2011 - %3, May

Congressman: Why Is TSA Skipping Arabs?

| Tue May 31, 2011 7:20 PM EDT

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a video of Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) talking about the TSA. According to Rep. Broun's statement on C-SPAN's Washington Journal, he saw the TSA pat-down a grandmother and a young child and let a man in "Arabian dress" sail right through. From Rep. Broun (10 minute mark in video embedded below): 

"And then right behind him [small child], was a guy in Arabian dress who just walks right through. Why are we patting down grandma and kids? We need to focus on those people who want to harm us. We have to identify those people, we do that through human intelligence, we do that through trying to get into the inner circle... and then focus on those individuals, not on the general public. Unfortunately, I think the Department of Homeland Security has focused more on the general public and has been afraid of political correctness: we've got to forget political correctness. We've got to start focusing on those people who want to harm us as a nation."

I'm not sure exactly what Arabian dress is (maybe baggy pants and a vest like Aladdin's?), but I actually agree with some of the things Rep. Broun is saying. I'm with Rep. Broun on the idea that the TSA needs to stop invasive searches and scans of the general public (which miss a lot of stuff anyway) and devote resources toward identifying actual, intended terrorists and their targets. However, Rep. Broun loses me when he implies that a dude in Arabian dress isn't part of the "general public". I can't tell if Rep. Broun wants the TSA to crack down only on men in ethnic dress, or on grandmas in Arabian dress too, but at any rate, stereotyping people and treating them differently based solely on their appearance isn't just "politically incorrect": it's discrimination.

In case Rep. Broun doesn't realize it, profiling has been happening for a while now, actually: many people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent have been erroneously suspected of terrorism, either by the TSA, pilots, flight attendants, or even fellow passengers. However, these amateur profilers fail to differentiate between a possible terrorist and, say, an economics professor at California State University. If Rep. Broun needs more examples, I'm sure the ACLU would be happy to provide them.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Top Media Policy Stories of the Week: Your So-Called Private Life

| Tue May 31, 2011 5:27 PM EDT

Editor's note: Every other week, The Media Consortium rounds up the latest media policy news in a blog called the The Wavelength, posted below.

Smart phones are hip, trendy, and loaded with user-friendly apps. But these devices also collect and store your personal information, leaving huge security gaps.

The prevalence of spyware in mobile technology and social networking sites has huge implications as a privacy issue, since users have no way of knowing who's peeping, or for what purpose. New concerns over mobile and Internet privacy have been raised at the federal and state level, and there's already push-back from some of the major players in the tech industry.


Privacy Please

As Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) writes for Care2, recent studies indicate smart phones and other mobile apps are being used as remote spyware. Franken, one of the leading advocates for Net Neutrality and other media policy issues on Capitol Hill, notes that researchers found that "both iPhones and Android phones were automatically collecting certain location information from users' phones and sending it back to Apple and Google—even when people weren't using location applications."

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [17]

| Tue May 31, 2011 3:49 PM EDT

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.)

Asobi Seksu: Music for Space Travel?

| Mon May 30, 2011 7:20 AM EDT
Asobi Seksu in Nottingham

You could call it dream pop. Or shoegazing. Music you could fall asleep to. Asobi Seksu lead singer Yuki Chikudate's soft-soprano voice transcends time and space, channeling tones that compel you "to turn off all the lights, put some candles on, and drift into heaven." Layer that with the ebb and flow of rolling drums, heavy guitar riffs, and adorn it with the jingles of a tamborine, and you get what drummer Larry Gorman calls "a big sonic expression." If supernovas made noise, this would come pretty close.

Asobi Seksu (Japanese for "playful sex") doesn't fit squarely into a single genre, and so it ends up being described by phrases rather than single adjectives: "a hyper-stylized and glitzy graphic design sense," for example. And despite the band's name, Chikudate's lineage, and her tendency to sing in Japanese, Asobi Seksu isn't quite the Shibuya import that some like to label it. Many of the band's biggest influences hail from places closer to its Brooklyn home, from Yo La Tengo (Hoboken, NJ) and Sonic Youth (NYC) to Tom Waits (Pomona) and The Beach Boys (So. Cal.). Which makes sense, considering Chikudate grew up in Los Angeles and has lived in the Big Apple since she was 16—not to mention Gorman's lifelong affection for the late punk-and-blues haven, CBGB.

Tonight, the band returns to San Francisco's Bottom of the Hill for an encore show as it tours in support of its latest (well-received) album, Fluorescence. In the clip below, Chikudate (with Gorman) tells me about learning to sing, moving to New York, and why you should never say "asobi seksu" to a Japanese person.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

Over-the-Top Pop: Matt and Kim

| Mon May 30, 2011 7:00 AM EDT

The dynamic pop duo Matt and Kim are coming to a venue near you as they tour in support of their second full-length LP, Sidewalks. The Brooklyn-based pair, known for their uppity tracks and seemingly bottomless pit of performance energy, have graduated from the tiny clubs of their youth to midsize spots like DC's 9:30 Club, The Vic in Chicago, and Oakland's Fox Theater. Still, if you liked what you saw on their last tour, you shouldn't be disappointed with a less intimate space.

"We just keep doing what we always do, which is essentially embarrassing ourselves," Matt Johnson, the group's singer, told me. "We talk to the audience and jump around. Whether it's a smaller venue show or a big festival, we do a similar thing, and it seems to work."

For the audience, it does work—Matt and Kim's live shows are ultra-entertaining, despite the elementary nature of the music. Johnson, who plays the keyboard, and Kim Schifino, the band's drummer, are self-taught musicians who pride themselves on keeping it simple. Basic melodies, pleasant vocals, and bold percussion are what the Matt and Kim brand is all about, and Johnson and Schifino want to keep it that way.

"How to Die in Oregon" Takes an Intimate Look at Physician-Assisted Death

| Fri May 27, 2011 12:43 PM EDT
Cody Curtis, who suffered from terminal cancer, took her own life under Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.

How to Die in Oregon is a powerfully intimate documentary that could (probably) make just about anyone a fierce supporter of a person's right to stop living on their own terms. The film, directed by 31-year-old Peter D. Richardson, gives viewers a window into the lives of terminally ill Oregonians deciding if and when to end their lives by enacting the state's 1994 Death With Dignity law.

Richardson says he was inspired to make the film in 2006 when the Supreme Court upheld, after a lengthy legal attack by the Bush administration, an Oregon law that allows a patient given six months or less to live the option to take his or her own life using doctor-prescribed drugs. The rules: the patient must be lucid when they ask for the life-ending medication in front of two witnesses, and when the moment comes, the drugs must be self-administered. Viewers get to see one example of the law in action with the fiesty, geriatric Roger Sagner. He opens the film preparing to die in front of a swath of family and friends. He thanks the voters of Oregon for their wisdom in passing the law, drinks a cloudy glass of lethal medication mixed with water, and then just before he drifts off, says, "It was easy, folks."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

He Binded Me With Science!

| Fri May 27, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Jonathon Keats. Photo: Akim AginskyJonathon Keats. Photo: Akim AginskyTwo weeks ago, my longtime partner Mike and I became the first couple in the universe to get entangled. This wasn't some pseudo-marriage, engagement, or commitment—entanglement is much bigger than that. It is the most progressive, state-and-church-free alternative to marriage.

"Quantum Entanglement" is the latest cross-disciplinary invention of the San Francisco-based experimental philosopher and writer Jonathon Keats. His rigorously tested apparatus, previously only used by scientists in military cryptography, applies the principles of quantum physics to the irrational realm of human relations.

It requires no contracts, no paperwork, and no loads of cash. There are no restrictions on who may be entangled to whom. "After 5,000 years of man-made laws, often exclusionary or punitive, science promises to liberate marriage through technology freely offering entanglement to everybody," Keats argues. There is absolutely nothing anti-gay-marriage legislators or church officials in your state can do about this. How does it work? Keats' apparatus uses photons (i.e., light) to conjoin subatomic particles such as electrons to each other. "When two or more particles are entangled, they behave as if they were one and the same. Any change to one instantaneously and identically changes those entangled with it even if they're a universe apart," he explains. "Just try doing that in a marriage contract."

Quantum Entanglement Apparatus. Photo: Jonathon KeatsQuantum Entanglement apparatus. Photo: Jonathon Keats

I first met Keats five years ago at the San Francisco Art Institute where he shocked my atheist partner and others in the audience with his and some UC Berkeley scientists' attempt to genetically engineer God through discovering Her DNA. Next time we saw Keats, he was mucking in the dirt at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts dressed in a three-piece tweed suit, looking like what one person described as "Al Capone's accountant." Keats was installing the "The Honeybee Ballet" project, where he timed the blooming of plants in different parts of the city, choreographing the movements of unsuspecting bees who pollinated in the elite museum spaces that traditionally exclude insects, dogs and all cats. Keats then briefly dabbled in amateur filmmaking producing porn for plants, and it appears this phase was the most lucrative of his career. About a month ago, he launched a gourmet restaurant for plants in Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum.

A few weeks ago, Keats' wife, Silvia Pareschi, invited us over for plant-inspired risotto. As Mike lamented my increasing weekend hours reporting on students and teachers, Keats revealed his latest invention as a possible cure for "too much work." He pulled out a small, elegant metal and glass apparatus that he set on the dining table, and we moved our chairs closer next to each other. The light hit the machine just right, our electrons started to conjoin (metaphorically, because there was no sunlight that day), and Mike made an inappropriate joke. We held our hands and made promises to spend more time together. Then Silvia poured us another glass of wine. It was the easiest commitment I'd ever made.

Still confused? Check out this video with Keats explaining how the apparatus works.

Entanglements are available in New York from May 12 to July 30 at the AC Institute. More cities to come soon.

Readers' Weirdest Pregnancy Advice

| Wed May 25, 2011 2:33 PM EDT

When I wrote a brief blog post about the three weirdest pieces of pregnancy advice I had gotten so far, I didn't realize what a response it would provoke. Our generous (and humorous) readers gave us nuggets of wisdom they'd been offered while pregnant, everything from the merely bizarre to the downright dangerous. My three favorite reader submissions are below. Thanks to all who contributed. It's been illuminating, and I certainly hope someday MythBusters will do an episode devoted to busting the most common falsehoods, like that a cat will "steal a baby's breath." Until then, MythBuster Kari Byron does a great job debunking some of them.

#1: "While pregnant with my first child, my great Aunt Myrtle told me that if I wanted to have 'boy children' I should douche with Tide... yes, Tide—the laundry detergent." [MotherJones.com commenter K Trampus]

#2: "I was told if I crave a certain food and didn't eat it right away I had to touch my butt because the baby would get a birthmark in the place I would touch first.... so better to have a birthmark on the butt than the face." [Facebook commenter Tricia Rudd] The craving/birthmark association was mentioned by more than one reader.

#3: "Don't raise your arms above your head because the umbilical cord will get wrapped around the baby's neck!" This myth was submitted by several readers.

Honorable mention: "My mother was told by her doctor 'Don't drink... because you might fall down and hurt the baby'" [Facebook commenter Carolyn Peace]

 

Venn Diagram: Rape vs. Flat Tire

| Tue May 24, 2011 3:45 PM EDT

Outrage followed after Kansas state Rep. Pete DeGraaf compared being raped to getting a flat tire. During a House discussion of a bill that will ban insurance companies from covering abortion insurance under general healthcare plans, DeGraaf said women needed to "plan ahead" for being raped and possibly impregnated against their will. From the Associated Press

And Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican who supports abortion rights, questioned whether women would buy abortion-only policies long before they have crisis or unwanted pregnancies or are rape victims.

During the House's debate, Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican who supports the bill, told her: "We do need to plan ahead, don't we, in life?"

Bollier asked him, "And so women need to plan ahead for issues that they have no control over with a pregnancy?"

DeGraaf drew groans of protest from some House members when he responded, "I have spare tire on my car."

"I also have life insurance," he added. "I have a lot of things that I plan ahead for."

As many have pointed out, preparing to get a flat tire is not the same as preparing to be raped. You won't get HIV from a flat tire, for example. Nor will you get pregnant. To help Rep. DeGraaf understand the many differences between rape and a flat tire, I've made the Venn diagram below. But I can't help but think it's not that he doesn't know the difference: it's just that he doesn't care.

 

 

will.i.am's Advice for Graduates

| Tue May 24, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

"Some kids are born with a silver spoon. I didn't even have spoons, wooden or plastic," will.i.am, the front man of Black Eyed Peas and creator of the viral "Yes We Can" video, told 111 high school graduates of the after-school college prep program College Track at a ceremony on Friday. "You and I come from the same place. I am so proud of you. I can write a song about dancing, ... but what you are doing is way cooler. Going to college is way cooler." Ana Avalos, a Mission High School senior who's been with College Track for four years, sat in the front row and snapped pictures of the singer as he spoke.

Like most College Track graduates Ana sat next to, she will be the first in her family to go to college. Ana's parents are farmers in southern Guatemala, and she moved here with her sisters four years ago. "When I first came here, I could barely say a sentence in English," she told me on our ride over to the ceremony with will.i.am. "College Track was like family to me, helping me with homework, making sure I remember important deadlines, and helping me get scholarships," she explained. Co-founded 13 years ago by Laurene Powell Jobs and Carlos Watson, College Track works with low-income high school students in East Palo Alto, San Francisco, Oakland, and New Orleans. Since nationwide, only about eight percent of low-income students of color earn a bachelor's degree, College Track counselors help students with academics, life and leadership skills from the ninth grade all the way through college graduation. Ana will be going to UC Santa Cruz this fall. 

Ana Avalos (center) and College Track graduatesAna Avalos (center) and College Track graduatesWill.i.am had some suggestions for Ana and her College Track classmates Friday. "As you get to college, don't get caught up in some love. Don't get distracted by some dude or some girl. 'Oh, she doesn't like me.' This is way bigger than that. You've worked too hard to get here, so don't get caught up in this love thing," was his first piece of advice.

"Don't go to college just to get a degree. I see too many people doing that," will.i.am added next. "I hope you are in this for something bigger. Contribute to the state of America, create jobs, change this country. Mark Zuckerberg is so young. Think about how many jobs Facebook created."

Will.i.am wants to bring College Track to East Los Angeles, where he was raised. "I grew up in the projects of east Los Angeles. I had a lot of help, and a lot of encouragement from my mother. If I didn't have that, I probably wouldn't be alive," he told Ana and other graduates. Will.i.am also partnered with College Track for the first time to award seven $40,000 college scholarships this year. His mother picked the winners, he said.

His last word to the graduates? "Go out there, and do this for your family and for your country, and if you don't, my mom will come and whup your ass," will.i.am said to roaring applause from students and families.

*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: "Gourmet Bribes for Test Score Improvements." Plus: Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get all of the latest education dispatches.