2009 - %3, July

Book Review: Pushing Past The Night: Coming To Terms With Italy's Terrorist Past

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

In 2009, when you hear the word "terrorist," who and what comes to mind is no secret. However, many of us forget that in the 1970s, leftist terrorism was a major cause for concern. In the US, it was the Weather Underground, Symbionese Liberation Army, and Black Liberation Army who were the main proponents of these unlawful tactics. But Italy was the true global epicenter of these movements. From the late 1960s through the early 1980s, legions of Italy's most radical communists (led by the Red Brigades)  terrorized their country with regular bombings and murders in an era that became known as "The Years of Lead."

In Pushing Past The Night, journalist Mario Calabresi (currently the managing editor of Italy's La Stampa newspaper), takes readers back to these troubled times, starting with the events that led to the brutal murder of his father Luigi on May 17, 1972, when the author was just two years old. Calabresi goes to great lengths to explain why misguided left wing radicals have for years symbolically invoked the name of Luigi Calabresi when using propaganda to justify other heinous actions. With a remarkably beautiful translation into English by Michael F. Moore, Calabresi weaves back and forth between the 1970s and the present day, illustrating the lack of justice for Italy's criminals (many obtained immunity by moving to France or have been let off because of the statute of limitations, and some have even become high-ranking elected officials) and the falsehoods in the national consciousness surrounding the death of his father. To debunk the claims made by leftists that his father was guilty of a crime, Calabresi carefully and scientifically has many experts recreate the events of the death of Giusseppe Pinelli (whom the leftists claim his father killed), leading to the solid conclusion that Luigi Calabresi is innocent of all wrongdoing. Calabresi's discussion of how many of Italy's former terrorists became acclaimed scholars, intellectuals, and philosophers while serving little to no time for their crimes depicts the chaos and inadequacy of the Italian justice system, as well as how faux-revolutionaries are made into pop culture heroes.

What I appreciate so much about this work is Calabresi's ability to create such rich emotion while retaining his own values and morals. For instance, when writing about the Italian government's failure to inform his family that one of his father's murderers was released from prison, Calabresi notes, "I don't think the government should be required to seek victims' permission before passing laws or deciding whether to grand a pardon, parole, early release or supervised furloughs. Such matters should be carried out in the general interest, which might not coincide with the interests of the 'families of the victims.' If the state, the judiciary, the government or the president thinks that an act is appropriate, necessary, and justified, then the pain of private citizens should obviously not be an impediment."

This memoir presents history through many angles on poignant subjects that most Americans would likely only be aware of if, during the 1970s, they attentively read the foreign section of a national newspaper. For the rest of us, catching up on what we missed by reading Pushing Past The Night is the next best thing.

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Jamba Juice Gets Its War On

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 3:10 PM EDT

Get your Chimichurri Chicken Wrap on! That's the message of a new Jamba Juice website that blatantly rips off the late, great comic strip Get Your War On. It's got the familiar clip-art office drones, but they're no longer ranting profanely about the murderous absurdities of the Bush years and the depredations of global capitalism. Instead, these guys just want to "capitalize on a Gobble'licious Sandwich." GYWO creator David Rees, rightfully annoyed, has declared "No Juicetice, No Peace!" But he also gets that there's not much he can do about a big company appropriating appropriation from the cool kids. His advice to his supporters:

Pray. Pray for the destruction of the Temple of Juice. No, seriously? Just remember that most corporations are lame, and most advertising/marketing agencies are lame, and this kind of lame, dispiriting appropriation happens all the time. Just always keep that thought somewhere in your head. And drink wine instead of juice.

Though I'm kind of wondering if Rees didn't plant the seeds for the Jamba "tribute" site with his penultimate strip in January. Did this...

...get some ad team thinking it would be clever to answer with this?

End of an Era? California Cracks Down on Nude Beaches

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 2:43 PM EDT

Oh, the faded awesomeness of 1979, the year that Mother Jones ran a 12-page feature on America's "psychic renaissance," that string bikinis were in style, and that the California Parks and Recreation Department relaxed its policy on public nudity. It's the 30th anniversary of 1979 this year--a year that this writer turned three--and California has a message for you folks who are still livin' it: Hippie, put your clothes on.

Yesterday, a state appeals court ruled that California parks officials can prohibit nudity on any state beach. The state's laissez faire nudity policy had been challenged last year when Parks Director Ruth Coleman imposed a booty ban at Southern California's popular Onofre beach. Now of course, Onofre bathers will be using a little less suntan lotion.

Is the nudity fight a last gasp of California's hippie heyday? Public perceptions of naked bathers probably haven't changed much since the late '70s, but Gen Xers with kids might not be keen to share the beach with a bunch of proudly shriveled senior citizens. Still, the ruling doesn't apply to land owned by the National Park Service, which has preserved the freedom to bare it all. As the poet Emma Lazarous might say: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of hairy naked dudes, yearning to breathe free. . .

Above: Vintage Mojo cover. How sexy are these folks now?

 

How Henry Louis Gates Blew It

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 2:23 PM EDT

Smiling triumphantly, I opened the front door only to stare straight down the barrel of a police 9mm. I don't think I said a word. Just slowly put my hands in the air. Let the officer cuff me and put me in the cramped backseat of his cruiser.

The scene was Emeryville, California. It was 1993, and I had just entered an unlocked upstairs window to gain entry to the residence where my companion was house sitting. We'd accidentally locked the keys inside. The neighbors didn't know that, though. They just saw an unfamiliar white man trying to get in. Eventually, I was released, upset and humiliated to be treated like a criminal, but I knew better than to get righteous on a police officer. As I'd learned the hard way four years prior, that's a losing game.

Music Monday: Scarier Than Manson: The pAper chAse

| Mon Jul. 20, 2009 3:04 AM EDT

The pAper chAse
Someday This Could All Be Yours Vol. 1
(Kill Rock Stars, 2009)


Did you hear that Marilyn Manson put out a new record? Guess what? Nobody cares. That shtick isn't scary anymore. No one is shocked by a pale dude named Brian from Florida who calls himself Antichrist Superstar. With the world falling apart around us, all we have to do is turn on the news to get a little freaked out.
 
In contrast with His Freakiness, the Dallas, Texas-based quartet known as the pAper chAse takes its cues from things that actually scare people, and to each song title on this sixth release appends a mildly unsettling parenthetical, such as, "What Should We Do With Your Body (The Lightning)." These guys don't exactly break new sonic ground on this album—then again, when you specialize in highly unique nightmare soundtracks, reinventing yourself probably isn't a top priority.

The group's sound is dark, but not goth. Abrasive, but not punk. Not pop, but surprisingly…catchy? The rhythm section is massive here, creating spine-jerking grooves, with songs that shudder and shake as singer John Congleton—best known for his production work for acts like Explosions in the Sky and the Polyphonic Spree—wails over the cacophony like a soapbox preacher: I'll have you pictured in my head / All of you butchered in your beds / 'Cause God is everywhere / God is everywhere. (All this while wringing damaged notes from the neck of his guitar.) 

My least favorite track is "The Common Cold (The Epidemic)," whose weird circus vibe makes it feel out of place. That one aside, Someday This Could All Be Yours Vol. 1 is a solid addition to the band's growing discography. This music is definitely not for everyone, but if it strikes a chord with you, you should check out the band's earlier stuff, too (Hide the Kitchen Knives being my personal favorite). As the title indicates, Someday is the first part of a double album. With the economy what it is, I suppose you can't blame an artist for releasing a CD in two parts. Besides, it gives you the time you'll need to fully digest these songs.

Follow MoJo music reviews on Twitter via #musicmonday or at @MotherJones.

Music Monday: Barbershop Smackdown

| Mon Jul. 20, 2009 3:04 AM EDT

A teenager in a mohawk crooning barbershop tunes.

That's what greets me as I enter the Hilton in Anaheim, California, host city for this year's big international barbershop convention/competition. The spiky-haired troubadour (who, I come to find out, has a barbershopping grandma) is among 10,000 faithful who have converged on Disneyland's hometown to watch the world's masters of four-part harmony have it out. At the Honda Center, where the competitions take place, a scrolling billboard ticks off the venue's billings: Beyoncé...Metallica...The Barbershop Harmony Society.

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Dumbledore's Army

| Sat Jul. 18, 2009 6:01 PM EDT

I confess. When the seventh and final Harry Potter book was released I donned a Gryffindor scarf and was in line to get my copy at midnight. Any book that can move readers of all ages to devour tomes 600-800 pages long gets my respect. But, it seems the Harry Potter series has spurred fans to do more than organize wizarding conventions and start wrock bands (aka: "wizard rock"). The books have also inspired a philanthropic organization, The Harry Potter Alliance.
 
With over 100,000 members world wide, The Harry Potter Alliance models itself on the themes of human rights (and that of house-elves and warewolves) and social justice within the series, asking "What would Dumbledore do?" Chapters across the globe raise funds for aid in Darfur and Burma, book drives, voter registration and other "magical acts of kindness."

The organization's founder, 29-year-old Andrew Slack, began the registered nonprofit because he believes that, just as in the Harry Potter world, we are living in "dark and dangerous times."  The organization seeks to overcome the "Muggle" mindset by working to fight genocide, poverty, torture, global warming, and discrimination, including marriage inequality—and not just because (spoiler alert?) Dumbledore is gay.

The HP Alliance also asserts that just as the wizarding media and government ignored the return of Lord Voldemort in the books, our institutions choose to ignore the existence of the Dark Arts in our world. Hopefully they think Mother Jones is doing better than the rest of the Muggle media.

Chart Wars: Media Watchdog vs GOP

| Fri Jul. 17, 2009 5:39 PM EDT

In an attempt to scare the public regarding the Dem's health reform bill, Republican leaders have been pushing this chart. (That's not all they've released. Oh, and remember Harry and Louse? They're baaaack!)

Liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America struck back yesterday with this attempt to scare the public regarding the GOP's easy media manipulation.

So who wins? Gotta say, my money is on the GOP. It's easy to sit back and do nothing except scare people about changing our current healthcare system, which, by god, is the thing people need to be scared of.

As far as the media is concerned, well, I'd say the public is already pretty jaded.

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

A Starbucks by Any Other Name

| Fri Jul. 17, 2009 3:02 PM EDT

Three Seattle Starbucks locations are getting a homey makeover, the Seattle Times reports:

The ubiquitous coffee-shop giant is dropping the household name from its 15th Avenue East store on Capitol Hill, a shop that was slated to close at one point last year but is being remodeled in Starbucks' new rustic, eco-friendly style.

It will open next week, the first of at least three remodeled Seattle-area stores that will bear the names of their neighborhoods rather than the 16,000-store chain to which they belong.

The new stores will eschew anything that smacks of corporate branding—even their coffee bags will bear the name of the shop instead of the Starbucks logo. And the folksiness doesn't stop there, folks: Amenities will include beer and wine, hand-pulled espresso shots, live music, and poetry readings.

In order to figure out what makes neighborhood cafés tick, Starbucks HQ sent observation teams out to do some authenticity recon. Stealth missions these were not: One local coffeehouse owner told the Seattle Times, "They spent the last 12 months in our store up on 15th [Avenue] with these obnoxious folders that said, 'Observation.'"

Creepiness of rebranded coffee bags and synthetic hominess aside, there's actually something encouraging about this: Starbucks' attempt to emulate the little guys suggests local coffee joints are weathering the recession better than I thought. I had assumed mom-and-pop cafés woudn't be able to compete with the chains. Maybe I was wrong. Cool. But can the real little guys compete with the fake little guys? Man, oh man. Would that DFW were around to tackle that one.

HT J-Walk Blog.

Matchbox's Child Soldiers

| Thu Jul. 16, 2009 6:30 PM EDT

Kids and war—always a bad combo, right? Not for the folks at Matchbox and Ogiilvy & Mather, who just unveiled their "Young Warriors" ad campaign in Singapore. The photo-realistic ads depict tween boys as virtual GI Joeys, flying jets and attack copters and straddlng a battle-scarred M1 Abrams tank in what sure looks like Iraq.

Particularly creepy are the kids' stoic, hardened expressions. As Copyranter (H/T) notes, "I get the point: Matchbox makes realistic little war machine replicas. But what's with the thousand-mile stares on the young faux dogfaces?" (A commenter quips back, "You try living in the shit for a year when you're eight. You'll get the stare, too.") I suppose Matchbox gets some credit for not going for the "combat is good, clean fun" G.I. Joe-type vibe that's usually used to sell war toys. Though by not going that route, it's unintentionally created a campaign that makes war seem like anything but a game.