2010 - %3, July

Film: Restrepo, South of the Border

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 6:04 PM EDT

RestrepoCourtesy Cinema Libre Studios

Restrepo

In 2007, journalist Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington climbed aboard a military helicopter headed to Afghanistan's remote Korengal Valley to report on frontline life. Over the next 15 months, they returned 10 times to the distant Army outpost, getting an unparalleled glimpse of the mix of boredom, fear, and adrenaline that made up the soldiers' lives.

The result is Restrepo, a harrowing documentary that tracks the deployment of a scrappy 15-man platoon from the 173rd Airborne through its life cycle, from naive bloodlust to fatigue and disillusionment. The filmmakers avert their gazes from the worst violence—such as when a soldier is shot in the head. The faces of the survivors are perhaps more disturbing. In introspective interviews conducted after the deployment is over, the symptoms of PTSD begin to emerge.

Restrepo is not intended as an anti-war film; it is singlemindedly faithful to the experiences of the soldiers it portrays. But it's hard to conceive of a more effective piece of propaganda against sending teenagers into the wilderness to watch one another die. —Jascha Hoffman

 

South of the Border Courtesy Outpost Films

South of the Border

Taking a break from Hollywood, Oliver Stone presents a glossy portrait of the Bolivarian revolution that swept South America during the last decade. He schmoozes with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Bolivia's Evo Morales, among others—casting them as champions of the poor who courageously stood up to the United States and the IMF.

South of the Border does give a good sense of our nation's meddling and its subjects' humanity. But softball questions (along with a stage-managed scene of Chávez tottering on a kid's bike in his childhood backyard) make for an uncritical, top-down approach to understanding a populist movement. —Michael Mechanic

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Jesus, Flags, and Water-Park Profits

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 5:58 PM EDT

From New Hampshire, the home of Dixville Notch and the Old Man of the Mountain, comes news of a supernatural sort: Operators of a water park are insisting that Jesus Christ, son of God and savior of mankind, appeared to them in a flag. And boosted business by 200 percent.

It's all happening at the Liquid Planet Water Park in Candia, where the flag (pictured in this link, with the Shroud of Turin-like stain) was unfurled at the beginning of this season—and where every day's been sunny and busy since then, say (some) park employees. According to the venerable New Hampshire Union Leader:

Lifeguard manager Sara Schlachter said as soon as she saw the flag, she recognized the image as Christ.

"I'm not religious at all and I'm not much of a believer," she said, adding that she thinks the discovery of the image and the arrival of good weather are pure coincidence.

Kevin Dumont's sister, park manager Kelly Dumont, is also a skeptic.

"I think they're all a bunch of nuts. It looks more like a gladiator, or the Beatles," she said of the image on the flag.

To Dumont, it looks like an image of Christ, flanked by two other faces, with a starburst over their heads.

Obviously, reasonable people can reasonably disagree about an apparition of the Son of Man in a fluttering banner. But there's one thing on which we can all agree: New Hampshire has a very active marijuana legalization lobby.

Anyway, as far as the flag goes, that park manager's brother, Kevin Dumont, has enlisted the aid of a Catholic parish priest, Father Volney "Von" DeRosia from St. Joseph's Church in Epping, to verify the, um, truthiness of the Lord's linen likeness.

But Dumont insists the world's greatest carpenter and resurrector of souls has already worked his magic at Liquid Planet: "Since the face on the flag was revealed, the weather has been more than perfect, Dumont said. Business is up over 200 percent from last year...since the park opened on June 19."

Which is clearly the work of heaven. Not the fact that it's summer, it's a recession, and school's out. He works in such mysterious ways!

How to Bed a Rock Star

| Tue Jul. 6, 2010 11:43 AM EDT

In her new book, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn: The Rock 'n' Roll Field Guide to Guys," Nerve sex and dating advice columnist (aka Miss Information) Erin Bradley takes readers on a Journey (see what I did there?) of the rock stars and wannabes that we adore and abhor. Filled with quizzes, memes, true-life stories, and cheeky illustrations, her book demystifies 10 types of rocker guys, with advice on how to bed, wed, or behead them—depending on your inclinations. It's as entertaining as it is endearing. If you've ever wanted to know what kind of guy owns a gorilla suit but not an interview suit (Mannish Boy), the type who "cuddles so close you can hear his cells dividing" (Boy with the Thorn in his Side) or the one whose voice can induce pregnancy through a stereo (Sexy Motherf*cker), then look no further.

Mother Jones: First off, I have a huge crush on you. But you didn't write "The guide to seducing writers who live 3,000 miles away," so I'll lay low until you do. Why did you focus on musicians?

EB: I got over the “ZOMG I HEART BOYS IN BANDS!” thing in high school. But since then, I’ve always somehow managed to date musicians by default. Couple that with my five years as Miss Information and a deep, abiding love of rock 'n' roll, and a book like this felt really natural. I tried to wedge a few of my other lifelong loves—salt and birds of prey—into it but my editor told me no.

MJ: When you were little, did you dream that one day you’d write a book about how to bone dudes who act like Bret Michaels?

EB: No, I wanted to be a TV news anchor. Then a dentist. Then an archaeologist. Then a model. I did have Bret Michaels pin-ups on my walls starting at age 12. We had these things called “magazines” back then and I’d rip them out of Circus and Metal Edge and smuggle them out in my jean jacket at the corner drugstore. I was never the girl who was into New Kids on the Block or the Mickey Mouse Club. I liked my rockstars older—scuzzy and age-inappropriate.

MJ: As I was reading this, I kept thinking, Man, I wouldn’t date any of these guys! Then I thought, maybe it’s because I’m pretty gay. Still, would you want to end up with any of these archetypes?

EB: I would. All of them have redeeming qualities. Mannish Boy is great to take to boring gallery openings or wedding receptions. You’ll always have someone joining you in being wildly inappropriate. There may be some cultural references lost on a younger guy like Sweet Child O’ Mine but his lack of baggage more than makes up for it. Plus, the youth perspective is great if you work in a publishing or advertising job. You’re not fucking around, you’re researching. You can even put the condoms on your expense report.

Robert Byrd, the Fiddling Senator

| Mon Jul. 5, 2010 12:23 PM EDT

Last week, upon the passing of West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, MoJo correspondent James Ridgeway posted this video on his blog, Unsilent Generation. The fact that Byrd was an accomplished old-time fiddler was no secret to his West Virginia constituents. Old-time mountain music is mighty popular with Appalachian voters, even now. But like me and Ridgeway, most Americans probably had no idea the man had musical talents. Byrd recorded this album, Mountain Fiddler, back in 1978, by which point he was already a senator. It was released by County Records, an old-time and bluegrass label in Floyd, Virginia, active since the 1960s.

I emailed Alan Jabbour, retired director of the American Folklife Center, who wrote the liner notes, hoping to learn a bit about how it came about. "I knew Senator Byrd pretty well and recorded him for the Library of Congress," Jabbour wrote back. "And yes, he both fiddles and sings on the record. My friend Barry Poss recorded the actual LP record tracks and assembled the excellent back-up band of bluegrass musicians who accompanied Senator Byrd." 

Jabbour pointed me to West Virginia's Dominion Post, which had interviewed him. (He didn't feel like repeating himself.) Byrd, the paper reported, took up fiddle when he was young, and would break it out and play a few tunes on campaign stops now and again. "I think music was dear to his heart," Jabbour told the DP. "You don’t get to playing a fiddle like that just because it’s useful in politics. You only get there because you played the fiddle when you were young and threw your heart and soul into it."

There are plenty of hot fiddlers in Appalachia. How good was Byrd? "He wouldn’t have said he was a great fiddler," he'd told the DP. "But there is a level of fiddling that you can fiddle at and everyone would say that is good. That’s where he was."

His singing wasn't too bad, either.

Click here for more Music Monday features from Mother Jones.

Four Songs You Won't Want to Miss

| Mon Jul. 5, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Department of Eagles

TRACK 6

"Brightest Minds"
from Department of Eagles' Archive 2003-2006
AMERICAN DUST

Liner notes: Ethereal grace and toe-tapping energy intertwine on this anxious rocker.

Behind the music: NYU roommates Daniel Rossen and Fred Nicolaus launched their musical partnership in the early '00s. Though Rossen later joined the similar-sounding (and better-known) Grizzly Bear, they've continued to collaborate.

Check it out if you like: Wistful deceased folkies Elliott Smith and Nick Drake, Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks, and similar head-in-the-clouds types.


Love Language

TRACK 4

"Summer Dust"
from the Love Language's Libraries
MERGE

Liner notes: "Our hearts were beating like hummingbirds that night," sighs Stuart McLamb on this epic Morrissey-meets-Phil-Spector ballad.

Behind the music: North Carolina native McLamb launched the Love Language as a one-man studio project in the wake of romantic desperation and alcoholic excess. With its swooning melodies and soaring arrangements, this sophomore album is more polished than his debut, but just as charming.

Check it out if you like: Stylish rock-and-roll crooners in the tradition of Roy Orbison and Bryan Ferry.


KXP

TRACK 3

"18 Hours (Of Love)"
from K-X-P's K-X-P
SMALLTOWN SUPERSOUND

Liner notes: A raucous drums-bass-synthesizer trio from Helsinki, K-X-P stages a thrilling collision of dance, trance, and rockabilly on the most accessible track from its intriguing debut.

Behind the music: Former leader of the bands Op:L Bastards and the Lefthanded, Timo Kaukolampi has covered the rent by collaborating with Norwegian disco chanteuse Annie.

Check it out if you like: LCD Soundsystem, Suicide, Kraftwerk, and other synth junkies who refuse to follow the rules.


Tracy Bonham

TRACK 2

"Your Night Is Wide Open"
from Tracy Bonham's Masts of Manhatta
ENGINE ROOM RECORDINGS

Liner notes: Bonham blends her elegant violin and soothing voice on this breathtaking love song, declaring, "'til we are daisies I am yours for good."

Behind the music: Bonham made a mainstream splash with her 1996 album The Burdens of Being Upright and hit single "Mother Mother" but has charted an unpredictable path since, playing with everyone from Aerosmith to the Eels to the Blue Man Group.

Check it out if you like: Women like Shawn Colvin and Sheryl Crow, who balance the confessional and the commercial.

Ghana's Missing World Cup Fans

| Fri Jul. 2, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

The stands will be slightly less studded with red, yellow, and green at the Ghana-Uruguay World Cup game today in Johannesburg. One thousand Ghanaian football fans, bankrolled by their government to cheer on the Black Stars, have been sent home due to lack of funding. (North Korea pulled off something similar, but didn't even send their own citizens).

The fans were called back one day before Ghana's game against the United States last Saturday, which the Black Stars handedly won 2-1 in overtime. No other African teams have advanced to this stage; in fact, Nigeria's president suspended their national team because of their poor showing this year. Ghana's historic victory has advanced the team to the final 8, the third African nation to do so (Cameroon in 1990, and Senegal did the same in 2002). None have made it to the semifinals.

According to myjoyonline.com, a Ghanaian news service, the budget included visa fees, hotel accommodation, feeding, medical support, transportation and match tickets. In a statement signed by Deputy Minister of Information Samuel Okudzeto Ablakw, "Government indicated that it had budgeted for 15 days and though the Black Stars have qualified for the next round it was imperative for the supporters to be brought back home since government wants to keep within its budget and maintain prudence.”

Some Ghanaian citizens, questioning the validity of such spending, are demanding that the budget be made public. In response, the statement said that "once the fans return and the final computations are made, the cost of the entire exercise will be made public." Though politically stable by regional standards, Ghana has a GDP ($1500 per capita) nine times less than that of Uruguay ($12,700 per capita).

Both teams today entered the tournament as underdogs: this is Ghana's second appearance in the World Cup, and Uruguay is the first South American team other than Brazil and Argentina to advance this far since Peru in 1978 (though, in all fairness, Uruguay is a blend of past glory and underdog verve, having won this tournament twice—in 1930 and 1950, the first and fourth World Cups to take place). Uruguay (ranked 16th in the world) is largely favored to win, given that three of Ghana's (ranked 32nd) best players may sit out due to injuries.

The Black Stars are the last remaining African team in this year's World Cup, and enjoy a great deal of fan support from Africa and beyond. With tens of thousands of seats filled and vuvuzelas humming like a plague of locusts, a few less Ghanaians will go mostly unnoticed. It is a reminder of the economic and social challenges that many African nations face, compared to that of their American and European counterparts. But the torch that the Black Stars carry, the hope of a continent to win the tournament on its own soil, is a potent symbol of the Africa's resolve.