2013 - %3, September

The Story of Sir Stuffington, The Internet's Favorite One-Eyed Pirate Cat

| Sun Sep. 22, 2013 3:03 AM EDT

He is the cutest one-eyed, disfigured pirate cat you've ever seen.

Over the past few days, pictures of Sir Stuffington (pictured above) have been widely shared online, making him the latest in a rich tradition of feline internet obsession. But there's so much more to Sir Stuffington than his adorable and funny Facebook photos. His story is one of perseverance and love, as well as internet fame.

Earlier this month, the cat and his two brothers were taken into Multnomah County Animal Services, an open-door animal shelter in Troutdale, Oregon. Sir Stuffington wasn't in good shape—his damaged jaw, his missing eye, his upper respiratory infection, his heart murmur, his body covered in fleas and dirt. (All three were about six weeks old, and came in with calicivirus.) But even before the kittens had been taken to the shelter, local resident Blazer Schaffer had stumbled upon a Facebook photo of Sir Stuffington suffering in the street, and was determined to track him down. Schaffer, an animal lover who has worked with the shelter for a decade, soon found the three kitten there. She promptly took them home as their foster parent, and is taking care of them at least for a couple months until they're healthy enough for adoption.

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"Prisoners": The Strongest Anti-Torture Argument That Has Come Out of The Movies in Years

| Fri Sep. 20, 2013 7:47 PM EDT

Prisoners
Warner Bros. Pictures
153 minutes

Prisoners is one of the year's finest films. It's a riveting and superbly acted two-and-a-half hours, carefully and smartly crafted by director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski.

The film focuses on the Thanksgiving kidnapping of two daughters, one from the Dover family and one from the Birches. Hugh Jackman commands the screen as Keller Dover, a father who abducts and terrorizes Alex Jones (played by Paul Dano), a mentally impaired young man who Keller is convinced took the girls and knows where they're being held. The police investigation is led by the ultra-dedicated Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). The movie scores high marks as a gripping mystery, and as a terrifying human drama. It's also the best argument against torture that has emerged from the film industry in a long time.

Last year, a lengthy debate began regarding Zero Dark Thirty's depiction of the United States' use of torture during the Bush administration. Some anti-torture commentators were rather generous. "It is an exposure of torture," Andrew Sullivan wrote. "It removes any doubt that war criminals ran this country for seven years and remain at large, while they scapegoated the grunts at Abu Ghraib who were, yes, merely following their superior's own orders." This point, made by Sullivan and many others at the time, is (to put it politely) excessively generous, given that ZDT offers a severe mangling of recent history that gives the viewer the impression that torture was crucial in tracking down Osama bin Laden. (It simply wasn't.) With Prisoners, however, there is no hedging on the matter. The film has nothing to do with politics or the abuses of the War on Terror, but it does depict the prolonged, illegal, and sloppy interrogation of someone for vital information.

Very quickly, Keller (Jackman) looks more like a villain than a determined and sympathetic family man. Alex's face is swollen and bloodied beyond recognition. Shards of glass protrude from his flesh. He's been drenched in streams of scalding water. There are serious doubts about whether Alex had anything to do with the abduction, and Keller's "hurt him until he talks" policy grows increasingly unsuccessful and problematic.

It is an ugly, frightening, and self-defeating act that is committed out of love and desperation. And it's a punishing depiction handled responsibly and masterfully by Villeneuve, and his cast and crew. It addresses a question we've heard many times before. For instance, in a 2006 episode of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, the panel discussed the issue of Bush-era torture and "enhanced interrogation." Actor Jason Alexander stated that if a prisoner had information on the location of his kidnapped child, he would without hesitation go "Quentin Tarantino" on him. That seems like something many parents would say, and it's not hard to understand why. But Prisoners intelligently explores the failings of that logic. What if you have the wrong person? Is this undermining effective police work? What do you lose of yourself if you go down this road? Prisoners strips any hint of heroism or romanticism from the notion of doing "whatever it takes" to save your family. Take that, Jack Bauer.

Here's a trailer for the powerful film:

Prisoners gets a release on Friday, September 20. The film is rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout. Click here for local showtimes and tickets.

Click here for more TV and film coverage from Mother Jones.

To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

The Man Who Turned Nintendo Into a Gaming Juggernaut Dies at 85

| Fri Sep. 20, 2013 3:14 PM EDT

If you were born after 1970, there's a good chance that a man responsible for much of the fun in your childhood and adolescence has just died.

Hiroshi Yamauchi—who passed away Thursday from complications of pneumonia at the age of 85—may not be a household name in America; but he played a huge role (one that is hard to overstate) in shaping the video game industry. Yamauchi was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1927, and worked in a military factory as a teenager during World War II. He became president of Nintendo in 1949 (at the age of 22), succeeding his grandfather.

When he assumed power, it was a playing-card company. Over the next decades of his tenure—through his "notoriously imperialistic style" of management and doing business—Yamauchi orchestrated Nintendo's transformation into Japan's first major video game company. One of his many pivotal business decision was hiring Shigeru Miyamoto, the "father of modern video gaming" who created The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., and Donkey Kong. Before stepping down as president of his multi-billion-dollar operation in 2002, Yamauchi had overseen the launch of Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, GameCube, and the ubiquitous Game Boy. And he decided which games Nintendo would release.

Not bad for a businessman who never played a video game and never showed any interest in enjoying them himself. But what he had was a clear vision for where the global electronic entertainment market was headed, and an eye for talent and what people craved. He was a visionary and revolutionary in the video game business in the same way that David Geffen was a visionary in modern show biz. So if you ever spent hours upon hours as a kid playing GoldenEye, then by all means raise a glass.

Now here's an old clip of him on Japanese TV news:

Fox News Asks Miss America About Those Racist Tweets

| Wed Sep. 18, 2013 2:49 PM EDT
Nina Davuluri
Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2013 Prensa International Miss America/Ho

I felt terrible for Nina Davuluri this week after she was crowned Miss America 2013, because I knew what was coming. Davuluri is the first Indian-American woman to win the pageant. The moment that special tiara was lowered onto her fabulously coiffed head, a barrage of hateful, outraged, resentful, and predictably inaccurate tweets and posts came hurtling her way, hundreds at a time. 

And my personal favorite: "WHEN WILL A WHITE WOMAN WIN #MISSAMERICA? Ever??!!" (The first nonwhite pageant winner was Norma Smallwood, of Cherokee descent, in 1926. It wouldn't happen again until 1984, when Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America. Not a bad streak!)

Norma Smallwood
Norma Smallwood, Miss America 1926 Archival photo

Davuluri, whose parents are a software engineer and an OB/GYN from the north Indian state Andhra Pradesh, grew up in Oklahoma, and wants to become a cardiologist, went on Fox News this morning to talk about the hostility over her "race. . . and ethnicity. . . and everything," as Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy put it.

"It was an unfortunate experience, but for [each] negative tweet, there were dozens of positive remarks and support," said Davuluri. "A lot of that stemmed from ignorance, and that's why my platform is so timely right now."

Like presidents, Miss America candidates run on platforms. Davuluri's is "celebrating diversity through cultural competency." Cultural competency is that idea that everyone's responsible for sorting through their own cultural biases and trying harder when it comes to interacting with different sorts of folks. It comes up a lot in conversations about public education and health care, places where people from different backgrounds cross paths regularly and have to (or should) make it work.

"I have always viewed Miss America as the girl next door, but for me the girl next door's evolving as the diversity in America evolves," said Davuluri on Fox & Friends. "It's not who she was ten years ago, and she's not going to be the same person ten years down the road."

I cringe at the "girl next door" trope. I can't stand the Miss America contest for that matter, for reasons manymanymany smart people have articulated well elsewhere. But if someone's gonna go on Fox News and talk about being "Miss America," I prefer Nina Davuluri at the podium.

This was hardly the first time the racist side of Twitter flipped its presumably ultrablonde wig over a person of color showing up in a familiar media space. When the character of Rue from The Hunger Games, described as "dark skinned" in the book, was played by the young black actress Amandla Stenbergangry viewers took to Twitter to complain the movie had been "ruined." When Cheerios released a commercial in which a little girl adorably pours cereal all over her (black) sleeping dad's chest because her (white) mom said Cheerios is "heart healthy," the company had to disable YouTube comments because thousands of Americans think it's still 1966.

But all this trembling at the mere sight of little brown girls hasn't stopped the rapid colorization of our country. So why bother bringing Davuluri's attackers up at all? Because of the class-act performance she's been delivering in the face of so much ugliness. She's handling the ugly backlash with grace and poise, and working in some teachable moments along the way.

A few years ago, I made a promise to myself. I'd never again eat at an Indian restaurant where scenes of "traditional" Indian women were hung on the walls, rows and rows of doe-eyed women coyly hiding their smiles beneath gauzy scarves while performing traditional Indian activities such as pouring water from jugs and strumming wooden harps. I wouldn't have held it against Nina Davuluri if she'd stuck to the high road, refusing to dignify ugly attacks with a forceful response. But it means a lot to me that she's talking back.

The Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un Pistachio Commercial You Never Thought You'd See

| Tue Sep. 17, 2013 3:33 PM EDT

"The secret to world peace is... pistachios," says Simpsons guest star/retired NBA player Dennis Rodman, in a new "Get Crackin'" ad for Wonderful Pistachios. He is then murdered by explosion by a Kim Jong Un lookalike. Next, the narrator declares, "Dennis Rodman does it because he's nuts."

North Korea is the worst place in the world to live. To put it generously, it's a human rights catastrophe ruled by a 31-year-old binge-drinking, roller-coaster riding, nuclear-armed Kobe Bryant fan. Torture, forced labor, gruesome execution, and starvation are widespread. Earlier this month, the regime was suspected of restarting a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor, which would constitute a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Rodman is an avowed sympathizer and admirer of the North Korean dictator, and has recently made controversial, faux-diplomatic trips to the country.

"Wonderful Pistachios is proud to be celebrating the fifth year of the Get Crackin' campaign," Marc Seguin, vice president of global sales and marketing at Paramount Farms (which makes Wonderful Pistachios), said in a statement on Monday. "Our brand is known for leveraging pop culture icons, internet memes and YouTube sensations, and this year will be no different. We know what type of entertainment our audience wants and there's definitely something for everyone with this year's cast." (The press release also describes Rodman as a "peace advocate.")

The Get Crackin' commercials tap into hot pop-culture news, and sometimes they get political. South Korean singer Psy (of "Gangnam Style" fame) did one for the 2013 Super Bowl. Comedian Lewis Black has starred in one. Another Get Crackin' commercial pokes fun at the 2012 Secret Service Colombia prostitution scandal, and another stars former Bristol Palin fiancé Levi Johnston. (Other examples of Wonderful Pistachios edginess include an ad featuring a whip-brandishing dominatrix.)

But this is the first time they've done one about a totalitarian mass murderer killing a celebrity with (presumably) a nuclear weapon. And some people are predictably raising their eyebrows. "Dennis Rodman's weird, terrible, un-Wonderful pistachios commercial," wrote the Washington Post's Alexandra Petri. Paramount Farms (which has been pushing the Rodman ad hard) did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But according to Wonderful Pistachios Twitter page, Rodman had a "blast" shooting the commercial.

Emilíana​ Torrini's "Tookah" Will Sweep You Away—Gently

| Mon Sep. 16, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Emilíana​ Torrini
Tookah
Rough Trade

The daughter of an Italian father and Icelandic mother, Emilíana​ ​Torrini has quietly compiled a lengthy and varied resume. Formerly a member of Iceland's GusGus, she recorded "Gollum's Song" for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, co-wrote tunes for diva Kylie Minogue, worked with Thievery Corporation and has released mind-stretching solo albums that suggest a more-grounded counterpart to space queen Bjork, including Love in the Time of Science, co-produced by Tears for Fears’ Roland Orzabal.

Tookah, Torrini's first outing in five years, blends a host of influences into a single hypnotic pulse that sounds like nothing but herself, encompassing folk, soft pop, trance music, New Age and electronica. Many of the nine tracks are engagingly understated confections, but "Fever Breaks," the woozy closing song, is a deceptively brash, seven-minute tour de force that feels alternately sinister and reassuring. Prepare to be swept away, gently.

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Gettin' Rowdy and Real at Berkeley's Old Time Music Convention

| Mon Sep. 16, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Square dancing at the 2012 Berkeley Old Time Music Convention

When I catch fiddler Suzy Thompson on the phone, she's pretty amped to tell me about the 10th annual Old Time Music Convention in Berkeley, California. As BOTMC's director and founder, Thompson has coaxed old-time musicians from around the world to not only perform at the small annual festival, but to lead its square dances and workshops with eager local participants and amateurs. The outdoor string band contest, held at the park near the Berkeley Farmers' Market, often takes center stage: jug bands, Italian tarantellas, a Greek band complete with undulating belly dancer—"anything goes as long as it's unplugged," the program reads. The result is a gathering modeled after Appalachian fiddle and banjo conventions that emphasize "doing rather than just watching." There's not much separation between the stars and the regular folk who take part.

That attitude is what attracted Foghorn Stringband fiddler Sammy Lind to old-time music in the first place. "I was really drawn to the social aspect of it," he tells me during a break from his current tour in Washington. "I loved getting together; it felt great to be part of a crew of people like that."

A Horror Flick Secretly Filmed at Disneyland. What Could Go Wrong?

| Thu Sep. 12, 2013 5:56 PM EDT

Mickey Mouse has got to be pissed.

The trailer (posted above) for first-time director Randy Moore's black-and-white horror flick Escape From Tomorrow was released online Wednesday. A hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival, the film has been riding a steady wave of publicity for the past nine months, not only for its noir-ish artistic merits, but also for the fact that it might be a heaving pile of illegality.

Escape From Tomorrow tells the story of a troubled family's trip to a Disney theme park. Their day of fun unravels into maelstrom of "paranoid visions, bizarre encounters, and an obsessive pursuit of a pair of sexy teenage Parisians," according to the film's synopsis. There is also a scene in which the lead character is vomiting and defecating simultaneously at the theme park. The movie was shot on location at both Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and Disneyland in Anaheim, California—without the permission of the Walt Disney Company. This is an example of "guerrilla filmmaking." (Moore also reportedly edited it in South Korea to try to keep it a secret from Disney.)

Filmmakers are generally required to negotiate and secure legal access to filming locations, so it wouldn't be an enormous shock if (the famously litigious) Disney were to take legal action against the movie, particularly with its October theatrical release around the corner. One prime example of Mickey Mouse getting his litigation on was the nearly decadelong 1970s court battle Walt Disney Productions v. Air Pirates, in which a group of countercultural cartoonists published two issues of the alt-comic Air Pirates Funnies. The issues showed beloved Disney characters indulging in sex, narcotics, and naughty language. The underground artists were sued by Disney for copyright and trademark infringement, among other things. The rebel cartoonists lost every case and appeal in the eight-year saga, which ended with a whimper: Disney decided not to try to have them thrown in jail and ended up dropping the lawsuit.

So of course a large part of the film's publicity revolves around whether or not Disney will do anything to suppress it. "The following motion picture has not been approved for all audiences by the Walt Disney Company," reads a title card at the start of the trailer. The "first trailer for Escape From Tomorrow will seriously make you wonder how Disney is not suing," declares Indiewire. When asked in January if he was concerned about Disney's potential response to his film, Moore said, "Yes."

"Constantly in the back of my head there are legal things, like, 'What could happen if I say this or that?'" Moore said.

There are a lot of things you could say about Disney. It's an unsettling corporate and entertainment empire bearing the name of a far-right reactionary that manages rides that are possibly covered in dead people. But Disney executives aren't stupid, and they've been keeping very, very quiet about the film since January—already knowing that waging a legal war on a small horror movie would likely generate exponentially more attention for the filmmakers and create a situation in which Disney looks like a multibillion-dollar bully. For instance, Disney declined to sic their armada of lawyers on the people behind Exit Through the Gift Shop, a 2010 documentary that also included some rogue filming at Disneyland. Neither Disney nor Moore have responded to Mother Jones' requests for comment, and Producers Distribution Agency—which is distributing the film—did not confirm whether or not Disney has pursued any recent legal action.

Now, to drive home the point of merging Disney theme parks with surreal psychological and physical horror, here's the poster for Escape From Tomorrow:

Escape From Tomorrow poster Disney
Via Wikimedia Commons

And here's a clip from the film:

A Political History of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"

| Wed Sep. 11, 2013 3:52 PM EDT

"The Gang" is back for its ninth season of dedicated nihilism and political incorrectness.

The new season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia premiered last Wednesday, this time on FX's newly launched spin-off channel FXX. The series—starring Charlie Day as Charlie, Glenn Howerton as Dennis, Rob McElhenney as Mac, Kaitlin Olson as Dee, and Danny DeVito as Frank—has a much-deserved reputation for outrageous and low-brow comedy ("Seinfeld on crack," it's been called). During a blind date with a beautiful woman, a nervous, sweat-drenched Charlie lies about his job by telling her he's a philanthropist, but mispronounces it as "full-on rapist." When Dennis visits his old frat house, the brothers are torturing a pledge with a stun gun to the genitals. You know, stuff like that. But the copious layers of crude humor mask one of the show's less appreciated virtues: Oftentimes, it gets damn political—and on a wide range of issues, from foreign policy to welfare.

The Happy-Sad Tales of Tom Barbash

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 4:00 PM EDT

"If this was only the start of the darkest part of his life, Timkin marveled at what he'd already been able to make of it."

Thus concludes Balloon Night, one of the sad yet joyous stories in Stay Up With Me, a new collection out this week from Tom Barbash, former small town reporter turned fiction writer.

Timkin, the protagonist of Balloon Night, faces an onslaught of holiday revelers streaming into his Manhattan apartment for the Thanksgiving blowout party he hosts with his wife every year. Except she left him for good two days ago, with no way to cancel the festivities on such short notice. So he endeavors to drown her absence in booze and friends until, at the climax of the night, the desperate realization that she isn't coming back sets in with an inexplicable wave of euphoria. "To Amy!" he calls out, toasting the poignancy of his pain.

The characters that populate Barbash's stories are all hurting—some of them quite badly. But it doesn't diminish their capacity for wonder. They collide with life, losing siblings and spouses, parents and children. They suffer bad stepfathers and endure the exploits of their sexually active offspring. The magic of the stories comes in the small, transcendent moments when the world crushing in doesn't seem so bad.

Barbash has published two books previously: the award-winning novel The Last Good Chance, based on the years he spent reporting in upstate New York, and the New York Times bestseller On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, and 9/11, a nonfiction account of the revival of the financial services firm after it lost nearly seven hundred employees in the Twin Towers. He teaches in the MFA program at California College of the Arts and lives in Marin County, Calif.

I caught up with Barbash to ask about class, clueless New Yorkers, and JD Salinger's lost works.