2012 - %3, March

New Map Helps Women Track Down Rapists in Syria

| Sat Mar. 31, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Women protest Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Earlier this week, the US advocacy group Women Under Siege launched an open-source crowdmapping site that tracks incidents of sexual violence in the ongoing conflict. Since the anti-regime uprising began a year ago, rape has been a common tactic used by Syrian forces against the opposition. But sexual violence in Syria largely remains an underreported topic, and the project—funded by the New York-based Women's Media Center—hopes to change that.

The site's map enables users to record locations where they or someone they know was raped—becoming a real-time sexual crime tracker. The platform is notable since it gives victims and witnesses a means to anonymously report assaults with a simple tweet (#RapeInSyria), text, email, or comment on the site. Lauren Wolfe, director of Women Under Siege, hopes the map will point her team to the areas where survivor services are needed most. And once the security situation on the ground becomes more stable, she says, the group will work with researchers to verify the reports and build a database of evidence to hopefully pursue war crimes charges.

Women Under Siege

Women Under Siege

Still, there are kinks to be worked out. "The difficulty rests in people coming forward in the first place," says Wolfe. "There are so many reasons for them not to say anything." Her team is still building up multiple layers of precautions, like constructing a secure server and SMS number, so women don't have to fear shame or retribution. 

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"Game of Thrones": Come At the Hand of the King, You Best Not Miss

| Fri Mar. 30, 2012 12:00 PM EDT
Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in HBO's Game of Thrones.

This review contains major spoilers for the first season of Game of Thrones and minor spoilers for the second season.

When the second season of Game of Thrones, the fantasy series based on George R.R. Martin's bestselling books, premieres this Sunday on HBO, it will do so without first-season protagonist Ned Stark. That's because (spoiler alert) Stark was publicly beheaded at the whim of tween megalomaniac King Joffrey Lannister at the end of last season. 

Shortly after being appointed to replace Stark as Hand of the King, sort of a prime minister with dictatorial powers, Tyrion Lannister, played by the fantastic Peter Dinklage, explains to Varys, the kingdom of Westeros' spymaster, why he won't also lose his head.

"I'm not Ned Stark. I understand how this game is played," Tyrion says.

"Ned Stark is a man of honor," Varys replies with feigned shock.

"And I am not, threaten me again and I'll have you thrown into the sea."

The second season of Game of Thrones is an ensemble show, but it does not, strictly speaking, lack a protagonist. Although technically based on A Clash of Kings, the second book in George R.R. Martin's fantasy series, through which the absence of Ned Stark loomed like a shadow over the entire narrative, the second season has embraced Tyrion as its main character, and all the better for it. We see Tyrion succeed everywhere Stark failed, carefully identifying and uprooting spies for his sister, the devious Queen Cersei, manipulating his rivals on Westeros' governing body, the small council, and trying desperately to mitigate the consequences of his nephew King Joffrey's sociopathic tendencies. 

That we have shifted from identifying with the patriarch of the Stark family to the black sheep of their sworn enemies, the Lannisters, is more than in keeping with Martin's themes of moral ambiguity and conflicting motivations. It's one of several areas in the series where the shift from the written word to the small screen actually improves on the original story. It helps that Tyrion is no less devoted to his family than Stark—it simply happens that his family is full of moral monsters. Sean Bean's Ned Stark was the archetypical fantasy protagonist: Strong, loyal to a fault, capable in combat. Tyrion, a dwarf, requires the constant protection of his sarcastic and capable sellsword Bronn and has only a utilitarian commitment to social mores. Yet it becomes immediately apparent that he is more suited to running a kingdom than Ned Stark could ever have hoped to be.

Film Review: Bully

| Fri Mar. 30, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Bully

WEINSTEIN COMPANY

90 minutes

The so-called bullying crisis in American schools has never seemed so endemic. In Emmy Award-winning director Lee Hirsch's new doc, kids are punched, strangled, and relentlessly taunted in all the familiar (offline) places—school bus, playground, cafeteria—driving children as young as 11 to suicide. Weaving together the stories of five families deeply affected by bullying, Hirsch explores who, if anyone, is to blame. While he talks to both frightened parents and maddeningly resigned school administrators, the best segments come in the frank and often intensely insightful conversations with the kids themselves. Side note: The soundtrack is excellent, with songs by Grizzly Bear and the Magnetic Fields and a cover of "Teenage Dirtbag" sung by Scala & Kolacny Brothers, a Belgian women's choir.

Review: The Magnetic Fields' "Love at the Bottom of the Sea"

| Mon Mar. 26, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

The Magnetic Fields
Love at the Bottom of the Sea
Merge Records

Since 1991, when The Magnetic Fields released the first of their 11 albums to date, the iconic pop group has created a singular genre of ultra-sincere yet superbly tongue-in-cheek love songs. Nothing exemplifies this better than three-volume concept album 69 Love Songs, an ode to cliché that ranges from the heartbreaking ("All My Little Words") to the supremely silly ("Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits") all in, you guessed it, 69 tracks. Their music has always been firmly rooted in ideas of nostalgia—doing drugs, going to bad parties, cruising aimlessly in cars, and, most of all, reflecting on love or love lost between girls and girls, girls and boys, or boys and boys, if never their grown-up counterparts.

How to Get More MoJo on Google News

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 3:07 PM EDT

Calling all Google News users! Mother Jones' tireless editors have started curating a daily handpicked collection of MotherJones.com's latest and best news, interactive features, and blog posts. It's a nifty feature called Editors' Picks, and you can access it from your Google News page when you're logged into your Google account.

But first, you have to personalize your news stream by adding Mother Jones' Editors' Picks to your Google News page. Lucky for you, this is easy to do. And to make it easier, we've created a step-by-step video that shows you exactly how to get more MoJo in your life:

1. Start by making sure you're logged into your Google account. Then go to Google News

2. Click the "Personalize your news" button near the top right of the page. (It has a pencil icon.)

3. A sidebar will open right under the "Personalize your news" button. Find the "Adjust sources" field, and type "Mother Jones."

4. Click the "+" button.

5. Then click the "Save" button.

6. And you're done! You now have access to a daily selection of the best content on MotherJones.com.

Jhumpa Lahiri Was Abandoned by Her Editor

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 1:08 PM EDT

In an essay exploring her love of sentences in last Sunday's New York Times, the great writer Jhumpa Lahiri put together some awful sentences. I say "put together" intentionally: The sentences themselves were mostly fine, at turns even terrific, but in several places they were assembled quite awfully. This surprised me in light of Lahiri's literary talent and the reputable publication to which she was contributing. Where the heck was her editor? 

A few paragraphs into the piece (inaugurating a Times series called, ahem, "Draft"), Lahiri explained how artful sentences are essential to great literature—that they "remain the test, whether or not to read something." The rest of the paragraph was a demonstration of a writer allowing her impulse for metaphor to spring off the page, wrestle her to the floor, tie her to the desk, and run out to the corner store for a six-pack and a lottery ticket. She continued:

The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates.

This seems to taste like chicken, but is dissatisfying because you know it's not chicken. Chew on it again, this time with a brief annotation of its tangled metaphorical sinews:

The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. [chemistry, temperature] In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. [visual art, and possibly mechanics or magic] But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. [meaning what? tree roots? worms? gophers?] The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. [now they are human] Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. [with human traits and behaviors] But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates. [or objects possibly carrying electricity]

I decided to keep reading even though there was additional metaphorical muck to wade through. ("Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel." A nice harmonic touch there with "mortar" and "motor," but say what?) I'm an admirer of Lahiri's work; her first collection of short stories, the exquisite Interpreter of Maladies, was a touchstone for me as a MFA student and resides in my cherished-books section at home. Even here, with her very next paragraph, Lahiri takes your hand and pulls you close, sharing her enthusiasm for reading in a foreign language and what that can teach the true lover of language. It’s the same length as the prior paragraph but uses only one metaphor.

Maybe I’m being a little unfair here—after all, the piece was in a newspaper, not one of the Pulitzer prize-winning author's books. And Lahiri did include a few lines I found memorable: "The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life." Now that’s an impulse I can relate to.

If anything, Lahiri’s essay underscores a truth that most of us who spend our days crafting sentences know: Unless you were born the equivalent of Mozart or Michael Jordan, you not only appreciate but also demand having a good editor to back you up. Even if the only one available is, well, you.

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Haunting Tunes for the Hunger Games

| Tue Mar. 20, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Various Artists
The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond
Universal Republic 

The soundtrack to the highly anticipated film version of The Hunger Games (opening Friday) draws inspiration from the futuristic Appalachia that's home to Katniss, our young protagonist. Funny, then, how it sounds much like a playlist one might create from some of this era's hottest indie, roots, and pop stars. Featuring tunes from the likes of The Decemberists, Taylor Swift, Arcade Fire, and Punch Brothers, the star-studded roster didn't exactly transport me into author Suzanne Collins' post-apocalyptic world. But The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond has its moments. Its piercing lullabies, for instance, ring true to the story's emotional angst and loss of innocence, and...District 12 makes for good listening, even if its intended identity is never fully clear.

Set in a future Dark Ages, Collins' dystopic young-adult trilogy reimagines America as a feudalistic society controlled by a decadent Capitol where reality TV, plastic surgery, and brutal repression reign supreme. Katniss lives in one of 13 zones under the Capitol's control, a mining province called District 12. The plot surrounds a morbid annual competition forced on the impoverished districts, each of which—in a distant echo of Shirley Jackson's classic short story "The Lottery"—must select two of its teenagers to battle to the death in the Capitol's surrealistic amphitheater until one champion remains. The battle is broadcast as entertainment for the citizens of the Capitol, whose hunger for melodrama rivals the literal hunger of the combants and their families back home. Katniss is a scrappy and fearless heroine (weapon of choice: bow and arrow). The story centers on her struggles to protect her younger sister and mother, choose between love interests, and, oh, yeah, dodge her bloodthirsty opponents.

Review: Daniel Rossen's "Silent Hour / Golden Mile"

| Mon Mar. 19, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Daniel Rossen
Silent Hour/Golden Mile
Warp Records

Los Angeles-born, Brooklyn-based Daniel Rossen is most commonly known as part of the harmonizing, alternatively morose and pop-y indie quartet Grizzly Bear, whose latest album Veckatimest (2009) was almost universally hailed as a ridiculous success. A self-described recluse, Rossen has admitted that he never shared his own music much beyond a close circle of friends before joining Grizzly Bear. Regardless, after having a good amount of time to hibernate after Veckatimest's debut, this week Rossen is releasing Silent Hour / Golden Mile, his first solo record to date.

Book Review: Jonah Lehrer's "Imagine: How Creativity Works"

| Mon Mar. 12, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Imagine: How Creativity Works

By Jonah Lehrer

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT

Flummoxed by an intractable problem? You probably just need to work harder, right? Actually, try taking a walk instead. Thanks to how we're hardwired, insight tends to strike suddenly—after we've stopped looking. In this entertaining Gladwellesque plunge into the science of creativity, Jonah Lehrer mingles with a wide cast of characters—inventors, educators, scientists, a Pixar cofounder, an autistic surfing savant—to deconstruct how we accomplish our great feats of imagination. Notable themes emerge: Failure is necessary. The more people you casually rub shoulders with—on and off the job—the more good ideas you'll have. And societies that unduly restrict citizens' ability to borrow from the ideas of others—see our broken patent system—do so at their peril.

Review: "Put Some Red on It," by Spoek Mathambo

| Mon Mar. 12, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

TRACK 3

"Put Some Red on It"

From Spoek Mathambo's Father Creeper

Liner notes: This raucous track juxtaposes clattering beats, swirling synths, and Spoek Mathambo's dub-tinged rhymes to conjure scary visions of blood and greed.

Behind the music: The second album from the Johannesburg resident (born Nthato Mokgata) draws on nervous American hip-hop, glossy Europop, and sunny highlife guitar.

Check it out if you like: Artists past and present who cross-pollinate African and Western elements, including Nigeria's Fela Kuti, Portugal's Buraka Som Sistema, and fellow South Africans Blk Jks.