2012 - %3, October

6 Must-Have Apps for Political Junkies

| Wed Oct. 17, 2012 5:03 AM EDT

Some especially persistent voters rifle through Federal Election Commission filings in their spare time, poring over the latest data dumps and tracking outside money for insight into who's influencing the vote. Luckily for those of us with less time (or patience), tech-savvy politicos have figured out ways to filter through all that info and send some of the juicier bits straight to our favorite gadgets. Now you can peel back the facade of the mysterious backer of that one issues ad or view a whole compilation of polls at a moment's notice. These six apps can make it more enticing, not to mention a lot faster, to tap into what's going on behind the scenes of the horse race.

The Political Shazam
Nearly half of the more than $500 million in political ads out as of August 2012 were funded by outside groups—committees with ambiguous sounding names like Priorities USA Action or Americans for ProsperityAd Hawk, from Sunlight Labs, essentially runs a background check on the constant stream of political TV and radio ads. You just let the app listen to any ad as it plays, and in less than 30 seconds it will identify the group behind the ad and its bankrollers, and tell you how much of its cash has gone to supporting (or trashing) Democrats or Republicans. Ad Hawk is especially useful for learning more about the notoriously elusive super-PACs and 501(c)s—although when I asked Sunlight Labs' Director Tom Lee to name a notable recent ad, he pointed to Harold the Cat's gag run for a Virginia Senate seat. (Free, available for iOS and Android.)

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11 Gems From the Treasure Island Music Fest

| Mon Oct. 15, 2012 1:37 PM EDT

Balloons over Treasure Island.

One island, two stages, twenty-five musical acts. This weekend we set our sights on the Treasure Island Music Festival, and over two days plundered the most memorable bits to share. Among them: a new species of stand-up snuggie designed for "adult" outdoor recreation, a marriage proposal, and yes, Best Coast on the "best coast," lamenting the end of summer. Read on to find out what a "sexy hotness sleeping bag" actually entails.

1. The Girl Talk Marriage Proposal
Having brought the audience to a sweaty, glowstick-bashing stupor, mashup king Gregg Gillis (a.k.a. Girl Talk) ended his set by passing his mic to "a very special guest." Oh my God, who? Would this be a surprise encore? The crowd whistled in anticipation. "Some people leave their hearts in San Francisco," said the special guest, taking the mic. "I'm about to give mine away. [Pauses.] Will you marry me?" (She said yes.) Sarah Zhang

Matmos Wants to Read Your Mind

| Mon Oct. 15, 2012 5:03 AM EDT

The subject is placed with his back on a mattress. He wears headphones that funnel gentle waves of white noise into his brain and halved ping-pong balls that cup his eye sockets. In another room, Drew Daniel, one half of experimental duo Matmos, is trying to transmit the concept of his forthcoming album to the subject using only his mind. After the subject has adjusted to his sensory deprivation, he will attempt to say what that concept is.

"It's my stepmother singing 'Wabash Cannonball,'" the subject tells MC Schmidt, Daniel's musical and romantic partner, who is there in the room to record the responses. "It's 'Wabash Cannonball.' That's all I hear."

LISTEN: Pinback's Rob Crow on Rush, Mortality, and "Information: Retrieved"

| Mon Oct. 15, 2012 5:03 AM EDT

Just days before the release of Pinback's fifth album, Information: Retrieved, on the Temporary Residence Ltd label, the website Pinback.com was still fully dedicated to the duo's last release, Autumn of the Seraphs, which came out way back in 2007. "I heard there was plans for a new website. I don't know what happened to them," vocalist/guitarist Rob Crow, tells me nonchalantly during a Skype chat.

Ben Affleck's "Argo," & Other Crazy-As-Hell CIA Plots That Would Make Good Movies

| Fri Oct. 12, 2012 2:49 PM EDT

Argo
Warner Bros. Pictures
120 minutes

Ben Affleck is officially done atoning for Pearl Harbor, and for shanking hundreds of thousands of American moviegoers in the face back in 2003.

Argo, the actor/director's Iran-hostage-crisis movie, is a taut and funny spy thriller. Loosely based on a 2007 Wired article by Joshuah Bearman, the film focuses on the rescue of six American diplomats who escaped the besieged embassy in Tehran and holed up in the Canadian ambassador's residence for nearly three months. The rescue mission, executed with tight cooperation between the US and Canadian government, was led by CIA officer/professional "identity transformer" Tony Mendez (played by Affleck) in early 1980.

argo wikiThe CIA-made poster for Argo, with a fake screenwriter credit, and all. Wikimedia Commons The goal was to get the six Americans the hell out of hostile territory. The means to extraction were, literally, a bad movie: The CIA sets up a dummy production company with the help of two sympathetic Hollywood crewmen, starts fake production on a Star Wars knock-off/"sky god" epic called "Argo" (phony business cards, planting stories in the Hollywood press, the whole elaborate-black-op nine yards), and sends Mendez to meet with Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for "location scouting. "The United States government has just sanctioned your science-fiction movie," an agency high-up (a cameo by the great Philip Baker Hall) reluctantly informs Mendez.

Once in Tehran, Mendez coaches the six Americans on their new backstory (they're a Canadian film crew, wink wink), and how to get through the Iranian international airport without getting caught.

Yes, this is indeed a thing that American tax dollars paid for in real life. (Click here, to read more about the operation on the CIA's own website.)

Affleck's movie, co-produced by Grant Heslov and George Clooney, falls respectably into good-not-great territory. Sure, the film fudges the facts here and there (what film "based on actual events" does not?) and suffers from underdeveloped supporting characters (namely, the escaped embassy staff). But Argo enthralls at a brisk pace, deftly balancing the quirkiness of the Hollywood-CIA collusion with the  tension and upheaval of early-'80s Tehran. The opening sequence, in which the embassy is stormed as personnel scramble to burn every document they can get their hands on, is notable for its controlled intensity and attention to historical detail.

The dialogue is sharp ("Argo fuck yourself" is in the running for movie catchphrase of the year), the soundtrack is solid (The Rolling Stones, Dire Straits, Van Halen), and the acting is uniformly strong (Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Kerry Bishé, Victor Garber, and Tate Donovan, especially).

Argo is, thankfully, a nonpartisan and apolitical affair. Some conservative moviegoers might groan at having to hear Jimmy Carter's voice, as the former president pops up in archival footage and in a end-credit voiceover commenting on the secret mission. And there may be some who feel uneasy about watching a movie centered around a US embassy crisis, given the recent news out of Benghazi. (Taken 2, released one week earlier, also included an attack on an American embassy.) Otherwise, it's a clever movie about a deeply fascinating chapter in the history of American covert operations—one that both sides of the aisle should appreciate.

In honor of the unequivocal coolness of the so-called "Canadian Caper" dramatized in Argo, here's a brief list of other far-out, real-life CIA plots that would make great Hollywood elevator pitches:

The Unromantic Truth Behind the VJ Day Kiss Photo

| Wed Oct. 10, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

The famous scene from a different angle, as captured by a Naval photographer. This photo instead of the LIFE one is used here for copyright reasons. Lt. Victor Jorgensen / The National ArchivesThe famous scene from a different angle, as captured by a Naval photographer. This photo instead of the LIFE one is used here for copyright reasons. Lt. Victor Jorgensen / The National ArchivesThe iconic photograph has inspired wedding cake toppers and a 25-ft tribute statue. But it turns out there's nothing romantic about the scene in the photo, according to interviews with the identified "couple."

On VJ  day in 1945, the sailor, George Mendonsa, was drunk by his own admission. So drunk that even with his girlfriend and future wife in tow—she's the head peeking behind behind his shoulder in the LIFE photo—he grabs a random woman and kisses her. The woman was Greta Friedman, a dental nurse. This was the first time she'd ever laid eyes on him. 

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Bloggingheads: Culture War Edition

| Tue Oct. 9, 2012 9:07 AM EDT

ThinkProgress culture writer Alyssa Rosenberg graciously invited me on her Bloggingheads show this week to talk TV—namely, three of the most politically inclined shows this season: the spy thriller Homeland, the Tom Clancy-meets-Gilligan's Island Last Resort, and the political mystery/romance Scandal:

My review of Homeland is here; Rosenberg reviewed Homeland and Last Resort together here. As for Scandal, which is a ridiculous show that I very much enjoy, here are my favorite fantasy Washington things about the series:

  • You only need a bare majority to pass legislation in the Senate, because apparently the filibuster either doesn't exist, or no one ever uses it. 
  • The president is a moderate (liberal?) non-interventionist Republican who supports the DREAM Act.
  • It's really cheap to live in DC, as evidenced by a "cub reporter" for a "dying newspaper" living in a really, really, nice one-person condo.

ABC's "Nashville": A Shameless, Sexy Fall Drama, With Country Songs & Dirty Politics

| Mon Oct. 8, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Country songs, dysfunctional families, Southern accents, sex, and big-city politics.

That could be the elevator pitch for Nashville, a nighttime soap opera debuting this Wednesday (10 p.m. Eastern) on ABC. The show jumps right into the Tennessee-fried swagger and sleaze in its first hour. The pilot, directed by political documentarian R.J. Cutler and penned by Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri, introduces the swelling feud between 40-something music icon Rayna James (played by the fantastic Connie Britton), and 20-something country-pop seductress Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, returning to television).

Review: Black Marble's "A Different Arrangement"

| Mon Oct. 8, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Black Marble
A Different Arrangement
Hardly Art

The first time you hear Black Marble's debut album A Different Arrangement, which comes out this week, it sounds both instantly familiar and not quite like anything else you're listening to. The Brooklyn darkwave duo, made up of Chris Stewart and Ty Kube, have earned frequent comparisons to the paradigmatic post-punk band Joy Division due to the ever-present synths, dark basslines, and general moodiness, all anchored by Stewart's deep, morose voice—and to be sure, if a vocoder had an Ian-Curtis-underwater-on-codeine setting, this is what it would sound like. But in Black Marble's hands, those elements are made smoother and poppier, filtered not through the jagged screen of punk rock but the softer lens of '80s-era shoegaze and modern electropop.

"Movie & An Argument" Podcast: 'Pitch Perfect,' Liam Neeson & Mindy Kaling Edition

| Fri Oct. 5, 2012 1:12 PM EDT

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa Rosenberg & Asawin Suebsaeng, we discuss (scroll down for audio):

Listen here:

Each week, I'll be sitting down to chat with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg (who also does killer work at The Atlantic and Slate's "Double X"). We'll talk, argue, and laugh about the latest movies, television shows, and pop-cultural nonsense—with some politics thrown in just for the hell of it.

Alyssa describes herself as being "equally devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe and Barbara Stanwyck, to Better Off Ted and Deadwood." I (everyone calls me Swin) am a devoted lover of low-brow dark humor, Yuengling, and movies with high body counts. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and tune in during the weeks to come.

We'll be featuring guests on the program, and also taking listeners' questions, so feel free to Tweet them at me here, and we'll see if we can get to them during a show.

Thank you for listening!

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones. To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To find more episodes of this podcast in the iTunes store, click here.

To check out Alyssa's Bloggingheads show, click here.