2010 - %3, June

Women Making (Sound) Waves

| Tue Jun. 29, 2010 11:47 AM EDT

The West Bank just experienced its first economic upswing in years, but here’s another cause for hope: Palestine's first all-women’s radio station launched last week. Nisaa FM—that’s “women” in Arabic—broadcasts a mix of news and entertainment from Ramallah in the West Bank for a few hours a day. The station's first shows have featured stories about female unemployment in Europe, the digital prowess of Arab women, and a profile of the Speed Sisters, a Palestinian race car team. Although it hasn't focused on Israeli-Palestinian relations yet, one of its aims is to inspire women living in a male-dominated, conflict zone.

“We suffer, as the rest of the women in the Arab world suffer, political Islam, which actually is putting more burden on the woman,” Wafa Abdel Rahman, a West Bank activist, told Voice of America. “We need a radio that brings out all these issues.”  The station’s founder and manager, Maysoun Odeh, told EuroMideastNews that she hopes men will also listen in. “Without men, we cannot do anything in this society, as is well known,” she said.

If Odeh’s past jobs are any indication, there’s reason to believe she can, in fact, draw a male audience to the female-led program. She once managed 93.6 RAM FM, a short-lived but popular English-language station that attracted large numbers of Israeli and Palestinian listeners. (The show’s final 2008 broadcast ended with John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance.") There's also good reason to believe that radio could succeed where other organizing efforts have floundered: Media experts have noted radio's ability to reach far-flung, less-literate populations, like the inroads that radio PSAs have made against female genital mutilation in Ethiopian villages, or the children's radio project in Senegal. Odeh certainly thinks it's possible. She said Nisaa FM's success stories, which range from international to local, will convince Palestinian women "that they can do something and they can achieve something regardless of the situation."

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6 Ways Air Travel Is Getting Worse

| Tue Jun. 29, 2010 8:49 AM EDT

Since the TSA stepped in and the airlines went bust, hating flying has become practically a national pastime. But there is some merit to this reaction: In many ways, air travel quality has been steadily deteriorating. Below, six ways flying is actually getting worse.

1. New Fees. Consumer Reports recently found that airlines collected $7.8 billion in 2009 in additional fees, a 42 percent increase from 2008. These fees are for everything from booking your ticket by phone ($20 on Continental) to checking luggage ($25 for the first checked bag on American). United charges you a whopping $50 "ticket handling fee" for paper tickets. Starting in August, Spirit will charge you $20 for your second carry-on. No wonder ticket fares are relatively low... they're making up for it with fees.

2. TSA/Security. While it's been shown many times that the TSA's guidelines on liquids, containers, and Ziploc baggies haven't stopped dangerous materials getting through, passengers must still display belongings and take off shoes and coats before agents. But wait, it gets better. Now that full-body scanners are being deployed in dozens of airports nationwide, TSA doesn't just look through your stuff: It looks through your clothes, too. Underneath the terminal, meanwhile, only 75 percent of cargo traveling on passenger planes is required to be scanned.

3. The Lists. The TSA's mysterious "No-Fly" list includes tens of thousands of travelers. According to the TSA, the No-Fly list "keeps known terrorists off planes," even if those "terrorists" are dead, senators, billionaires, or adorable six-year-old girls. Separate from the No-Fly list is the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database, which airlines use to screen for terrorists. The ACLU calculates there are about 1 million fliers on it, domestic and international. As the lists continue to bloat, it makes finding the real terrorists even harder. Delayed updates, faulty information, and mistakes in judgment have agencies stopping Nelson Mandela while Faisal Shahzad boarded a flight to Dubai and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a plane while on a US visa.

World Cup Censors Stadium TVs

| Mon Jun. 28, 2010 4:10 PM EDT

ESPN is reporting today that FIFA, soccer's world governing body, will censor instant replays on the large screens inside the World Cup stadiums, after footage of the first goal by Argentina's Carlos Tevez in yesterday's Argentina-Mexico match showed that Tevez was offside. The replay, which came in place of normally-scheduled "infotainment," spurred the Mexican players to protest the referee's call in real time. FIFA's answer: No more replays inside the stadiums.

"This will be corrected and we will have a closer look into that," a spokesman said today. "We will work on this and be a bit more, I would say, tight on this for the games to be played." This comes amid mounting evidence of the game-changing fallibility of FIFA's referees, who have made bad call after bad call in this year's World Cup (see: Koman Coulibaly).

Soccer is one of the last sports not to use video replay technology to corroborate decisions by its referees. FIFA's president, Sepp Blatter, has said that relying on replays would disrupt the "natural dynamism of the game" and, perhaps more significantly, he thinks it's better for business, er, entertainment to leave fans guessing. After rejecting a free upgrade in his Geneva home to a new HDTV box, which has instant replay capabilities—and after a valid goal by England's Frank Lampard was disallowed in Germany's second-round drubbing of England yesterday—Blatter told journalists: "I like not being able to see things again, and prefer to try and guess what happened from one viewing, rather than confirm my suspicions by rewinding the live action and confirming my thoughts either way." Really?

What happens when, byte by byte, footage of the most publicized, advertised, politicized sport in the world is available to audiences but not to referees? What of these apparent "blind spots" in sports, both accidental and enforced? This World Cup is expected to be the most-watched television event in history, with 22,750 hours of feed produced and SONY deploying new 3D cameras to film the matches. As FIFA buries its head in the sand, the world is watching—and wondering whether this uneasy marriage of access and willed ignorance can last. 

The Coolest CD Ever, and Less Than Two Bits!

| Mon Jun. 28, 2010 7:10 AM EDT

Hey, look what arrived in the mail!

Look closely: This isn't a CD. It's actual circuitry embedded in a jewel case. Awesome! If you're a musical artist struggling to grab the notice of busy reviewers, here's one way to do it—so long as the postal authorities don't mistake your thing for a bomb.

Now I must admit to having a small issue—literally—with the actual music. There are severe limitations when you're composing 1-bit ditties. By necessity, it's pretty cold, spare stuff: nitrous music for robot videos. (What's nitrous music? It's what I call stuff like this.)

Sure, 1-bit is kinda neat—even nostalgic for those of us who once ran out and bought the 8-bit Casiotone-VL1. (Here's a blurry 15-year-old me holding one—wish I still had it.) But despite the brief success of German band Trio, even 8-bit doesn't encourage repeat listening—and 1-bit can be downright harsh. Just compare Fischerspooner's original "Just Let Go" with Tristan Perich's 1-bit rendition. (You might want to lower the volume just a tad.)

I do love the concept, though. Perich has been experimenting with the form for a number of years now. This particular—uh, what to call it?—circuit is billed "1-bit Symphony." It will be offered in August by Cantaloupe Music, a New York label that puts out what was once called "experimental" and has been rebranded "new music": acts like Matmos, which plays on found objects including—wow—cow uteruses. (Where does one even find a cow uterus?)

15 Minutes with Rogue Cellist Ben Sollee

| Mon Jun. 28, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

Onstage at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Ben Sollee paints an unassuming portrait. He's small in stature, with the baby face of a teenager—despite being in his twenties and married, with a son. He sits on a low stool with only his cello as a companion. But as soon as he starts singing, his voice, silky with a touch of smokiness, fills the field where we sit and slides up the sheer peaks behind us, quieting the chatter of the crowd until all eyes are upon him.

A Kentucky native—his father a guitarist and grandfather a fiddler—Sollee was raised amid the musical traditions and culture of Appalachia. He studied classical cello and then teamed up with three musicians, including the legendary banjo player Bela Fleck, to form The Sparrow Quartet in 2005. Two years later, NPR's Morning Edition named him one of the "Top 10 Great Unknown Artists of the Year."

Fiore Cartoon: Tony Hayward's Glamorous Life

Thu Jun. 24, 2010 4:02 PM EDT

While oil continued to pour onto the shores of Louisiana, Tony Hayward spent the weekend at a yacht race around the Isle of Wight. You can't make this stuff up, so maybe it's time we gave Mr. Hayward his own reality TV show: Lifestyles of the Rich and Fossil Fueled.

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Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

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Pakistan: Mark Zuckerberg Must Die, Maybe

| Wed Jun. 23, 2010 2:52 PM EDT

Can you kill an Internet meme, or at least the folks who facilitate it? Pakistan's going to find out. In a case that pits religious strictures against the wide-open, freewheelin' cyber-world of social media groups, state authorities are mulling formal charges against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and some of his colleagues for allegedly insulting the Muslim prophet. It's a charge whose punishment ranges from a small fine to the death penalty.

Thing is, the allegations aren't about anything Zuckerburg and Co. did; they're about what Facebook didn't do--namely, put the kibosh on a springtime Muslim-baiting meme. Back in April, when Comedy Central decided to censor a not-so-flattering rendering of the prophet Muhammad on South Park, the blogosphere lit up in response. A spate of Facebook groups sprouted up to express solidarity with the show's creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, by promoting an "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" (graphic depictions of Muhammad are verboten according to Islam's hadith, the traditions and sayings of the prophet).

Of particular interest to angered Pakistani Muslims was a Facebook user identified as "Andy" (apparently a German woman), who launched the "Draw Mohammed" contest ostensibly as a means of "spreading...peace, freedom of speech, and human rights." However, the group had the opposite effect and triggered an Internet debate over the entire campaign's propriety. That's when this speech issue became a legal one. Pakistan recognizes Islamic Sharia law: Penal code 295-C states, "Whoever...by visible representation or by any imputation...defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to a fine."

A flurry of Pakistani court rulings in May put Facebook under the microscope. That all came to a head in Punjab province, where authorities filed an application for a "First Information Report," the initial step in a criminal investigation against Zuckerberg, two other Facebook employees, and "Andy." If prosecuted and convicted, Zuckerberg and the others will become wanted felons in Pakistan, though it's unlikely they'd be extradited.

The fallout doesn't end there. YouTube received a similar ban the day after Facebook's, "in view of growing sacrilegious contents." A draft of new censorship guidelines issued by the Pakastani government proposes the creation of "an effective mechanism to continuously monitor and control the objectionable/obnoxious content over internet [sic] in Pakistan." And the country's UN representative has requested that the issue be brought to the General Assembly for Facebook and YouTube's alleged violation of international communication standards.

Another hearing is scheduled for July 12th. In the meantime, Zuckerberg will most likely not be making any trips to Pakistan; he may need to save up to pay that fine, after all.

Mumble in the Jungle

Wed Jun. 23, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

May/June 2010 Issue

Back before John Hodgman made hobo names ironic, hoboes were anonymous laborers who crisscrossed the country in search of work. And as historian Mark Wyman writes in his new book, Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), they carried some heavy lingo with them:

Hobo: Origins unknown, but possibly derived from the English term "hoe boy" (for a farm servant) or a contraction of "Ho! Boy!" Also known as 'boes, bums, bindlestiffs, floaters, drift-ins, beeters, harvest gypsies, and almond knockers.

Freighting: Riding the rails. Preferable to "counting ties"—walking them.

Bulls: Guards hired to keep hoboes off freight trains.

Bo-teaser: A heavy pin attached to a long cord; dragged beneath moving boxcars by bulls trying to severely injure hoboes hiding there.

Jungle: The area near railroad tracks where hoboes slept, ate, and hid from bulls.

Snowdiggers: Hoboes who went south to Texas during the winter.

Buranketto boys Japanese migrant hoboes who took their name from their blankets.

Mission stiff: A hobo who got food from religious charities like the "Starvation Army."

Scissorbill: A hobo who wouldn't object to being treated badly.

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

| Tue Jun. 22, 2010 7:05 AM EDT

May/June 2010 Issue

Video games are supposed to rot your brain, but this thoughtful and funny game-by-game memoir makes a convincing case that virtual adventures can be as emotionally resonant as the real thing. For Bissell, gaming is truly a mind-expanding experience: "You constantly find things, constantly learn things, constantly see things you could not have imagined." He counts the 30 coked-up hours he spent playing Grand Theft Auto—and appreciating its surprisingly traditional moral code—among his most treasured memories.

Is English Killing Other Languages?

| Mon Jun. 21, 2010 7:16 PM EDT

A couple of years ago, I worked on a campaign that fought to preserve dying native languages. There was one story of language loss that I’ve always found particularly interesting: The Euchee people, now living in Oklahoma, have only four remaining fluent speakers, and they are each over 70 years old. The situation is sad, to be sure, as the loss of indigenous languages is linked to the loss of cultural diversity and, it is thought, even biodiversity, since indigenous languages preserve important biological information about the regions in which they developed. When they are lost, so is that knowledge.

The Euchee case is not an anomaly: According to UNESCO, half of the world's more than 6,000 languages are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people—and half of those are spoken by fewer than 1,000. But practically speaking, I can’t help but wonder if, in the long term, it’s even possible to stop most of the world’s languages from being driven to extinction by English, Spanish, Chinese and the other dominant tongues of globalization.