2011 - %3, February

Music Monday: The Presidential Mixtape

| Mon Feb. 21, 2011 7:56 AM EST

As you're surely aware, today's Presidents Day. And what better way to celebrate than with a mixtape? We scoured the Internet for a song about each president—44 in all, provided you count Grover Cleveland twice. The result is an odd mix, probably inappropriate for your next house party, but redeeming in its own way: Come for the Blind Willie Johnson, stick around for the straight-to-YouTube ballad performed by a Martin Van Buren impersonator (it's a niche market). In a neat twist, the most difficult president to find a song for, Chester A. Arthur, was also the one with the richest musical legacy: Chester Arthur Burnett, whom you know as Howlin' Wolf (Warren G., alas, is not short for Warren Gamaliel).

Anyways, check out the playlist here. And in the meantime, here's my all-time favorite: "No More Kings," by Schoolhouse Rock, via Pavement:

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#WIUNION: The Music of Madison, With Arcade Fire (Videos)

| Sat Feb. 19, 2011 9:25 PM EST

NOTE TO WISCONSIN GOV. SCOTT WALKER: If you're going to pursue a political agenda that alienates state workers and college students, and your capital's in a big ol' state college town, maybe you should at least wait till summer. Or the middle of a hot Big 10 football championship race. But no, you had to announce your plan to effectively end state employees' collective bargaining in mid-February, when classes are in, snow is on the ground, and the Packers are celebrating their title-year offseason. In other words, you gave the kids something to do. Like making and distribuin' the three five Wisconsin-related music videos below:

1) "Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protest," by Matt Wisniewski (with Arcade Fire). Don't let the long name fool you: This moving chronicle of the protests and their organizers is destined for viraldom—in fact, it's a lot better than anything to come out of the '08 Obama campaign, and that's saying something. Matt's a 22-year-old student at the University of Wisconsin with a penchant for photo, video, and apparently, Arcade Fire.

 

1.5) "Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protest, Part II" by Matt Wisniewski (with Mumford & Sons). Spurred by the success of his first film, Matt came back Feb. 18 and 19 with an HD camera and the saccharine track "The Cave."

 


2) "Firefighters at the Capitol," by YouTube user Jessarp24.
 OK, it's not exactly a music video; rather, it's a minute-plus of pipe-and-drum awesomeness from a protester chronicling the action inside the statehouse. Why's it important? Besides the fact that you can't have a good rebellion with bagpipes, it reminds viewers that Wisconsin's keepers of law, order, and public safety—the cops and the firefighters—are behind the unions and the protesters. Total number of arrests by Madison police at 5 p.m. Saturday: zero. What happened to all those lawless union thugs we'd heard all about?


3) "This Is What Democracy Looks Like," by Peter Patau (with Twisted Sister). A simple short chronicle of one Madison march, set to the tune of "We're Not Gonna Take it Anymore." As Patau says, democracy doesn't look like "your typical short network news montage headlined "State of Chaos" (NBC Evening News tonight) and giving the pro-union demonstrators and the Tea Party counter-protesters equal time, even though there were 70,000+ of the former and maybe 2,000 of the latter at best."


4) "This Party Took a Turn for the Douche," by Garfunkel & Oates.
On its face, this rollicking, hilarious video from the L.A.-based comedy duo might not appear to relate to the labor dispute in Mad City. But ever since Andrew Breitbart, Joe the Plumber, and the Koch-financed professional right-wing took advantage of the situation to bus in their own counter-protesters, there's been a certain something in the air...not unlike that douchy nightclub, which hours before seemed so promising, when last call comes around. Keep your eyes peeled for a Sarah Silverman cameo. Also referenced: Jim Croce, Von Dutch hats, Ed Hardy, Axe body spray, Golda Meir, Truman Capote, spray-on tanner, John Donne, Margaret Sanger. Ludicrously NSFW, but capable of producing uncontrollable chortles, nonetheless.

 

Readers: Got more videos we should add? Link 'em in the comments and we'll update the post with the best ones!

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [3]

| Fri Feb. 18, 2011 7:04 PM EST

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)

1. The Hard Luck and Beautiful Life of Liam Neeson | Tom Chiarella | Esquire | Feb. 15, 2011 | 21 minutes (5,192 words)

Standout celebrity profile. Neeson speaks for the first time about the 2009 death of his wife, Natasha Richardson—while wondering when, if ever, is the right time to open up to a reporter about a personal tragedy. He still has reservations about walking Richardson's dog in public, for fear of the "drama" and sadness that paparazzi photos could create.

"Liam Neeson and I last spoke a week before I wrote this sentence. At that time, I asked him what he remembered about the interview I'd done with him at a restaurant in New York almost three weeks before that. He said, 'I remember you told me that story about your accident, and that was pretty hard for you. I remember that you made me draw that picture of my house, and I remember that we talked about Natasha. I started to worry: Why would I tell him that? Why did I speak about the hospital? And then I thought, No, he's a man. This is not some newspaper story. So I wasn't sorry. Except about your accident. That was bloody awful.'

"Then Liam Neeson asked me what I remembered about the interview. I echoed him: 'You told me about your accident. You told me about your wife's accident. That was hard for you. You were upset. You got very quiet. So I traded stories. I told you something bad that happened to me. I have the picture of your house right here. I remember that your hand was shaking.'

"'You have to be careful,' he told me, 'in how you describe it.' I told him that was my job, to be careful with descriptions."

826 Valencia's Spelling Bee for Cheaters

| Fri Feb. 18, 2011 4:30 PM EST
Judge Jay Reiss helps Mythbusters' co-host Adam Savage pronounce a word

The atmosphere at San Francisco's Herbst Theater on Thursday night felt more like a high school auditorium than its usual elegant performance space. Hundreds had come to observe the Spelling Bee for Cheaters, a fundraiser for literary nonprofit and tutoring center 826 Valencia, and the air bubbled with the sounds of peppy teams cheering on their spellers. A team of librarians near stage right quietly practiced snarky rhyming chants, and teens dressed in bee costumes flitted around the orchestra seats. As the lights dimmed, the "Black Swan" team near the front row turned on their twinkling electric crowns, stood up, and in unison did a ballerina spin in support of their tutu-clad teammate on stage.

"Bhutto" Film Lauds Leader, Hints at Shadows

| Thu Feb. 17, 2011 7:00 AM EST

To hear an interview with Fatima Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto's niece and author of a new memoir, see "Fatima Bhutto on Pakistan, Egypt, and Middle East Unrest."

When a suicide bomber killed Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007 in her native Pakistan, not everyone was surprised. Over three decades, Pakistanis had watched three of Benazir's immediate family members murdered. Benazir had just returned from exile in Dubai in hopes of being reelected for a third term as Prime Minister, stepping back into the fast-moving and often bloody currents of Pakistani politics. It wasn't just their charm that earned the Bhuttos the comparison with the Kennedys: Upon reentering Pakistan, it was as if Benazir had unlocked the doors to her family's curse.

When the filmmakers set out to make the documentary Bhutto about Benazir, they too got a taste of the Bhutto curse. "Three days after checking out of the Marriot Islamabad," writes American director Duane Baughman, "the entire hotel was blown to the ground by a suicide bomber and a truck full of explosives, killing over 40 people." Despite this haunting experience, Baughman and his crew went on to interview dozens of allies, family members, historians, and academics and used unaired footage of the Bhuttos and audio recordings of Benazir create a dense, chronological look at Bhutto's tumultuous life and the predicaments in which her country has found itself over and over again. And though the film sympathizes heavily with Benazir, it also hints at the shadows inherent in her controversial persona.

Education Roundup: What's the Stimulus Doing For Schools?

| Thu Feb. 17, 2011 7:00 AM EST
  • 2012's budget proposal is in, and President Obama is pushing for $77.4 billion to go to education, reports The New York Times. The GOP? Not so much. If some conservatives have their way, the Head Start program can wave goodbye to $1.1 billion, meaning services for more than 200,000 children and the jobs of more than 50,000 Head Start employees will get eliminated. What's the GOP's rationale for proposing such harsh education cuts? "Throwing more money at our nation's broken education system ignores reality and does a disservice to students and taxpayers," Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) told the NY Times. "Over the last 45 years we have increased our investment in education, but the return on that investment has failed to improve student achievement."
  • That's not entirely true. American schools are actually better than they were 50 years ago, writes MoJo's Kevin Drum, citing scores in a recent report by the Brookings Institute. Sure, when compared to kids in other advanced countries, US students aren't exactly making the international honor roll, but they're still beating the country's personal average in the First International Mathematics Study. That's a boost, right?
  • Via Washington Post's Valerie Strauss, veteran teachers laid out their problems with Teach for America's focus on test scores and two-year teaching commitments, prompting educator Nancy Flanagan to ask why teachers who choose to work in classrooms for the long haul don't receive the same amount of recruitment, training, and on-site support as TFA.
  • Last but not least, parents in Mansfield, Texas made news by pushing their school district to turn down (indefinitely) a $1.3 billion federal grant that would have provided an Arabic language course in schools. MoJo's Tim Murphy covers the reasoning behind the hysteria, while Texas Insider's Dan Flynn writes the course will "sensitize" children to a different culture.

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Lara Logan: Reporting Rape vs. Sexual Assault

| Wed Feb. 16, 2011 8:04 PM EST

CBS has been (understandably) quiet about the sexual assault reporter Lara Logan sustained while in Tahrir Square. In fact, the network released only one statement noting that Logan had endured "a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating" before being rescued by women and Egyptian soldiers. Several news outlets ran with the story, quickly throwing up 30-point headlines that Logan had been "raped." Since then, the Wall Street Journal has quoted an anonymous source close to the matter who says Logan's assault was indeed assault, and not rape. In absence of further statements from CBS or Logan herself, there's nothing to make reporters assume the assault was rape rather than sexual assault. Briefly, sexual assault is an umbrella charge that can include rape, but it's not synonymous with rape. Usually, rape implies penetration or intercourse, while sexual assault is a much broader category of crimes including everything from groping to sexual harrassment to verbal attacks.

Most of the press, including major media, were careful to maintain CBS's wording that Logan had been "sexually assaulted" rather than "raped." But the media outlets that did report Logan had been raped did so unevenly and in contradictory terms. At times, the headline of a story would say Logan had been raped, but the actual story reported she'd been assaulted. In other instances, "rape" was only in the URL or Google News headline. In one confusing example, a San Francisco Chronicle blog quotes an unspecified source as saying Logan had been "brutally raped and assaulted." Further examples are below. 

The larger implications of this story are the lack of training, awareness, and accountability for the sexual assaults and harassment routinely encountered by female reporters in the field. Mother Jones's fearless human rights reporter, Mac McClelland, has an excellent post on that subject here. For me, it was disappointing to see that even though CBS only released a single, three-paragraph statement, it was still misrepresented by several media outlets. 

Melbourne Herald Sun: Logan is listed as raped in story headline, but not in story itself

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radar: Word "rape" is in tags and URL of piece, but not used in story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LA Weekly: Logan reported as "raped repeatedly"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MediaBistro: Rape is in Google News dek, not in story itself

 

 

Babble: In one Babble story, Logan is "under attack" in the headline, but "raped" in the story. In the second story, Logan has had an "assault" in the headline, but the story says she was interchangably "assaulted" and "raped".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mississippi River, Reimagined as Public Transit

| Wed Feb. 16, 2011 6:12 PM EST

I'm not sure if this, via Frank Jacobs, is necessarily the best map I've seen all month, but it certainly has to be a part of the conversation. Behold the Mississippi River drainage network, reimagined as a sprawling and somewhat ungainly public transit system:

Courtesy of Daniel HuffmanCourtesy of Daniel Huffman

Ok, so this thing's obviously in need of some connecting routes, but that's nothing a canal here and a portage there couldn't fix. I'd also extend a branch out to Chicago, which is a natural transfer point to the Great Lakes system. But it's pretty awesome, and captures in full the river's unique Flying Spaghetti Monster qualities.

Huffman, who put together the map of Twitter profanity that won the Internet last month, also mapped a few more river systems, which you can check out here.

Levi's Women's Jeans for Men

| Wed Feb. 16, 2011 4:45 PM EST

Levi's recently introduced it's new women's-style jeans for men: The Ex-Girlfriend Jean. "Remember the girlfriend with the great style?" the catalog copy reads. "Here's a tribute to her—a fit that's super-snug allover." Snug is right. Those jeans look tight, even if you didn't have testicles. Testes or no, why does the titular girlfriend have to be an ex? 

For women, there are all manner of products marketed as belongings of a current beau: the Boyfriend Sweater, the Boyfriend Jean, the Boyfriend Shirt. Urban Outfitters alone has 20 items with "Boyfriend" in their names, including this girly pink short-sleeved "Boyfriend" shirt with pearly buttons. In women's fashion, "boyfriend" has become shorthand for anything vaguely menswear-inspired or slightly oversized. And there's a reason those products are marketed as "Boyfriend" rather than "Ex-Boyfriend": marketers think women prefer to be seen as coupled rather than single. There's also that oft-reproduced, "sexy" image of a woman slipping out of a conjugal bed and into her man's wrinkled Oxford shirt. Another possibility: marketers think an oversized shirt won't sell to weight-conscious ladies unless it's labeled as literally belonging to someone else. Imagine: the Roommate Sweater. The BFF Jeans. The I-Found-It-On-The-Street Cardigan.

On the other hand, marketers apparently think men won't buy anything women-inspired unless it's associated with a female who is no longer in the picture. (I called Levi's for comment on why the company decided to make the jeans "Ex-Girlfriend," but my call was not returned.) Personally, I've only once seen a boyfriend wearing my clothes (an old pair of jeans) and the image was slightly disturbing, mostly because the jeans looked better on him than they did on me. It's telling that although I've often borrowed a boyfriend's coat or sweater, I've rarely had them borrow anything off of me. Maybe I'm just a terrible dresser, but it's also just physical reality: they're too big to fit into my clothes. The other part is, most men I've known have been self-conscious about wearing a woman's clothes, even if the clothing was unisex in appearance. Few guys want to be ridiculed for dressing like a girl, or looking like a girl, because (I imagine the thought train goes) looking girly=being girly. Being girly=possibly liking boys. Homosexuality and femaleness=bad.

Though the Ex-Girlfriend jeans are meant for men, some females are finding them a welcome alternative to women's jeans. One of the commenters wrote: "After trying on countless women's styles, I walked out with these. The rise is perfect, without being high-waisted. The ares which I guess is supposed to be a little more spacious for men leaves just the right amount of space for my curves."

"Waiting for Superman" at Mission High, Part 2

| Wed Feb. 16, 2011 3:00 PM EST

Several teens are visibly upset when Mission High School history teacher Amadis Velez turns up the classroom lights at the end of Waiting for Superman. One student, Karina,* wipes away mascara-tinted tears. Mr. Velez and his students sit in silence for a few minutes; they've just finished a week of "Education and You" discussions, but the damning education documentary still hits everyone hard. "How many of you are thinking of becoming teachers?" Velez finally asks. Four hands go up. "Only four? Why?" "It's so hard, and not enough money," Josue says. "They ask 200% from a teacher every day," Marisa adds.

"What will happen to Daisy?" Karina asks. Daisy is a young Latina student featured in WFS who applied for KIPP charter school admission but didn't get in. "How many of you here applied to other schools in San Francisco that get better test scores than Mission High: Lincoln, Galileo, Lowell?" Mr. Velez responds. Six hands go up. "Did your life end after you didn't get in and you landed at Mission?" "Noooo!" a few students respond in unison.

"Which facts in the movie shocked you?" Velez probes. "What we spend on prison inmates," a student with a pink Valentine's Day balloon next to her says. "How low test scores are in California and D.C.," says a student with large headphones around his neck. "Why is everyone black and Latino in that movie?" asks one student. "Remember the achievement gap we discussed last week?" Velez reminds him. 

"What were some of the most moving images?" Velez asks. "Lottery and tension," Jakob says. "Rubber rooms," Marisa adds. "Interviews with crying parents," a young man adds. "Lemon dance," the student with headphones says.

"Is the movie blaming anyone specific for these problems?" Velez asks. "Teachers!" students respond in unison. "Teacher unions too," Marisa adds. "The contract is only to protect 'lemons?'" she asks. "Teachers think the contract is more about the right to a fair process before you get fired," Mr. Velez responds.

"What do you think the movie says is a solution?" Velez asks. "Charters," Jakob responds without a pause. "Why?" Velez probes. "The movie says all kids there go to college," Jakob responds. "That's true, but does this happen in every charter?" Velez asks. Silence. "Did the movie say anything about that?" Velez asks again. Silence.

"What do you think Davis Guggenheim, the film director, would think if he looked at Mission High's test scores from the outside?" Velez asks. "Bunch of gangsters here," a headphones-wearing student says.

"Does anyone remember seeing this sentence?" Velez asks as he writes, "Only one out of five charters are successful," on the white-erase board. Students are shaking their heads. "You don't remember that?" Velez asks. Students are shaking their heads. "Why do you think you don't remember that?" Velez asks. A student in glasses responds, "Did he [film director, Davis Guggenheim] make a mistake?" "Maybe," Velez says. "But be sure to notice that all other statistics were attached to moving images of parents or students or cartoons and for some reason this fact wasn't. That's one of the major criticisms of the movie, that it omits this major fact," Velez explains. "Do you think that most people will see that one sentence in the movie?" "No," students shake their heads.

"How many charters do we see in the movie?" Velez asks. "Four," Marisa says. "Their sample of charters is too small," Jakob adds. "That's a fair criticism," Velez says. "If you were to write a review of the movie, what do you think it did well, and what would you say the movie didn't mention?" Velez asks. He passes out homework sheets and asks every student to write a review of WFS.

"He didn't interview teachers or students from public schools," Marisa says. "Also, California test scores are low, but he didn't mention how many immigrants are here. Our English test scores are bad, but that doesn't mean our school is bad."

"What do you think Guggenheim would think if he looked at Mission High's test scores from the outside?" Velez asks. "Bunch of gangsters here," the headphones-wearing student says. "Bad school," Marisa adds. "But we don't care about test scores!" a student in the back yells out. "Why not?" Velez asks. "They don't help us get to college!" he responds. "What would you do then to fix schools?" Velez asks the class, as he continues to pass out homework sheets. Students take turns calling out responses: "Make the [standardized] tests more meaningful; give more money to public schools in California; enforce laws that force students to come to school; remove teacher tenure," they say. It strikes me that Karina has been quiet for awhile; then I notice she's writing something. I lean closer and see that she's filling out a scholarship application for college. It's due next week.

*All student names changed.

Editors' Note: This education dispatch is part of an ongoing series reported from Mission High School, where education writer Kristina Rizga is embedded for the year. Read more: Meet the undocumented Mission student who got a Harvard interview—but doesn't want to go. Plus: Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get all of the latest Mission High dispatches.