2011 - %3, July

Life of Bol: The Story of the NBA's Tallest Player

| Tue Jul. 19, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Manute Bol, the late NBA star and South Sudanese independence activist, looks on at a "Save Darfur" rally in April 2007.

When South Sudan became an independent country on July 9, dignitaries from around the world descended on the planet's newest national capital, Juba. But even as Juba rejoiced, violence continued to rage, with South Sudanese and their Nuba allies dying not only at the hands of the northern government, which continued its bombing campaign in the border regions, but also as victims of fellow Southerners, caught up in ethnic and tribal rivalries that independence could not end.

The incongruence between the euphoria in the capital and the slaughter in the hinterlands would have seemed strangely familiar to the late NBA star Manute Bol. Like the homeland whose birth he never lived to see, Bol’s life—richly chronicled by Jordan Conn in his new Atavist e-book, The Defender—was filled with spectacular contradictions and turns of fate. 

In order to wrap their heads around this ungainly 7-foot-7, barely 200-pound freak of nature from one of the most remote corners of the earth, many Americans relied on reductive simplifications: Bol was the NBA's first African-born player, its tallest player ever, a human stick figure. When that didn't suffice, they gravitated toward myth. To this day, perhaps the best-known anecdote about Bol is that, as a boy, he killed a lion. That story contributed to an only slightly less simplistic picture of Bol, one Conn describes as, "benevolent, fearless, almost superhuman." And yet, to this day, it remains unclear whether the story about the lion is even true.

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For Those About to Salute, We Rock You (Video)

| Mon Jul. 18, 2011 1:54 PM EDT

The military has used music to project pomp and boost morale since the American Revolution. Yet with American soldiers scattered across the globe, the days of marching bands following the troops into battle are all but over. As one of the authors of a new Army band field manual told the New York Times, "If it can't fit into two Blackhawks, it's not going to happen." That means deploying some of the 4,600 members of the more than 100 Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard bands to perform in "popular music elements" or "music support teams"—what civilians know as rock bands.

There are no fewer than two dozen official Army rock bands, with names like Show of Force, Gunpowder and Lead, Down Range, Night Fire, the Loose Cannons, Controlled Detonation, Sandstorm, 5-Star, and Burned Aftermath. They mostly play in uniform, performing covers of everything from classic rock to hip-hop. (They occasionally get to hang out with real rock stars like Gene Simmons.) In addition to entertaining the troops, the bands are also sent on recruitment tours: The Pentagon has clearly realized that teens would rather listen to Cee-Lo than Sousa.

Below, 10 videos of Army combat rock bands (and a couple of Marine and Navy ones) in action:

skArmy: What, Shock and Ska was already taken? Actually, the 300th Army Band's resident ska group plays a pretty catchy version of A-Ha's "Take On Me."

 

Marine Band San Diego: Members of this formal marching band lighten up to rehearse Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."

 

Arctic Groove Orchestra: Based in Alaska, the rock band of the 9th Army Band wants you to know it "does NOT play the national anthem." It does play OK Go covers, however:

 

Four Horsemen of the Arockalypse: A metal outfit attached to the Task Force Marine Band that has entertained soldiers in Iraq. Warning: May burst your eardrums.

 

The Woodchucks: The curiously named rock band of the 399th Army Band is not afraid of more cowbell.

 

The Electric Brigade: The Navy's "premier Pop Music Ensemble" entertains US Naval Academy officers with a faithful rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."

 

The Volunteers: Drawn from the prestigious United States Army Field Band, the Vounteers are considered the service's "premier touring pop/rock band." Here, they kick off a promo clip from their Iraq tour with Ozzy Osborne's "Crazy Train."

 

High Altitude: This clip of the 4th Infantry Division Band's rock ensemble playing "I Will Survive" at a mall in Bahrain is a bit shaky, but is worth watching just for the enthusiastic fans. All two of them. 

 

Recoil: In this clip, the 77th Army Band's in-house rockers do a cover of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy."

 

Tuff Boxx and the Baghdad Horns: And to close things out, check out the guitarist from this Iraq-based ensemble of the 56th Army Band as he shreds the solo from "Freebird."


Click here for more Music Monday features from Mother Jones.

Banjo Players Are Incestuous Rednecks

| Sat Jul. 16, 2011 2:01 AM EDT
From left: Joe Kwon, Scott Avett, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett.

For a decade now, the Avett Brothers, who hail from Concord, North Carolina, have been touring America, sharing their signature mix of bluegrass, folk, and rock with a devoted (and growing) cult of fans. The bandmates, brothers Seth and Scott Avett (banjo and guitar), Bob Crawford (stand-up bass), and tour cellist Joe Kwon, have always fared pretty well, but recently their status has skyrocketed.

In 2008, they signed with superstar producer Rick Rubin and American Recordings, and the following year they released the album I and Love and You to critical acclaim. Their songs have made appearances on American Idol and Friday Night Lights, and in February they played the Grammys, performing one of their own before teaming up with Bob Dylan and Mumford and Sons for a rousing rendition of "Maggie's Farm." But old fans need not worry: This shift in trajectory won't mess with the Avetts' rootsy vibe, promises kid brother Seth. "We already had a fan base," he told me in a chat that veered from brotherly love to stop-time animation to Rick Rubin. "We weren't at the mercy of the system. So, it was sort of a merging, rather than the big label signing the little man."

Mother Jones: I hear you're heading out on another big tour.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [24]

| Fri Jul. 15, 2011 3:20 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.)

The "Stand-Up Economist" on the Federal Budget

| Fri Jul. 15, 2011 1:16 PM EDT

I've previously posted the work of Yoram Bauman (no relation), "the world's first stand-up economist." Anyway, here's a new video about the federal budget:

Book Review: The Red Market

| Thu Jul. 14, 2011 6:13 PM EDT

The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers

By Scott Carney

WILLIAM MORROW

Tragedy struck one evening in 2006, when an American girl, part of a student group the author was mentoring on a trip to India, fell from a rooftop and died. As Carney negotiated with police and insurance companies to get her body home, it struck him that "every corpse has a stakeholder." In his subsequent multi-year investigation of the international trade in blood and body parts, he talked to an Indian bone trafficker banished from his village for robbing graves, followed the trail of a kidnapping-adoption ring from Chennai to a quaint Midwestern town (a story first published in these pages), and exposed brokers who bought kidneys from desperate refugees in Indonesia. A fascinating read, The Red Market sheds needed light on what Carney calls "the darkest corners of our economic world."

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Book Review: In Defense of Flogging

| Tue Jul. 12, 2011 4:22 PM EDT

In Defense of Flogging

By Peter Moskos

BASIC BOOKS

Though its title suggests a Swiftian satire, this book by criminal justice professor Peter Moskos is a genuine call to reinstate flogging as a voluntary alternative to incarceration. The author, a former Baltimore police officer, opens with a simple query: "Which would you choose?" For those who consider flogging barbaric, he cites prison overcrowding, mental-health neglect, gang rape, and post-incarceration homelessness. Warehousing criminals is far crueler, Moskos insists. Why not lock up the most-hardened cases and let the rest tend to their damaged hinds and get on with their lives? If our penal system remains "an expensive and immoral failure," he writes, "then bring on the lash."

The Top Media Policy Stories of the Week: How the NewsCorps Scandal Impacts US Media

| Mon Jul. 11, 2011 7:53 PM EDT

Just when it seemed that the wave of media consolidation had reached tsunami proportions, a new court ruling is easing the troubled waters.

As Amy Miller and Lori Abbot of Public News Service report, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to block revisions to current FCC regulations which would further relax media cross-ownership rules. This ruling is a major victory for media reform advocates who say any further consolidation could severely challenge the notion of a free, independent press.

As previously reported, the new regulations would have likely had an adverse affect on local news reporting and diversity. Making the situation even more awkward is the FCC's own recently issued media review, which posits the need for more localism and more diversity.

The upshot, write Miller and Abbot, is this: "In addition to preventing one company from owning both print and broadcast stations in the same market, the rulings mean more competition and more opportunity for women and minority ownership of media companies."

The decision sends a clear message to the FCC that it has a mandate to prioritize public interest over corporate interests, a point it's been somewhat confused on in the past.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [23]

| Mon Jul. 11, 2011 6:41 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.)

The Eloquent Angst of Titus Andronicus

| Mon Jul. 11, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

A couple of weeks back, Titus Andronicus opened for Okkervil River at Oakland's Fox Theater, but based on the kids going wild up front, you would have thought Titus was the headliner.

After the musicians calmly took the stage, a bandana-clad audience member shouted, "Titus, fuck yeah!" Taking the cue, front man Patrick Stickles turned to his bandmates: "All right, let's do this." And the show exploded into the angry, anthemic, and melodic punk energy of "A More Perfect Union," the opening track of the band's Civil War-themed album, The Monitor.

When Titus played "No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future" for the third song, Stickles wailed over and over like a record stuck on repeat, "You will always be a loser." Coming from another band, that line might sound like an insult. But when Stickles sings it, you can empathize with him—he's saying "you," but he could just as easily be staring into a mirror and singing it to himself. 

The recently restored Fox is one of those gorgeous, over-the-top movie palaces built in the late 1920s. Standing underneath its opulently carved wooden ceiling and facing its gilded stage guarded on either side by towering Hindu deities with glowing green eyes, it feels a little too clean and luxurious for a punk show. The atmosphere did, however, lend a hallowed air to the performance. And when Stickles sang—or howled, or ranted—about living in fear, the demise of our species, and urinating from the top of a metaphorical mountain, every word and chord felt beautiful and real. As the band drove its van on to San Diego, another stop on its national tour, Stickles told me about how the band got its name and where some of his prodigious angst emanates from.

Mother Jones: You guys must get asked this a lot, but how did you come to be called Titus Andronicus? It's a bloody Shakespearen tragedy… Are you Shakespeare buffs? Or were you just into the 16th century precursor to today's horror porn?