2013 - %3, October

"South Park" Takes on Obamacare Website, Paints Sympathetic Portrait of Kathleen Sebelius

| Thu Oct. 31, 2013 11:10 AM EDT

On Wednesday night, South Park tackled Healthcare.gov. The latest episode of the popular Comedy Central animated series depicted a "simple, integrated [web] portal" called IntelliLink, which South Park Elementary was using to streamline students' health care services. If a kid starts "coughing up blood and need to see the nurse," Mr. Mackey instructs, the student enters his or her request into the school's new website. For virtually the entire episode, the site is malfunctioning and falls far short on its promise to be the "easiest, most streamlined" way to deliver health care. The episode (which you can watch here) also shows Canada struggling with their own IntelliLink system.

"Anyone who thinks streamlining health care into an integrated computer system would go smoothly deserves a giant queef in their face," one Canadian character says.

The new episode, titled "Taming Strange," fits South Park's pattern of lampooning both sides of the aisle. Past targets include anti-immigration hardliners, Al Gore, Glenn Beck, and (earlier this season) NSA spying and Stand Your Ground laws. But what is a bit of a surprise is the South Park crew's sympathetic portrayal of Kathleen Sebelius, the Department of Health and Human Services chief who has taken a lot of heat from Congress and commentators for the problems people are having when they try to sign up for health insurance on Healthcare.gov. After repeated failings of the school's IntelliLink site, Mackey hires "Pat," a character based on Sebelius. Instead of allowing her to complete her sentences, Mackey scapegoats her, won't stop shouting at her, and then promptly dismisses her. "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT [THE WEBSITE]?" Mackey yells. "HOW ABOUT YOU TAKE SOME DAMN RESPONSIBILITY?"

Here is Pat/Sebelius' cameo on South Park:

Kathleen Sebelius South Park Healthcare.gov


h/t Lachlan Markay

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It Takes 6 CDs, a DVD, a Book, and a 78 RPM Record to Capture Woody Guthrie

| Tue Oct. 29, 2013 3:26 PM EDT

Woody Guthrie
American Radical Patriot

With six CDs, a DVD, a 60-page book (plus a 258-page PDF), and a 78 rpm vinyl record—who can even play such a thing these days?—the elaborate American Radical Patriot might seem to miss the point of folksinger Woody Guthrie’s no-nonsense populism. Still, if you know him only as the guy who inspired Bob Dylan, or the impetus for the Billy Bragg-Wilco project Mermaid Avenue, it's a revelation to hear the source firsthand.

Four of the CDs offer Guthrie's complete Library of Congress recordings from 1940, featuring five hours of interviews and songs with folklorist Alan Lomax. The entertaining spoken-word segments merit one play, but the music, with its blunt wisdom, flinty wit, and exuberant spirit, bears repeated hearing. There also are songs recorded for the Bonneville Power Administration in the Pacific Northwest, music for an anti-venereal disease campaign, and a radio drama. The 78 backs a Guthrie performance with an oft-bootlegged Dylan cover of his "VD City" from 1961. More than a historical curiosity, American Radical Patriot is essential fare for upstarts of all ages.

Saudi Comic's "No Woman, No Drive" Video Goes Viral, But He's "Not a Social Activist"

| Mon Oct. 28, 2013 4:27 PM EDT

The video has racked up over 3.5 million views since it was posted to YouTube on Saturday. It has received positive attention from everybody from CNN to Twitchy. And it's drawing even more attention to the latest efforts of women in the immensely conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who are protesting the country's prohibition on women drivers. On Saturday, dozens of Saudi women defied the ban, many of them posting web videos of themselves sitting in the driver's seat. This type of protest has happened before, but this is reportedly the largest of its kind to occur in the Kingdom.

"No Woman, No Drive" is an obvious parody of "No Woman, No Cry," the popular reggae song by Bob Marley and the Wailers. The song is a satirical a cappella performance, with lyrics such as, "your feet is your only carriage, but only inside the house—and when I say it I mean it."

The video was shot at the C3 Films/Telfaz11 studios in Riyadh, and was created by Hisham Fageeh, Fahad Albutairi, and Alaa Wardi, who belong to the Saudi entertainment collective Telfaz11. The group has been on the front lines of Saudi Arabia's recent YouTube-abetted "comedic revolution," and supports the successful Saudi YouTube sketch series La Yekthar.

"We just wanted to do something relevant and funny," Fageeh, the 26-year-old, Riyadh-based comedian/actor, tells Mother Jones. "The lyrics happened a while back in New York City while I was taking a shower, just playing on words. And the real, materialized idea came while shooting Telfaz11 projects in London and perusing Twitter hashtags in Saudi Arabia. I had discussed the idea with Alaa Wardi a long time ago, and he was all about it. So Fahad Albutairi and I stayed up and wrote it in our London hotel room."

Fageeh, who studied religion and the Middle East at Florida State University and worked in educational development in Rwanda, started doing stand-up comedy while living and working in Washington, DC. Fageeh then attended Columbia University, which allowed him to try out his act in New York. He lists Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Andy Kaufman, Zach Galifianakis, Eric Andre, and Hannibal Buress as some of his top comic influences. And for all the attention his new video is receiving as a piece of social commentary and satire, Fageeh insists that this project was not politically motivated.

"I'm not an artist or social activist, I'm a comedian," he says. At the start of "No Woman, No Drive," Fageeh identifies himself as a "social activist" who doesn't "really listen to music," which led to many news outlets referring to him as such after the video posted online. Fageeh, however, clarifies that that was just a "character bit" he was doing. "It was satirizing the valorization of titles that happen in media (and general human) interactions," he says. When I ask Fageeh if he is passionate about issues of women's rights in Saudi Arabia, he simply responds, "I'm passionate about comedy."

8 Awesome Lou Reed Videos You Might Have Missed

| Mon Oct. 28, 2013 8:58 AM EDT

It's extremely difficult to overstate the importance of Lou Reed on modern rock music. Reed—the Brooklyn-born singer/songwriter and guitarist who led the remarkably influential Velvet Underground—died on Sunday at his Long Island home. He was 71, and the cause of death was liver disease. During his time with the Velvet Underground and his lengthy solo career, Reed rewrote large chunks of the rock 'n' roll playbook, changing the rules about the use of everything from bleak, provocative lyrics to feedback.

"I've always believed that there's an amazing number of things you can do through a rock 'n' roll song, and that you can do serious writing in a rock song if you can somehow do it without losing the beat," Reed said. "The things I've written about wouldn't be considered a big deal if they appeared in a book or movie."

Reed's talents and contributions also won him many fans in the literary and political elite. He was famously adored by Václav Havel, the late Czech Republic president and human-rights hero, who had Bill Clinton invite Reed to perform at the White House in 1998. "My friend Lou Reed came to the end of his song," novelist Salman Rushdie tweeted on Sunday. "So very sad. But hey, Lou, you'll always take a walk on the wild side. Always a perfect day." And the official feed of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent out the following:

And as you remember his life, work, and greatest hits, here are eight fantastic Lou Reed videos that you might have missed over the years:

1. Lou Reed unplugs and performs with Pete Townshend:

2. Lou Reed chats with Elvis Costello:

3. Lou Reed on how much he hates MP3s:

4. Lou Reed with Metallica:

5. Lou Reed on rock songs and great American literature:

6. Lou Reed on Charlie Rose, with a dog:

7. Lou Reed paying tribute to the deceased Amy Winehouse:

8. Lou Reed selling Honda scooters:

Best Coast Showcases Sweet and Sour Indie Rock on "Fade Away"

| Mon Oct. 28, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

Best Coast
Fade Away
Jewel City

Bethany Cosentino, the higher-profile half of Best Coast, which also includes multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, excels at mixing sour and sweet, writing shiny, angst-ridden guitar anthems that she delivers in a sunny, winning voice.

The seven-track EP Fade Away contains some of her most pungent work to date, from the toe-tapping self-analysis of "Who Have I Become?" and "Fear of My Identity" to the wall-of-sound epic "I Wanna Know," on which she sings, "It’s alarming/How charming you can be," before concluding, "Now it’s time to say, 'Baby goodbye.'"

Adapting old-school pop conventions to the indie-rock landscape, Cosentino’s deceptively sophisticated tunes feel like uncensored diary entries writ large.

21 Great Tracks for Your (Grownup) Halloween Playlist

| Mon Oct. 28, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

Halloween is one of those holidays that gets harder to enjoy with age. Because it's taboo to trick-or-treat after the age of, say, 14—and because they generally lack young children of their own—young adults are left with the options of 1) passing out candy or 2) waiting for the weekend to throw a party with friends. Luckily, for those of us doing the latter, there is a rich trove of appropriately themed music for the occasion. Here are 21 songs to add to your playlist this Halloween.

1. "Dance Magic Dance," by David Bowie (from Labyrinth soundtrack)

2. "Superstition," by Stevie Wonder

3. "Terror!" by The Rakes

4. "Boris the Spider," by The Who

5. "Coffin Trick," by Atlas Sound

6. "Nail in my Coffin," by the Kills

7. "Pluto," by Björk

8. "Little Ghost," by The White Stripes

9. "The Ghost Who Walks," by Karen Elson

10. "I Put a Spell on You," by Nina Simone

11. "Hell," by The Squirrel Nut Zippers

12. "Sympathy for the Devil," by The Rolling Stones

13. "Dead Man's Party," by Oingo Boingo

14. "Little Drop of Poison," by Tom Waits

15. "Ghost Riders in the Sky," by Johnny Cash

16. "Blood Like Lemonade," by Morcheeba

17. "Dandy's in the Underworld," by T.Rex

18. "Jump in the Line (Shake Senora)," as performed by Harry Belafonte

19. "This is Halloween," from The Nightmare Before Christmas

20. "Thriller," by Michael Jackson

21. "Werewolf Bar Mitvah," from 30 Rock

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Ferrari Finally Comments on Cameron Diaz Having Sex With Their Car in "The Counselor"

| Fri Oct. 25, 2013 5:17 PM EDT

In the weeks leading up to the Friday release of The Counselor, a collaboration between director Ridley Scott and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy, the most talked about scene in the whole movie was by far the one showcasing Cameron Diaz' deviant car-sexing. "Cameron Diaz sizzles in X-rated dance on Ferrari," the USA Today headline read. "Cameron Diaz humps a car in new film with Brad Pitt," the UK tabloid The Sun announced over a year ago. "The Counselor Features the Year's Most Outrageous Sex Scene," IGN declared.

The film's cast is a spread of A-list talent and sex appeal: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt. The film is a tense, wild morality play about a suave attorney's (Fassbender) disastrous foray into drug trafficking. There are plenty of memorable moments in The Counselor, both gruesome and otherwise. But it will forever be remembered as the movie in which Diaz has some crazy sex with a Ferrari.

The scene takes place in the middle of a golf course at night, with the action occurring on top of a parked 2013 Ferrari California HS. Malkina (Diaz) tells her drug-dealing lover Reiner (Bardem, with hair modeled after producer Brian Grazer's insane spikes) that she intends to "fuck [his] car" and proceeds to do exactly that while he looks on in confusion and terror. "It was too gynecological to be sexy—almost," Reiner narrates.

In The Counselor's press notes, Diaz describes her character as being "compelled to take the power of every man, devour it, and then break down every woman."

Last week, Ferrari's press office did not respond to multiple requests for comment about what they thought of Diaz making savagely aberrant love to their vehicle. (20th Century Fox also did not respond to requests for comment on Diaz having all the sex with an expensive yellow car.) But on Monday, a Ferrari North America spokeswoman emailed me their brief statement:

We were indeed aware of the Ferrari California's presence in the film, a star among the stars of this talented cast.

For the record, a Bentley also appears in the film. Diaz does not have sex with it.

Here's an illuminating GIF of a key part of the Ferrari-nookie sequence, via BuzzFeed's Kate Aurthur:

This post has been updated.

Click here for local showtimes and tickets for The Counselor.

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Short Takes: "Muscle Shoals"

| Fri Oct. 25, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

Muscle Shoals


By pure serendipity, filmmaker Greg Camalier ended up late one night in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, whose FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound studios were longtime meccas for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Otis Redding, the Stones, and Bob Dylan. Moved by the place, Camalier spent three-plus years collecting footage and interviewing local musicians and stars like Bono and Mick Jagger about the iconic studios. While Muscle Shoals can't match the quality of The Last Waltz or PBS's The Blues, the film offers a reverent and infectious glimpse into a town and culture responsible for some of the finest R&B, soul, and rock and roll ever recorded.

This review originally appeared in our November/December issue of Mother Jones.

Short Takes: "Tales From the Organ Trade"

| Thu Oct. 24, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

Tales From the Organ Trade


With "king of venereal horror" David Cronenberg narrating, you'd expect stories of people being drugged and dragged onto filthy operating tables, only to awaken with a kidney missing. Actually, director Ric Esther Bienstock makes a decent argument for the sale of kidneys on a regulated market. The World Health Organization, among others, condemns the very notion as the ultimate in First World exploitation, yet some of the so-called victims tell Bienstock how selling a kidney saved them from a life of poverty. As for the well-heeled ill, the choice may boil down to death versus a less-than-ethical transaction. Which would you choose?

This review originally appeared in our November/December issue of Mother Jones.

Boys Get to be Hackers for Halloween. Girls Get to be...Hookers?

| Wed Oct. 23, 2013 4:04 PM EDT

Update: The dudebros (or bro singular, as the case may be) have posted a Facebook response to the social media uproar over their party. "It can be hard to please the whole world and the different cultures, values and beliefs that exists," they say, adding that they suspect rival hackerspaces are secretly behind all the negative attention they're getting.

From the Eventbrite invitation

Another week; another boneheaded attempt at misogynistic humor in the tech community. A startup office in San Francisco is throwing a costume party this weekend. The theme is "Hackers and Hookers," and the invite promises beer, a food truck, and "girls." Will the girls be for sale at the food trucks? It's not clear, and neither is the identity of the dudebros behind this ill-advised mess. They're associated with something called Hacker Hideout, a startup co-working space in San Francisco, which, judging by the photos on its website, is less appealing than some really sad Craigslist apartment ads I've seen. (There's a shot of a bare mattress on the floor, inviting "thinkers and builders, tech lovers and business moguls" to consider working—or even living!—at the Hideout.)

To be sure, the tech world's gender and sexism problems are much bigger than this eyeroll-worthy but ultimately laughable affair. But it points to an ongoing concern voiced by some in tech circles that the pervasiveness of alcohol-fueled Silicon Valley meetups and boozy conference after-parties are creating unsafe environments for women in the industry. Especially when they're tinged with the brogrammer-y "work hard, play hard" frathouse tech culture I've written about beforeEarlier this month, a young web designer named Justine Arreche came forward with an account of an alleged sexual assault by her boss at the time, a well-known member of the Ruby programmer community, during a party at the CodeMash developer conference. Her post (which she has since taken down, after receiving rape threats and death threats online) was widely circulated on social media, with several commentors suggesting that the Ruby community writ large might have a drinking problem. 

In her original post, Arreche wrote of the pressure she felt to join in at the party, toss back drinks, even agree to let her coworkers do body shots with her at the center. “I just wanted to prove myself as one of the gang," she wrote. "Someone who was up for anything. I cannot explain to men how hard it is being a woman trying to play it cool in an industry of men.” It certainly doesn't help when women are depicted as party favors and window dressing at events like "Hackers and Hookers." This affair is certainly small potatoes, but it's part of tech's big, heaping gender mess.