2012 - %3, January

SOPA Visualized

| Wed Jan. 18, 2012 1:26 PM PST

There's a great MoJo explainer by Siddhartha Mahanta and Nick Baumann up today on the SOPA blackout. This video is a good enhancer. 

 

A big part of some of the bigger-than-average gains (see Kate Sheppard's Keystone piece today) against environmental folly of late are thanks to a truly free and unhindered internet. Also worth a look: our slideshow of major websites that went dark on Wednesday in protest of SOPA.

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Review: "Neptune," by Justin Robinson and the Mary Annettes

| Mon Jan. 16, 2012 4:00 AM PST

TRACK 1

"Neptune"

From Justin Robinson and The Mary Annettes' Bones for Tinder (Five Head)

Liner notes: The leadoff track weaves together tender violin and Robinson’s melancholy voice in an ode to missing loved ones.

Behind the music: The North Carolina native is an alumnus of The Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Grammy-winning combo known for reviving the style of Depression-era black string bands. Since starting his own band, the multitasking Robinson has also attended forestry school and created his own line of frozen custard.

Check it out if you like: Traditionalists with one eye on the future, including Cassandra Wilson, Steve Earle, and Trombone Shorty.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

Interview: Fishbone on Stage and Screen

| Mon Jan. 16, 2012 4:00 AM PST

Nowadays, nobody blinks an eye when hip-hop artists sample backwoods folkies and bands use multiple hyphens to describe their sound. But back in the '80s when Fishbone, a black punk-funk-ska band, hit the LA music scene, no one quite knew what to make of their uncategorizable blend of styles and influences. Their unique sound, hyperactive live shows, and magnetic stage presence won them a fervent fan base, a record deal with Columbia, and an appearance on Saturday Night Live.

At the height of their popularity, Fishbone was the hottest band in SoCal, beloved by fans, admired by peers, and name-dropped by celebrities (Tim Robbins wore a Fishbone shirt in Bull Durham, as did John Cusack in Say Anything). The band seemed to be on the verge of mainstream success. But their big break never came. While bands that bore Fishbone's influence, including No Doubt and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, rose to fame and fortune, Fishbone struggled with the usual challenges of moderate success—addiction, clashing egos, struggles to preserve their integrity—and a few unusual ones: religious conversion, kidnapping charges, and people not quite knowing what to make of them.

One Right-Winger's Terrible List of "Top 10 Conservative Movies"

| Fri Jan. 13, 2012 12:10 PM PST
It's a great movie. Just don't ask your buddies in the ACLU to critique it.

Three basic facts of life: The planet you live on isn't cooling, you should never forget to bring a towel, and conservative commentators aren't very good at putting together lists of conservative things.

When John J. Miller of National Review compiled his "50 greatest conservative rock songs" in 2006, his selections—which for some odd reason included "Janie's Got a Gun" by Aerosmith—were so often perceived as baseless that the hoopla even provoked a response from the guy who wrote the No. 1-listed tune (a fact Miller clearly relished). On Human Events' 2005 list of "Most Harmful Books" written in the 19th and 20th centuries, Darwin and John Stuart Mill are put in the same ballpark as Hitler and Mao.

And on Wednesday, conservative Brit Nile Gardiner trotted out his rundown of "The top 10 conservative movies of the modern era" in a blog post for the Telegraph. Gardiner writes that these movies "can be taken to heart [by conservatives] in both the United States and Great Britain," and that they "celebrate conservative values, the defence of the free world, deep-seated patriotism and individual liberty." He also insists that the films promote capitalism and are sure to "offend Left-wing sensibilities." (Click here for another one of Gardiner's crushingly lame top-ten lists, this one targeting the Obama administration.)

Amazingly, Red Dawn doesn't even get an honorable mention!

As my colleague Adam Serwer jokingly points out, it might at first glance seem like the "overwhelming majority of these films are about kicking the shit out of brown people" (i.e. Zulu, Black Hawk Down, 300, Tears of the Sun, and so on).

Shit Everybody Says: Video Roundup

| Fri Jan. 13, 2012 4:01 AM PST

By now you've likely seen "Shit Girls Say", the viral YouTube series starring Graydon Sheppard in drag as a high-maintenance 20-something woman who eats a lot of chips and struggles to use her computer. It's spawned the most hilarious and distracting internet meme in recent memory (i.e. five minutes in Internet time), from the obscure "Shit Raw Vegans Say" to the unintelligible "Shit Wookies Say". Turns out everyone's a stereotype and (big surprise!) stereotypes can be hilarious. 

Frankly, we're not big fans of the original "Shit Girls Say." It's a good impression of a certain type of girlish performance, but, as Naima Ramos-Chapman points out in HuffPo, "the absurdity of watching men in drag speaking a nonsensical 'girlish' language that irks, who else, but the men who have to put up with it" isn't actually that funny. Another dud is "Shit Asian Girls Say", which portrays Asian women as generically annoying and materialistic, without the knowing affection and insider digs of the best caricatures. Meanwhile, we're still waiting for a linkworthy "Shit Guys Say", because, seriously, guys can say some shit.

Still, you can lose an afternoon watching copy-cat videos of "Shit [insert race, gender, or sexual orientation] Say". Here are our favorites.

Shit White Girls Say (to Black Girls):

By far the most razor-sharp video with the funniest performance. In an essay at Huffpo about the video, comedian Franchesca Ramsey says she drew on her experiences feeling like a "token black girl" at work and among friends to skewer "white people faux pas." And now, white girls everywhere are cringing and asking themselves, "Have I said that?"

Best moment: Inappropriate hair-touching montage starting at 0:49

Shit Sri Lankan Moms say:

You don't have to be subcontinental to appreciate this acid-tongued portrayal of harried, world-fearing desi mothers, but it helps. Update: the male counterpart gets its own treatment!

Best moment: When the amma lying in bed under the covers punches in the wrong number on her cordless phone. 

Stuff Cis People Say to Trans People:

According to this video, cis people—folks who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth—love playing guessing games about trans people.

Best Moment: "Oh my god, you really can't tell!"

Shit Girls Say to Gay Guys:

Ladies, if you've ever openly pined for a gay boyfriend, the way one might pine for a new handbag, prepare to check yourself.

Best Moment: The desire to hook up your gay friend with any known (or suspected) gays in the area, including the 53-year-old stylist from your hair salon.

Shit White Girls Say to Desi Girls

Best Moment: "You look like the girl from Slumdog Millionaire...more like the girl from The Office." 1:00

 

Shit Black Guys Say:

As comedians Robin Thede and Inda Craig-Galván demonstrate, sometimes it's not what you say, but how you say it . . . and how far you hold your cell phone from your face when you say it.

Best Moments: "No, I didn't get your text." 0:50, 1:40, 1:51

Shit Spanish Girls Say:

Best Moment: "I want a new dress, but I don't wanna go to Rainbow." Cut to shopping trip at Rainbow.

Shit Nobody Says:

Focused on our shared values, rather than our differences, this video claims that nobody misses fax machines, modems, Rosie O'Donnell, or dialup. (Though we beg to differ on one point: seems half of SF is relocating to Oakland these days! East Bay love, y'all.)

Shit Gay Guys Say:

Warning: Lots of musical theater name-dropping in actor and vlogger Jeffery Self's video.

Best Moment: Totally obscure schmoozy gossip—"We were at Braydon's house, well not Brayden's house, it's actually Bryan Singer's house, he just lets Brayden and Parker Posey live there."

Shit Jewish Mothers Say

Best Moment: When all worldly stress and anxiety melts away at the news that someone's getting married.

Shit Ron Paul Supporters Say:

We suspect the producers combed our own comments section to find these examples. Would have liked to see some Ron Paul supporters try and explain away his newsletters, though. 

"Are You There, Chelsea?": NBC Plumbs New Depths of Bad Sexist Drivel

| Wed Jan. 11, 2012 4:32 PM PST
Laura Prepon on the soon-to-be-vacant set of "Are You There, Chelsea?"

If Are You There, Chelsea? were a song, it would probably be "Miracles" by Jefferson Starship—tiresome, lacking any sense of direction, and difficult to endure without a CamelBak full of absinthe. The new NBC sitcom—a midseason replacement that premieres Wednesday, January 11 at 8:30 p.m. EST—tries everything it can to be prime-time edgy. Unfortunately, the attempts at rowdy, off-kilter humor rapidly degenerate into an embarrassing mess.

In the voice-over-narrated opening moments of the pilot episode, the show makes it clear right off the bat that central character Chelsea Newman (played by Laura Prepon, of That '70s Show fame) likes to drink—a lot and often. Her crowning achievement in life is successfully "power-slurping the worm out of a high-end bottle of tequila," and she literally prays to the deity "Vodka." She makes key life decisions based on her proximity to the bar. And she drives drunk, too! And she doesn't learn her lesson even after spending a night in jail that involves some tense girl-on-girl lip-locking between cellmates.

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Why 2012 Isn't Looking So Good for Renters

| Tue Jan. 10, 2012 10:38 AM PST

More Americans are renting homes while the number of homeowners is on the decline, according to a recent Morgan Stanley report. The report, published last July but recently making its way through the media, finds that in 2011 the number of owner-occupied homes in the US declined by 644,000 from 2010. The number of vacant rental properties, meanwhile, decreased by 132,000 from 2010. Taken together, the numbers suggest a growing trend of American renters, so much so that Reuters predicts 2012 will be the "year of the landlord."

"This is the first time in history where there's an opportunity for institutions to own single family rentals as part of a larger asset allocation strategy," the report's author Oliver Chang recently told CNBC

The downturn in home ownership is especially true among young adults, according to Rick Palacios Jr., senior research analyst at John Burns Real Estate Consulting, a company that analyzes social and economic trends for the housing industry. Last month Palacios told the Chicago Tribune that among 25 to 35 year olds, "almost 6 million in that age group now live with mom and dad, up 26 percent from the beginning of the recession in 2007. Many others are renting. But certainly, few are buying."

What's concerning about this trend is that rights for renters in the US, though they vary across states, are generally weak. Emily Badger sums up the plights of the American renter in the Atlantic:

There’s something fundamentally demeaning about being a renter about having to ask permission to change the showerhead, about having to mentally deduct future losses from deposit checks for each nail hammered into the wall to hang family photos. There’s something degrading about the annual rent increase that comes with this implied taunt to its captive audience: What are you going to do, move out?

Adding to the concern is that larger institutions (or the property management companies they hire to oversee their "bulk properties" investments) don't necessarily make great landlords. (New York City Public Advocate's "Worst Landlords Watchlist" lists corporations like 1071 Home Corp. and Maristanc Corp. as some of the worst offenders.) More American renters could also mean more Americans who are vulnerable to unstable or unsafe housing conditions. 

 

George Lucas: Hollywood Didn't Want to Fund My Film Because of Its Black Cast

| Tue Jan. 10, 2012 10:05 AM PST

After Jar-Jar Binks, it's hard to not to give George Lucas' new film, Red Tails, the side-eye. The movie is a World War II-era action flick based on the Tuskegee Airmen, the heroic and decorated pilots who were the first black servicemembers to fly combat missions at a time when black Americans were not recognized as full citizens in the United States, despite their willingness to fight and die in its defense.

In an interview with The Daily Show's Jon Stewart on Monday night, Lucas was frank about the trouble he had getting the film made—in part, he said, because the studios weren't willing to finance a film without a white protagonist as an anchor.  

"This has been held up for release since 1942, since it was shot; I've been trying to get released ever since," Lucas joked—although he did say that the film took about 23 years to develop. "It's because it's an all-black movie. There's no major white roles in it at all…I showed it to all of them and they said, 'Nooooo. We don't know how to market a move like this.'" Lucas goes on to explain that major studios don't believe films with majority black casts do well in foreign markets. Lucas was unbowed, telling Stewart that "we do want to do a prequel and a sequel," which I take as a measure of how excited and proud about Red Tails Lucas actually is. Bonus exuberance: "This is the closest you'll ever get to Episode Seven." Here's the video:

Lucas' explanation of how difficult it is for films with mostly black casts (let alone black directors) was one of my major frustrations watching Pariah, director Dee Rees' excellent coming-of-age film about a black lesbian teenager in Brooklyn. It wasn't just that the movie was good, it was that lingering social attitudes about race make such films far rarer than they should be, in part because of the way they skew economic incentives for major studios. Lucas gets a little big for his britches when he disses the 1989 Civil War epic Glory by describing it as a film where "you have a lot of white officers running these guys into cannon fodder," implying that in comparison to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment the Tuskegee Airmen were "real heroes."

The derision here is unnecessary and unwarranted; the men of the 54th were certainly heroes, and though it is hard to imagine, were fighting to preserve a nation that thought even less of them than it did of the Tuskegee Airmen. Also, there's maybe a 0.0001 percent chance that Red Tails is actually a better movie, though Lucas' point about Hollywood's aversion to making films that don't center around white protagonists is well taken. The issue here is as political as it is economic—the white protagonists' role in mostly black films is generally to act as a redemptive vehicle for the white audience, allowing them to believe that in another place, at another time, they would have been just as righteous. Whether we're talking about the men of the 54th or Capt. Robert Gould Shaw, we are speaking of a kind of courage that is present in vanishingly few people. It is however, a conceit that studios seem to view as necessary to fill seats. 

After watching Lucas' interview with Stewart, I'm more likely to see the movie than before. It's hard to forget the galactic coonery of Jar-Jar Binks. On the other hand, one of the screenwriters for Red Tails is Aaron McGruder, the writer behind the newspaper comic strip turned TV show The Boondocks. When the Star Wars prequels were first released, McGruder justifiably blasted Lucas over Jar-Jar from the perspective of a Star Wars fan. Lucas then hired him to write a movie. It's not quite enough to get me to forgive him for ruining the original Star Wars trilogy, but it's enough to get me to want to see Red Tails

Tintin: Bad Reporter or Gonzo Journalist?

| Tue Jan. 10, 2012 4:30 AM PST

After seeing The Adventures of Tintin, my colleague Kiera Butler raised an interesting question: If Tintin's supposed to be a reporter, why don't we see him writing up his big story at the end of the movie? For that matter, why don't we see him ever doing anything vaguely resembling journalism?

That never occurred to me during my preadolescent years of following the Belgian boy reporter's comic adventures. Yet as Benoît Peeters notes in his new biography of Tintin's creator Hergé (AKA Georges Remi), over a career spanning more than four decades, Tintin is only shown doing reporting in his first strip, 1929's Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. "Moreover," Peeters writes," his is a relatively unorthodox and quite athletic interpretation of the profession of journalism…[H]e causes events more often than he writes about them, launching himself across the pages and into one improbable scrape after another."

Which suggests that Tintin is in fact a very bad reporter. I'd like to propose another theory: Tintin is a gonzo journalist. The evidence:

He packs heat: In many of his adventures, Tintin eventually gives up the niceties of investigative journalism and begins pursuing his subjects with firearms. Very unorthodox, very gonzo. (Maybe the real reason Tintin wears those baggy plus-fours is because they're perfect for concealing a weapon.) In fact, you're more likely to see Tintin holding a pistol than a pen or notepad. Which brings us to…

He never takes notes. Years before Truman Capote claimed he could memorize his interviews ("the taking of notes, much less the use of a tape recorder, creates artifice"), Tintin perfected the art of notebook-free reportage. Which is all the more remarkable considering that he suffers some kind of head trauma in just about every adventure. 

His sidekick is a raging drunk: While Tintin is notably abstemious, his friend and companion Captain Haddock is prone to bouts of apoplectic, alcoholic rage. But his whiskey-soaked rants have their journalistic benefits. In The Adventures of Tintin, the Captain relates an elaborate story about 17th-century pirate treasure that really helps Tintin with his "reporting." The catch: He only remembers the tale when he's murderously shitfaced. I pity the fact checker who had to handle that one: "So that crazy 400-year-old story has only one source, and he has to be totally drunk to confirm the details."

He never files expense reports. Considering that Tintin's preferred modes of travel are hijacking small aircraft and being kidnapped and stuffed in the hold of cargo ships, is it any wonder he can't be bothered to collect receipts? (Related: He never talks to his editors. Does he even have editors?)

He's 14. Or maybe he's 17. Or 20. Tintin's age is subject to debate. (See here for an amusingly exhaustive attempt to nail it down.) Anyway, his precociousness has an Almost Famous edge to it. Without the rock'n'roll or groupies (or any girls for that matter).

The story is always about him: As Peeters notes, every Tintin story is ultimately about Tintin. Even if it starts off as an investigation of drug smugglers or gun runners or a junket to the moon, Tintin's the one who ends up getting a ticker-tape parade or front page stories about his derring-do. That doesn't explain why he never gets around to actually writing anything. Perhaps he suffered from writer's block—another effect of all those concussions?

Of course, the truth is that Tintin's supposed profession is irrelevant to his exploits. (Hergé eventually dispensed with the boy reporter charade altogether.) But it's entertaining to imagine that—to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson—when the going got tough, the tufted turned pro.

New Study: Bad Baby Names Ruin Lives

| Mon Jan. 9, 2012 2:04 PM PST
Why, god, oh why did you allow my parents to name me 'Bartolina'?!?!

If your parents named you something like Hugh Gerald Wrectionz, Amanda Huggenkisse or even Jock Stirrup, there's a decent chance you grew up to be a timid, poorly educated chain smoker with a subpar sex life, according to a study just published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. The New York Daily News reports (emphasis added):

Data gathered from nearly 12,000 adult participants found that a bad first name can not only ruin your self-esteem, but it may actually make you lonelier—and dumber—research published in the [academic] journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science shows. The majority of the 12,000 people who partook in various experiments testing name desirability on the European dating website eDarling, responded that they would actually rather remain single than enter a relationship with someone with an undesirable name.

That sounds kind of brutal, right? Especially when you take into account the fact that nearly one-third of new couples are meeting online.

But wait! It gets worse:

Daters whose names matched those previously rated by teachers as belonging to "quarrelsome" students were also discriminated against, revealing a definite trend about character assumptions...[R]esearchers concluded that an "unfortunate" first name may certainly inhibit relationship formation, and may even increase one's likelihood to be smoker.

"Negative names evoke negative interpersonal reactions, which in turn influence people's life outcomes for the worse," the study said.  The trend across all sub-experiments, which drew on 11,813 adults, indicated those with "unfortunate" first names were generally more likely to smoke, be less educated and have lower self-esteem than those whose names were attractive.

For the most part, these conclusions could have easily been reached without the money and time spent on extensive scientific inquiry and large test samples: Of course an unfortunate name can help make your life a breathing train wreck. If you endured the misfortune of a goofy name, mornings in the classroom and afternoons on the playground were likely rife with incessant name-calling. Good looking girls (or boys) in high school must have had trouble saying your name right (if they could remember it at all). And even if your name is just long and not otherwise bizarre or "negative," your coworkers probably still giggle uncontrollably at your desk's name-plate, while branding you with infuriating nicknames like "T-Dawg" or "Sloppy Sec's."

If your life is in the toilet right now, this is science (yet again) telling you that it's okay to blame mom and dad. In all likelihood, you're already blaming them for your irrational fear of spiders, anyway.