2013 - %3, August

Chicago or Chiraq? "I Don't Wanna Say There's No Hope, But I Don't Know, Man"

| Sat Aug. 24, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Things have gotten so bad recently on the streets of South and West Chicago, Chi-town has earned a new moniker: "Chiraq." But the city's troubles with gun violence are old news—see our earlier chat with the filmmakers behind The Interrupters—and we've become desensitized. This gripping new documentary short, titled Chi Raq, by London-based filmmaker and photographer Will Robson-Scott is sufficient to shake you from the comfort of your armchair liberalism and give you a fresh dose of reality as it applies to Chicago's poorest neighborhoods. I caught up with Robson-Scott to find out how he navigated these dangerous streets, and get his take on what's wrong with America.

Mother Jones: A refreshing thing about your documentary style is that you don't seem to have an agenda: You just take a complex issue and focus on those affected by it. Are you trying to help us understand what's happening in Chicago at a more visceral level?

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Is "Dads" the Year's Most Racist Sitcom?

| Fri Aug. 23, 2013 4:48 PM EDT

"Well, you're lucky your dads are American; my dad beat me with a math book 'til I was 16," says Veronica, an Asian American character (played by Brenda Song) on the upcoming Fox sitcom Dads. The new series (executive produced by Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy, American Dad!, and Ted fame) premieres on September 17, but it has already generated controversy for its comic portrayal of Asian Americans and the Chinese. The show focuses on two founders of a video game company, and how they deal with their intrusive fathers. Comedy supposedly ensues, some of it at the expense of Asian folk.

In the pilot episode, the main characters (played by Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) insist that Veronica dress up like a "sexy Asian schoolgirl"—one who giggles like a Japanese teenage stereotype—in order to impress a group of Chinese investors. Chinese people are mocked and declared untrustworthy. The "Asian men have tiny dicks" stereotype is gleefully deployed. The term "Oriental" is used because…funny. And it doesn't help that Dads co-creator Alec Sulkin once tweeted, "If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google 'Pearl Harbor death toll.'" Sulkin sent this tweet on March 11, 2011, the day a tsunami struck Japan and killed thousands. None of the victims, Japanese or otherwise, was ever implicated in the plot to bomb Americans in the 1940s. (Sulkin soon deleted the comment and apologized via tweet.)

Full disclosure: I am indeed of Asian descent—my parents were born in Bangkok, and I was born in Washington, DC. I rarely have a problem laughing at jokes that invoke Asian/Asian American stereotypes, so long as they are funny and/or have something wise to say. If you'd like my personal opinion of Dads, I'd say that the real problem does not lie with any ethnic or racial stereotypes, but with the fact that it is unoriginal and often a painfully unfunny, lazy waste of production space.

Can These Students Fix Wikipedia's Lady Problem?

| Fri Aug. 23, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Earlier this month, Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales told conference-goers in Hong Kong that a whopping 87 percent of the site's editors are men. It wasn't the first time Wikipedia's gender imbalance had played out in the media: In Februrary, staff acknowledged that it affected the online encyclopedia's content, and a New York Times op-ed in April noted that Wikipedia editors had been moving women from the "American Novelists" category to the "American Women Novelists" subcategory.

Chart of Wikipedia gender distribution across countries
Wikipedia survey, 2011 Wikimedia Commons

So what's a tech-savvy woman to do? "Storming Wikipedia," a project of the feminist organization FemTechNet and an assignment given to students participating in FemTechNet's new online course, is designed to fix this imbalance. During these exercises students edit Wikipedia en masse, "with the goal being to collaboratively write feminist thinking into the site," says Alexandra Juhasz, professor of media studies at California's Pitzer College and one of the course facilitators.

Students participating in the exercise will create and expand Wikipedia articles on influential women and encourage "feminists, academics, and activists to contribute to Wikipedia and help revolutionize its culture." According to Inside Higher Ed, "students will be given lists of women who have played key roles in science and technology," and will tweak articles to acknowledge their contributions.

FemTechNet, which Juhasz calls "a collective of international feminist scholars, artists, and activists," is launching an online curriculum focused on educating people about the relationship between women and technology. Starting in September, instructors at 15 different colleges, including Brown, Yale, and Penn State University, will be offering "Dialogues on Feminism and Technology." Students taking the course will study technology through a feminist lens using prerecorded videos featuring prominent feminist scholars.

"From a feminist perspective, we think of technology differently than just as objects or applications," says Anne Balsamo, a course organizer and dean of the School of Media Studies at the New School in New York City. "Technology from a feminist perspective is social, cultural, technical objects or arrangements."

And, importantly, it includes women.

Aaron Sorkin on "The Newsroom," the Huffington Post, and Journalism Screw-Ups

| Thu Aug. 22, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Aaron Sorkin, left, and Jeff Daniels in Los Angeles

On Wednesday night, HBO and The New Republic hosted a special sneak peek of next Sunday's episode of The Newsroom in Washington, DC. The event was held just a couple blocks away from the White House at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the place where the de facto censorship board for American cinema conducts its business. The cocktail reception and subsequent screening were attended by a few lucky fans, some TNR staff (including editor Julia Ioffe), the Hill's gossip writer Judy Kurtz, and Chris Hughes, Facebook's cofounder and TNR editor in chief, among others. The evening concluded with a Q&A with Newsroom—and West Wing, and Sports Night—creator Aaron Sorkin, led by TNR literary editor Leon Wieseltier, a Newsroom consultant who has long been friendly with HBO (you might have seen him on The Sopranos that one time, for instance).

During the Q&A, Sorkin confirmed that HBO has now offered him the opportunity to make a third season of The Newsroom, and discussed a wide range of topics—his show, journalism, Hollywood, baseball, theater, and so forth. He offered up some begrudging praise for the New York Times ("I am scared to death of [them]," he said, referring to the Times' arts section), and some real-deal praise for playwrights such as Harold Pinter and David Mamet ("Mamet can write concertos of people saying nothing," Sorkin—himself a playwright—said).

Quick Reads: "The United States of Paranoia" by Jesse Walker

| Wed Aug. 21, 2013 10:17 AM EDT

 

The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory
By Jesse Walker
HARPER

Democrats didn't engineer a malaria outbreak to halt Andrew Johnson's impeachment. Zachary Taylor didn't eat poisoned cherries. Safeway isn't controlled by the Illuminati (so far as we know). Reason editor Jesse Walker doesn't just catalog conjured cabals, but offers his own conspiracy theory, too: that paranoia isn't limited to the fringe—it's everywhere, from post-9/11 foreign policy to liberal backlash against the tea party. Conspiracy theories "are not simply a colorful historical byway," he writes. "They are at the country's core." And the dark and powerful force that penetrates the farthest reaches of society while remaining unknown to most Americans? That's just our psyche.

6 of the Craziest Conspiracy Theories From Jesse Walker's "United States of Paranoia"

| Wed Aug. 21, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The United States of Paranoia, an examination of the impact of conspiracy theories on America history by Reason editor Jesse Walker, hit bookstores on Tuesday—you should read it. I reviewed it in brief for our print magazine—you should subscribe to it. In any case, there's much more to Walker's book than simply weird conspiracies, but it cannot be overstated: The book is chock full of 'em, and most of the theories struck a chord with a not insignificant portion of the population. Here are six of the most absurd, as relayed by Walker.

1. Death by Sugar cube

Theory: "On February 23, 1857, according to [writer John Smith] Dye, southern agents poisoned all the bowls containing lump sugar at the National Hotel in Washington, DC. Southerners, he explained, drink coffee; coffee drinkers use pulverized sugar; so the southern diners would be spared and the tea-drinking northern diners, including [James] Buchanan, would be wiped out. The future president barely survived the illness that followed. 'Intimidated by the attempted assassination,' Dye wrote, Buchanan 'became even more ever the tool of the slave power.'"

Spoiler: Buchanan wasn't actually in Washington on February 23.

2. Homo hydra

Theory: "In 1952, the conservative weekly Human Events ran an article by Rose Waldeck headlined 'Homosexual International.' Gay people, Waldeck argued, belong 'by the very nature of their vice' to 'a world-wide conspiracy against society.' This hydra 'has spread all over the globe; penetrated all classes; operated in armies and in prisons; has infiltrated into the press, the movies, and the cabinets; and it all but dominates the arts, literature, theater, music, and TV.'"

Spoiler: No.

3. Death by Democrats

Theory: "After commenting that Zachary Taylor 'fell under the malarious vapors of Washington and died' because he was prone to acting honestly and straightforward,' the Tribune writer claimed that Washington in subsequent years 'was free of malaria—that is, for Democrats; but when the new Republican Party began to gain strength, and it was possible that they might become the ruling power in Congress, the water of Washington suddenly grew dangerous, the hotels (particularly the National) became pest-houses, and dozens of heretics from the Democratic faith grew sick almost unto death.'"

Spoiler: Malaria is caused by mosquitoes.

4. Witch dogs

Theory: "In January 1692, a pastor's daughter, age nine, and her cousin, age eleven or twelve, suddenly began to suffer wild and inexplicable fits. They were 'bitten and pinched by invisible agents,' wrote Reverend John Hale, who witnessed the girls' spasms; 'their arms, necks, and backs turned this way and that way, and returned back again, so as it was impossible for them to do of themselves, and beyond the power of Epileptick Fits, or natural Disease to effect…As weeks went by and the children's condition grew worse, the locals suspected witchcraft."

Spoiler: The confessions that triggered the trial and execution of 14 women, six men, and two dogs came from a slave who had been beaten.

5. Death by Dungeons & Dragons.

Theory: "In her 1987 book Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society, [Tipper Gore] pitched herself as a moderate liberal who was adept with sociological evidence and concerned about feminist issues. Yet she included an entire chapter on the dangers of the occult, and one of the alleged occult dangers she discussed was D&D. 'According to Mrs. Pat Pulling, founder of the organization Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons,' Gore wrote, 'the game has been linked to nearly 50 teenage suicides and homicides."

Spoiler: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined the same data and found no link between D&D and suicide. In fact, gamers were statistically less likely to commit suicide than other teen populations.

6. Papal bull

Theory: A "rumor started to circulate that 'the great men of Maryland hath hired the Seneca Indians to kill the protestants.' Ten thousand Seneca Indians were said to be gathering at the head of the Patuxent River; when that army turned out to be a fiction, a new report claimed that 9,000 were gathered at the mouth of the river and another 900 had already invaded a settlement."

Spoiler: There was no Catholic–Indian alliance, but the conspiracy theory did lead to an armed takeover of the statehouse and a subsequent colony-wide ban on Catholicism.

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"Red Obsession" Portrays Wine as a High-Stakes Game of Power and Excess

| Wed Aug. 21, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

LION ROCK FILMS

Economics. Politics. Booze. Sex toys. That about sums up Red Obsession, a new documentary by David Roach and Warwick Ross about the rich history and present-day cultural significance of Bordeaux wine. Fastidiously grown and produced in southwestern France, Bordeaux has been a longtime obsession of celebrities, oenophiles, and wealthy imbibers—"beguiling kings, emperors, and dictators alike," notes narrator Russell Crowe.

The drama here centers on China's rising thirst for Bordeaux and the resulting surge in demand and price. We are treated to a rapturous display of power, cash, craving, and excess—set to a soundtrack that keeps things just hip enough. Red Obsession features engrossing interviews, from the French vintners so passionate about their traditions to one of China's most famous Bordeaux collectors—a sex-toy entrepreneur whose cellar is said to be worth more than $60 million. The right bottle can create a lot of excitement, notes one chateau exec. Ditto the film.

The Most Important Writing Tip the Late Elmore Leonard Ever Gave

| Tue Aug. 20, 2013 4:11 PM EDT

Elmore Leonard, in 1989.

The "Dickens of Detroit" is dead.

American novelist Elmore Leonard, 87, died Tuesday due to complications from a stroke he suffered last month. According to a brief statement on the author's website, Leonard died at home surrounded by family.

If you've been to the movies in the past five-and-a-half decades, chances are you've seen a movie (probably multiple times) based on one of his books or stories. Leonard wrote the basis for Out of Sight, one of director Steven Soderbergh's best films. He wrote Get Shorty, which became one of the better movies of the John Travolta career revival. His book Rum Punch was adapted into the Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. His 1953 short story Three-Ten to Yuma was adapted into two films, one of which was inducted into the prestigious Criterion Collection. And his characters served as the basis for three television series, including ABC's Karen Sisco and FX's hit drama Justified.

Pop Music for Grownups: Sam Phillips' "Push Any Button"

| Mon Aug. 19, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Sam Phillips
Push Any Button
Littlebox Recordings

The namesake of the Sun Records visionary and ex-wife of superproducer T-Bone Burnett, Sam Phillips originally recorded Christian pop as Leslie Phillips. Since rebranding herself in the '80s, she's released a stunning series of secular (yet still spiritually inclined) albums, as well as writing music for the TV series Gilmore Girls and Bunheads, and (improbably) playing a terrorist in one of the noxious Die Hard films.

Push Any Button compares favorably with such standout '90s Phillips albums as Omnipop (It's Only an Flesh Wound Lambchop) and Martinis and Bikinis. Though her lyrics occasionally look heavenward—in "No Time Like Now" she observes, "What comes after living is bigger than we know"—there's not a drop of treacle in her musings, thanks to twisty melodies and a tart, sardonic voice that recalls John Lennon's later work.

Phillips delivers a memorable portrayal of a woman at odds with the real world, wandering in a maze of introspection as she scoffs at trend-setters ("Pretty Time Bomb"), dismisses a faithless lover ("When I'm Alone") and embraces hope ("Can't See Straight") without qualification. Regardless of your affiliation (or absence of one), Push Any Button is thoughtful, tuneful and seriously addictive pop for grownups.

Man and the Sea: A Longreads Digest

| Sat Aug. 17, 2013 9:00 AM EDT

"The Miraculous Draught of Fishes."

longreadsThough it may be hard to remember during summer vacation, humanity's relationship with the oceans consists of more than just sunbathing and body-surfing. Our fate is bound up with the largely mysterious bodies of water that spread over 70 percent of the earth's surface. Sink in to the articles below to learn about the shark hunters, shrimpers, and Navy SEALs who call the briny deep their home.

For more long stories from Mother Jones, check out our longreads archive. And, of course, if you're not following @longreads and @motherjones on Twitter yet, get on that.
 


 

The Quest To Uncover The Secret Lives Of Sharks | Brian Lam | Popular Science | August 2013

Whether in the sea, in a soup, or in a tornado, no fish strike a combination of both fear and curiosity in humans quite like sharks. Here, scientists and volunteers set out to gather data on the toothy predators' movements to try and reverse the animal's dwindling population numbers.

Just as the captain raises the anchor to motor to another spot, a spool of 900-pound monofilament begins unwinding furiously off the stern. A buoy attached to the line pinballs across the choppy ocean. A cameraman in a wetsuit readies his $50,000 waterproof HD-camera rig. A scientist grabs a steel lasso and a cordless drill, and an engineer snatches up the rocket-looking thing, which includes a plastic tube filled with sensors and a satellite transmitter.

A Sea Story | William Langewiesche | The Atlantic | May 2004

In 1994, the ferry Estonia sank into the Baltic Sea, taking more than 850 people with it. Originally the largest ship of the newly free nation, which had just emerged from Soviet rule, the Estonia became one of the deadliest maritime disasters of the century. Langeweische's grippingly narrates a moment-by-moment account of "anarchy on the high seas."

Rolf Sörman never found even such shelter in a raft. When he took Yvonne Bernevall's hand and dropped with her from Deck 8 into the ocean, he knew the temperature of the water was lethal. He gave himself a few minutes at the most before he would succumb to the cold. But he was so keyed up that the water felt neutral when he plunged in. In Baltic terms that means it felt warm. When he hit the water, he kept holding Bernevall's hand.