2011 - %3, May

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [16]

| Mon May 23, 2011 4:14 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.)

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Yelle's Safari Disco Universe

| Mon May 23, 2011 6:36 AM EDT
Yelle live in Brussels, Belgium

While listening to Yelle, you may sense a loose combination of urges to laugh, cry, and slap an ex-lover. The confused feelings can be frustrating (disregarding the fact that all of the songs are in French), since whatever your state of mind, you will not be able shake off the urge to dance. The French synth-pop trio—singer Julie Budet and producers GrandMarnier (Jean-François Perrier) and Tepr (Tanguy Destable)—delivers stretchy keyboard sounds punctuated by a steady booming beat and the occasional crack of a whip. Budet's youthful, silky voice ties it all into a neat package that is at once playful, rebellious, flirtatious, and meloncholic.

After the success of Yelle's first album, Pop Up, in 2007, the group is back with Safari Disco Club, reminding us that it can pack a mean punch despite being in a genre that is often taken as seriously as bubblegum and pigtails. Some American fans have already likened the 28-year-old Budet to Madonna, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga—minus their overwrought drama. 

Onstage at San Francisco's Regency Ballroom this past Thursday night, Yelle was a refreshing change. A petite-and-well-sculpted Budet, clad in a skintight red leopard-print body suit, danced around happily, unbound by choreography, in that girls-just-want-to-have-fun-gone-femme-fatale manner. Every now and then she donned a matching animal-print hood to create an air of mystery, and give a nod to her '80s hip-hop/Fresh Prince of Bel-Air phase. At the end of the show, she excitedly invited fans to meet the band outside.

Off stage, Budet was as comfortable and familiar as an old friend or a worn-in pair of jeans. Below, she takes a break from her pre-show sound check to talk about living the "simple life," baking, and Yelle's new video.

Black Flag's Final Tour: The Movie

| Mon May 23, 2011 6:30 AM EDT
Detail of a 1986 show flier

Black Flag's grueling tours are the stuff of legend. The band spent months at a time on the road, booking shows as it went, with certain band members reportedly eating dog food because they were that broke.

While front man Henry Rollins documented the rigors of touring with one of punk's best-known bands (Get in the Van), filmmaker David Markey captured the band's final, six-month trip across North America in 1986. Though the film, Reality 86'd, carries a 1991 copyright, Black Flag founder/guitarist and SST label owner Greg Ginn never gave permission for it to be released. The doc is legendary within certain circles, but not even bootleg VHS copies could be had.

Markey says, "I decided after 20 years just because one man [Ginn] doesn't want the world to see something doesn't make it right."

Earlier this month, using the power of the internet to slip around Ginn's notoriously tight fist, Markey posted his film on his vimeo page. As a cultural document, it's pretty cool. It recollects a particularly awkward moment in the history of punk, with the luminaries of the first ten years (Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Black Flag, Minor Threat) winding down or long gone and the next big wave (Green Day, Nirvana, Fugazi) still in its gestation stage.

As a movie, though, it leaves a bit to be desired. There's no real narrative or structure. Just jumping in a van with a bunch of guys, capturing the tedium, bad inside jokes, reactions of fans and passersby, philosophical conversations, and plenty of live footage. It's very meandering, not unlike The Rolling Stones' 1972 tour doc Cocksucker Blues—minus the groupies, planes, and copious drugs. And like Cocksucker Blues, it's cool to see—at least once anyway. 

UPDATE: Greg Ginn has since gotten the movie pulled from Vimeo.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

Do Republicans Make Tougher Professors?

| Fri May 20, 2011 7:23 PM EDT

Professor Talia Bar from Cornell University and Asaf Zussman from Hebrew University, looked at 3,300 college classes taught by Republican and Democratic professors and found that Democrats seem to be more egalitarian in grading. Republicans tended to give a lot of very high or very low grades, while Democrats have a more even spread. The study, to be published in Applied Economics, was previewed by Inside Higher Ed. From Higher Ed

Among grades given by Republicans, 6.2 percent were C- or lower, compared to only 4.0 percent of the Democratic grades. But Republicans were also more likely to give out A+ grades (8 percent of their grades, compared to only 3.5 percent from Democrats).

In addition to surveying professors about grade distribution, the study also looked at race. One of the more controversial findings in the study is that while black students overall did worse than their white peers, they were graded more harshly under Republican teachers than Democrats. It's hard to see if that really implies that Republican professors have any more inherent bias than their liberal counterparts, especially since Republicans only made up 10% of the teachers studied. In addition, it looks like the study only surveyed one elite university from 2000 to 2004, so there's no way to know if the results were specific to that school or region, or if they could be applied more widely. Another thing I wonder: would these partisan biases regarding race disappear at a school that had more black professors and/or students? The study only surveyed 11 black professors, and none of them were Republicans: so even though it looked like black professors graded similarly to whites, there weren't enough of them to include it in the study's results.

The Best American High Schools

| Fri May 20, 2011 7:00 PM EDT

Principal Eric Guthertz at a recent lunch celebration at Mission High. Photo: Winni WintermeyerPrincipal Eric Guthertz at a recent Mission High outdoor festival. Photo: Winni WintermeyerMission High School was honored among the top 7 percent of all US high schools on Washington Post's annual rankings list, published today. Only five schools in San Francisco  made this national list of 1,900 schools, and among the five schools, Mission High educates the highest number (by far) of Latino, African American, low-income, and English-learning students. The Post's veteran education journalist and columnist, Jay Mathews, described the newspaper's methodology for their rankings this way:

"We take the total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year and divide by the number of seniors who graduated in May or June. ... But this year only 7 percent of the approximately 27,000 U.S. public high schools managed to reach that standard and be placed on our list."

Why is the Post using this formula? Mathews explains:

"My method differs from how high schools are usually rated. Some lists use average SAT or ACT scores, state test scores or the percentage of graduates who go to four-year colleges. Those results are often so influenced by family income that you could get similar rankings by averaging the square footage of the students' homes. Many principals and teachers have told me they prefer a measure such as mine that puts weight on efforts of school staffs to prepare students for college. They say that shows the quality of the school rather than the economic status of the parents and gives schools full of impoverished students a rare opportunity to shine."

Yesterday I wrote about why students and teachers at Mission High feel that the state and federal "scales" for measuring the quality of schools are broken. According to current state and federal measures, Mission High ranks at the bottom five percent of all schools in the nation. "We send more African-American students to college than most schools in the district. Our student and parent satisfaction surveys are very high. Why isn't that considered?" Principal Guthertz wondered out loud. Looks like the Washington Post agrees. Maybe federal and state lawmakers will too, as they attempt to improve the current scales of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The NBA's Full-Court Press Against Homophobia

| Thu May 19, 2011 4:19 PM EDT

The Miami Heat handed it to the Chicago Bulls Wednesday in the NBA East Conference finals second game, and breaks in the action featured the usual: commercials for sports drinks. Beer. Razors. Cars. Deodorant. Oh, and a public service announcement on gay slurs and why you shouldn't use them:

Yeah, you saw right. That's Grant Hill and Jared Dudley of the Phoenix Suns, lending their voices to a spot produced by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN. "Using gay to mean dumb or stupid?" says Hill. "Not cool." A sentiment probably very much appreciated by the Suns' newly out president, Rick Welts.

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Area 51 and Roswell: The Craziest Theory Yet

| Thu May 19, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Area 51, Annie Jacobsen's new exposé of the military's so-secret-it-doesn't-exist base in the Nevada desert, is a very odd book. On the one hand, much of it is a sane, grounded history of the installation's key role in Cold War nuclear testing and spy-plane R&D, full of previously undisclosed information based on declassified records and dozens of interviews with people who worked there. It's a refreshing antidote to the popular idea, promoted by ufologists and screenwriters, that Area 51 is part of a massive cover-up involving alien autopsies and the reverse engineering of interstellar spacecraft. Those associations are understandable, Jacobsen explains: Area 51 launched its fair share of unidentified flying objects over the years; after all, it was in the business of developing flying objects no one (especially the Soviets) could identify.   

Jacobsen sticks to that sensible course for about 90 percent of the book. But the other 10 percent—the parts that are already getting attention in places like NPR's Fresh Air and The Daily Show—are kind of, well, nuts. Things get weird when she links Area 51 to the Roswell incident, the legendary crash of some kind of flying object in New Mexico in the summer of 1947. Jacobsen says the remains and debris from the crash were eventually brought to Area 51, where they were studied by one of her sources.

Based on this single, unidentified source, she spins a truly amazing tale of what really happened in Roswell. The crash didn't involve a weather balloon, as the Air Force insisted, or a UFO. Rather, it was a super-duper-hi-tech remote-control stealth Soviet flying saucer developed at Stalin's behest, designed by a couple of ex-Luftwaffe aeronautical-whiz brothers, and manned by "child-size aviators." These diminutive fliers appeared to be 13 years old and had oversized heads and "haunting, oversize eyes." But they weren't little gray men; they were "biologically and/or surgically reengineered children" created by…fugitive Nazi doctor Josef Mengele! The crash, reasons Jacobsen, was staged as part of a Kremlin plot to send Americans into a fit of UFO-induced hysteria.

Meet the Douche-itors

| Wed May 18, 2011 1:18 PM EDT

Today fashion bible Women's Wear Daily (WWD) published a super-manly article on the "dudes" who are the new generation of magazine editors. WWD's profile features three straight, white, male editors who live in a bro-tastic world where "these guys say 'Hey, man' as a salutation" and "practice their golf swing in the office." According to WWD, editors Adam Rapoport (Bon Appétit), Josh Tyrangiel (Bloomberg BusinessWeek), and Hugo Lindgren (New York Times Magazine) are "Dude-itors": editors who are so "neurotically dude-ish" they're revolutionizing the publishing industry. In the words of Time managing editor Rick Stengel, "They will be the guys who will figure everything out. Or not."

Here are just a few choice excerpts from WWD's look into the lives of these three dudes.

Dude-itors can do that—they're boys, they're men, they're literary, they're digital. They're bros who run a magazine.

"If you work in this industry, especially glossy magazines, there are a lot of women and a lot of gay men," said Rapoport. "The notion of being some meathead frat boy working in this business is not very realistic."

"He's both a bro and a dude," Tyrangiel said, describing Lindgren.

Or Lindgren on rocker Ric Ocasek... "I Love Ocasek. I love his pop songs, and men of my generation hold him in high esteem for marrying the hottest Sports Illustrated swimsuit model of all time." You go, Hugo!

Also, true dudes can jump onto a roof in Italy.

I think (pray) WWD is making all three Dude-itors look far bigger douchebags than they are. I personally find the entire article a sexist piece of bonobo feces, and I think it does a real disservice to men too. Just because you are a white, 30 to 40-something, straight guy working in journalism doesn't make you a frat-boy wannabe: it just happens that these three particular straight, white, 30 to 40-something Dude-itors are doing backstrokes in the Fountain D'ouche thanks to the guy who wrote the article, John Koblin. And one wonders: if these guys are so dudely, what are they doing in an issue of Women's Wear Daily anyway? 

p.s. If you're wondering what the WWD article would look like dudettes instead of dudes, read Ann Friedman's masterful parody here, which features cameos by Mother Jones editors Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein.

The Top Media Policy Stories of the Week

| Mon May 16, 2011 6:03 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.

Another day, another media mega-merger. The latest? Microsoft is buying Skype, the Internet communications company, for $8.5 billion.

So exactly what does the Skyprosoft deal mean for consumers? That's the eight-point-five billion-dollar question. Public News Service's Mark Scheerer says the deal could be beneficial if – and this is a big ‘if' – "Microsoft will more strongly embrace network neutrality and other policies aimed at keeping the Web free."

Net neutrality is a key component to the merger because, according to the Media Access Project's Mark Wood, "without an open internet, large and anti-competitive carriers like AT&T and Verizon will have the power to cripple potentially competitive services such as Skype's that will depend on access to existing networks."

SNL's Take on the Corn Sugar Debate

| Mon May 16, 2011 5:35 PM EDT

A controversial commercial by the Corn Refiners Association told consumers that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is "made from corn, it's natural, and like sugar is fine in moderation." Over the weekend, SNL broadcasted its take on HFCS-pushing ads, which included an appearance by Bridesmaids star and writer Kristen Wiig. (Video below)

The Corn Refiners Assocation's series of commercials has tried to convey the message that HFCS is just as safe as regular cane sugar, as long as you consume it "in moderation." But is HFCS really the same as cane sugar? In a recent article in Mother Jones, experts said HCFS really isn't that different than regular sugar: both are pretty bad for you, and Americans eat far too much of both. The HFCS lobby wants to make sure consumers know that HFCS is just as bad (or as good) as sugar, and to wit, are lobbying the FDA for the ability to re-label HFCS as "corn sugar." If the corn lobby does win that victory, I'm sure a new slew of commercials (and parodies) will be in production soon after.