2011 - %3, December

Remembering Dugald Stermer, Renaissance Man and MoJo's First Cover Artist

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Dugald Stermer, 1936-2011Dugald Stermer, 1936-2011The careers of exemplary men and women can have a discouraging effect on the rest of us. Take the career of Dugald Stermer, who passed away on December 2. In his 74 years, he was nationally lauded as a designer and an art director and an illustrator and an educator. Is there anything this guy wasn't acclaimed for? The man had a sandwich named after him at his favorite restaurant, for God's sake! (I'll get to that later.)

I'm Mother Jones' creative director, and I've been here for five years; so presumably somebody thinks I know what I'm doing. Still, sometimes, looking at a life like Stermer's, it's enough to make me want to take Fran Lebowitz's advice to people in the throes of the creative urge: "Simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass." Just a few of the details of Stermer's professional life will give you an idea of what I mean.

Ramparts, December 1967 coverRamparts, December 1967In 1964, Stermer was working as a design director in Houston when he was recruited to be the art director of the feisty Ramparts by Howard Gossage, an advertising executive who was advising the new publication. Stermer's combination of restrained, classic typography with take-no-prisoners art direction helped position Ramparts as the contemporary antidote to stodgy progressive publications and gained him national prominence. The magazine soon became part of the national political conversation and was regularly criticized or lampooned in publications such as Time and Esquire (which at one point offered Stermer a job).

Sometimes this visibility had personal consequences: When Stermer and three other Ramparts staffers allowed their draft cards to be burned for the December 1967 cover, the four were called to appear before a federal grand jury in New York. But the magazine's impact was felt much more widely than that. Dr. Martin Luther King was so moved by a Ramparts photo essay by William Pepper, depicting the effects of American military tactics on Vietnamese children, that he began speaking out publicly against the war shortly afterward.

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Young Adult, Cool Movie

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Young Adult

PARAMOUNT PICTURES

94 minutes

Director Jason Reitman has a knack for wringing the captivating waggishness out of scarred and broken characters. So it makes perfect sense that his latest effort would be a comedy about despondency, isolation, and acute immaturity.

Young Adult has an eye-rolling-ly familiar premise: as screenwriter Diablo Cody told Film Journal International, it's a story about a woman who "cling[s] to deluded teenage fantasies...and is obsessed with recreating her teenage years come hell or high water." That brings us to Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a slobbish teen-lit ghostwriter staring down the barrel of imminent middle-age who takes a break from big-city life to return to the small town she ditched nearly two decades prior. The sad, blonde, and comely Mavis tracks down an old flame—now a mellowed-out family man named Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) whom she is determined to steal for herself.

All right, so the elevator pitch for this movie isn't much. But what could have easily come off as an unofficial remake of Sweet Home Alabama is instead a savagely funny, moving dark comedy that's dripping with rich metaphor.

House Panel to Vote on "Internet Censorship" Bill

| Thu Dec. 15, 2011 6:30 AM EST

Netizens beware: Depending on a house committee's debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act today, you could face felony charges instead of a fine the next time you illegally grab a song or movie off the Internet. The website that served up your digital pirate's booty could be shut down, blocked from Google and other search engines, and have its US bank accounts closed. Uploading is on the hot seat, too. If the bill passes and your next YouTube upload includes copyrighted music or video, you could be committing a felony. Even Facebook and YouTube, sites that exist to share user-generated content, could be held liable if just a few copyright-infringing links are discovered among the millions their users share daily.

The act, also known as SOPA, has set off a battle between major Internet players—Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia among them—and big media and entertainment companies that stand to benefit from SOPA's proposed copyright protections.

"Adjustment Bureau" to "Zookeeper": 2011's Movies Cut Into 1 Epic Clip

| Wed Dec. 14, 2011 2:19 AM EST

Guarantee you'll watch all 7:44 minutes. Or at least five. Clip list here.

Women's Professional Soccer Lives to See Another Day

| Tue Dec. 13, 2011 1:34 PM EST

Last night, Women's Professional Soccer dodged a potentially fatal bullet. Pending agreement to certain conditions, US Soccer, the sport's governing body, has finally renewed WPS's professional status for the 2012 season, ending a three-week period of uncertainty over the future of the three-year-old league.

It's a relief to women's soccer players, supporters, and fans, who've rushed to WPS' defense over the last few weeks. Yael Averbuch, a midfielder for the Western New York Flash, penned a New York Times column; another professional player, Alexandria Sahle, created a petition, which now has nearly 48,000 signatures, calling on US Soccer to support the league for "the millions of young girls that dream of being the next Hope Solo or Alex Morgan." A Twitter campaign to #SavetheWPS was born.

The emotional pull of this grassroots effort—"What does this mean for your daughter? Or for your little sister?"—clashes awkwardly with the cold, hard business facts. When it comes to the official guidelines for a professional league, there's no question that WPS could have been red-carded long ago. The league has lost as many teams as it currently fields since it launched in 2009. With only five teams, it's short of the eight that are technically required and well below the 10-team minimum suggested by US Soccer for a fledgling pro league in its third year.

10 Smart Kickstarter Projects for Your Holiday Cash

| Mon Dec. 12, 2011 7:00 AM EST
You could get your pal these charming vintage Cabbage Patch Kids earmuffs for Christmas. Or...not.

It's not like there's any shortage of awesome stuff to foist upon your friends and family this holiday season. For example: Maybe they want this irrational numbers wall clock or a pair of leg corsets. And who could resist a wine-bottle holder shaped like a drunken deer?

But just in case you're a mean old scrooge who doesn't believe your relatives deserve this statue of a disembodied hand cradling a naked baby with wings, here's another idea: Support a DIY project that your giftee might find cool. Crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo make it easy to find worthy campaigns. Here are 10 of our favorites:

1. Project Repat (Kickstarter): An astounding 95 percent of donated clothes end up in the developing world,* where many end up getting thrown away. The Project Repat crew rescues the old clothes, then works with artisans in the developing world to transform them into new hipster fashion statements to be sold in the United States. The proceeds go to charities in the countries where the clothes made their stopover.

2. Pop-Hop Books & Curio (Kickstarter): Considering the dire plight of independent bookstores, perhaps the bookworm in your life would appreciate a donation on her behalf to this new books/zines/collectibles store and arts space in LA. 

3. Biket Initiative (IndieGoGo) This cool project eventually aims to bring bamboo bike factories to the developing world, but in the meantime, it's giving bikes to children who have no other way of getting to school. Your donation of $50 buys a bike for a kid in Mali.

4. Everyone Is Gay (IndieGoGo): In its own words, Everyone Is Gay is "an advice website for all, with an emphasis on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) youth. The website uses humor and honesty to support these youth, to dialogue with others in the LGBTQ community, and to simultaneously keep everyone laughing." Your donation will help EIG launch a nationwide tour to high school and college campuses.

5. The First 70 (Kickstarter): By July 2012, the state of California plans to close 70 of its 278 state parks. Saddened by the news, a group of friends decided to try to see all the parks before they were gone for good. Along the way, they discovered that "no one knew exactly what the conditions of closure would be, nor could they see how the state would ultimately benefit." As a result, they're aiming to make a documentary film in a bid to change the officials' mind.

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Jennifer Johns' Hip-Hop Food Fight

| Mon Dec. 12, 2011 7:00 AM EST

San Francisco Bay Area rapper Jennifer Johns has Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie to thank for her political awakening. Back in 1985, when she was just an East Oakland six-year-old with a knack for song, she heard Jackson's and Richie's "We are the World" for the first time. The tune, her parents told her, was about poverty and hunger in Africa. "First off, I said where the hell is Africa?" Johns remembers. "And secondly, I don't get this concept of hunger because we have so much food, we have so much extra here."

But she caught on quickly. The spunky youngster organized a sing-a-thon with her church, raised some money, and sent it to Bishop Tutu in South Africa to aid his fight against poverty, discrimination, and apartheid. "In that moment, I learned there was some shit going on," Johns says. "At the same time, I learned that one could sing and inspire people to know things. That was powerful."

Now Johns, 32, is doing precisely that: helping people "know things" as an ardent food-justice advocate even as she pursues a hip-hop career. A "b-girl at heart," she has performed with the likes of Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli, KRS-One and Mos Def. Her first album, HeavyElectroMagneticSoularPoeticJungleHop, is as polychromatic as its title, ranging from thick R&B harmonies to hard-hitting rap and zingy electronica. Released in 2007, her second album, Painting on Wax, only takes the feistiness up a notch.

Rock and Roll Never Forgets Bob Seger

| Mon Dec. 12, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Ultimate Hits: Rock And Roll Never Forgets
Capitol Records

One important note off the bat: This double-disc Bob Seger bonanza focuses almost exclusively on Silver Bullet Band material, the real hits of the mid-'70s through the early-'80s. We only get one Seger System song here, "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man." An excellent tune for sure, but unfortunately for fans of Seger's deeper catalog, there's no "Rosalie," no "Get Out of Denver," no "Lucifer," and certainly no "2+2=?."

With that caveat out of the way, if you're of a certain age and, even more, if you grew up in the so called flyover states, having a collection like this is almost unnecessary. These songs are so ingrained in your psyche that just reading the tracks on the back cover brings each to mind in vivid, full stereo. Still, it's good to have a refresher course on what no-bullshit rock and roll is all about. The roar of Seger's gravely voice as he comes into "Rock and Roll Never Forgets" still has the power to send little chills down your spine. And for the discerning listener, the mastering quality on this collection is absolutely top notch. Everything is clear and loud, like it should be.

Squatting in the USA

| Tue Dec. 6, 2011 9:20 PM EST
A sign outside C-Squat, now a legally occupied, resident-owned building in New York's Lower East Side

As Josh Harkinson reported today, squatters groups and housing rights activists are teaming up with Occupy movements across the country to help evicted tenants stay in their foreclosed homes.

Occupy Our Homes, as the movement is called, isn’t the first time evicted homeowners and squatters have mobilized under a political banner in this country. Here are a few examples of landmark occupations going back to the Great Depression.

Lower East Side squats
From 1989 to 1999, Giuliani spent millions attempting to oust groups squatting in eleven abandoned buildings in New York City's East Village and Lower East Side, at one point dispatching sharpshooters and a tank to 13th street to remove squatters who had welded themselves inside four buildings. When the city was successful in clearing one building of squatters, others would come and take their place. For many squatters, the action was as much about the practical necessities of finding shelter as about sending a political message about housing inequality and rising rents in once-affordable New York neighborhoods.

Human Rights Gets a Hollywood Anthem

| Tue Dec. 6, 2011 7:29 PM EST
Hans Zimmer probably didn't get his this star for his work on "Muppet Treasure Island."

First, international human rights got an official logo (with a little help from Qaddafi's old PR firm). Now the universal yearning for freedom has its own anthem, written by Oscar-winning Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer.

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Amnesty International, the man who's scored everything from Gladiator and Rain Main to The Lion King and Kung Fu Panda 2, has bestowed the group with what it calls "a deeply moving composition that pays tribute to generations of human rights activists whose achievements have meant the difference between life and death, freedom and terror, justice or repression for people around the world." And all that in a little more than two minutes.

Here's a version of the anthem released earlier this year:

That's pretty much standard Zimmer fare: A not too subtle attempt to wring tears from your eyes via a barrage of etherial vocals and relentless percussion. But there's more: Amnesty's just announced a contest to remix the official (and as yet unshareable) version of "One More Voice for Freedom" (the winner gets $1,000).

You really have to hear it—it's somewhere between airplane boarding music and the most stereotypically inspiring movie montage ever. Still, it was very nice of Zimmer to contribute a fraction of his output to Amnesty on its golden jubilee. Now, if you'll excuse him, he has to get back to putting the finishing touches on his soundtrack for Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, the first animated 3-D movie about the International Criminal Court.