse by eighth grade.")
Until more-conclusive research emerges, well-meaning parents are likely to continue redshirting their children. And depending on the individual child, that could be the right choice. But as Harvard researcher David Deming says, it's crucial that parents "make a decision with the whole life course in mind."
"How many different ways are there to say that the Tea Party Republicans are both crazy and stupid?" wondersThe American Prospect's Paul Waldman as the defund-Obamacare-or-shut-down-the-government showdown approaches. Answering that may be like counting how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, but here are 10 colorful ways of filling in the sentence "Congressional Republicans are like…"
Honorable mention: "John Boehner is like a preschool teacher who can't control his class, so he's letting the class eat Play-Doh, despite the fact that eating Play-Doh is going to make them sick, and he can't do anything about it."
"If this was only the start of the darkest part of his life, Timkin marveled at what he'd already been able to make of it."
Thus concludes Balloon Night, one of the sad yet joyous stories in Stay Up With Me, a new collection out this week from Tom Barbash, former small town reporter turned fiction writer.
Timkin, the protagonist of Balloon Night, faces an onslaught of holiday revelers streaming into his Manhattan apartment for the Thanksgiving blowout party he hosts with his wife every year. Except she left him for good two days ago, with no way to cancel the festivities on such short notice. So he endeavors to drown her absence in booze and friends until, at the climax of the night, the desperate realization that she isn't coming back sets in with an inexplicable wave of euphoria. "To Amy!" he calls out, toasting the poignancy of his pain.
The characters that populate Barbash's stories are all hurting—some of them quite badly. But it doesn't diminish their capacity for wonder. They collide with life, losing siblings and spouses, parents and children. They suffer bad stepfathers and endure the exploits of their sexually active offspring. The magic of the stories comes in the small, transcendent moments when the world crushing in doesn't seem so bad.
Barbash has published two books previously: the award-winning novel The Last Good Chance, based on the years he spent reporting in upstate New York, and the New York Times bestseller On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, and 9/11, a nonfiction account of the revival of the financial services firm after it lost nearly seven hundred employees in the Twin Towers. He teaches in the MFA program at California College of the Arts and lives in Marin County, Calif.
I caught up with Barbash to ask about class, clueless New Yorkers, and JD Salinger's lost works.
Things have gotten so bad recently on the streets of South and West Chicago, Chi-town has earned a new moniker: "Chiraq." But the city's troubles with gun violence are old news—see our earlier chat with the filmmakers behind The Interrupters—and we've become desensitized. This gripping new documentary short, titled Chi Raq, by London-based filmmaker and photographer Will Robson-Scott is sufficient to shake you from the comfort of your armchair liberalism and give you a fresh dose of reality as it applies to Chicago's poorest neighborhoods. I caught up with Robson-Scott to find out how he navigated these dangerous streets, and get his take on what's wrong with America.
Mother Jones: A refreshing thing about your documentary style is that you don't seem to have an agenda: You just take a complex issue and focus on those affected by it. Are you trying to help us understand what's happening in Chicago at a more visceral level?