2013 - %3, October

Quick Reads: "4o Chances" by Howard G. Buffet

| Wed Oct. 23, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
40 Chances

40 Chances

By Howard G. Buffett

SIMON & SCHUSTER

Not just any trust fund baby could sell a book chronicling his adventures with the likes of Shakira and Eva Longoria. But Howard G. Buffett—passionate farmer, sometime agribiz exec, swashbuckling philanthropist, son of Warren—is sui generis. The book, based on the idea that a farmer has 40 seasons to get things right, has that many anecdotes dispersing Buffettian wisdom on biodiversity, international food aid, why we should invest in soil, etc. It's a tad Bono-esque—dripping with self-satisfaction and the requisite name-dropping—but 40 Chances is easy-reading earnestness from a dedicated do-gooder.

This review originally appeared in our November/December 2013 issue of Mother Jones.

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"The Simpsons" Producer Responds to Some of the Show's Craziest FCC Complaints

| Tue Oct. 22, 2013 10:14 AM EDT

Last week, GovernmentAttic.org posted a series of informal complaints sent to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding The Simpsons, the beloved Fox animated series that premiered in 1989. The complaints, obtained via Freedom of Information Act request, were received by the FCC between 2010 and 2013. Viewers objected to the sitcom's depiction of Satan, groin-kicking, whale explosion, and "sexual agony," among other supposedly indecent presentations.

Gawker's Adrian Chen highlighted some of the funniest complaints. Here are a few of them:

From St. Maries, Idaho:

The Simpsons FCC complaint
 

Tulsa, Oklahoma:

Simpsons FCC complaints

Huntsville, Alabama:

FCC complaint The Simpsons FOIA

...and Norco, California:

FCC complaint The Simpsons

Text, (via Gawker): I was shocked to see sexual violence when a cartoon character of an Israeli girl was using her knee to repeatedly strike a boy's (Bart Simpson) groin. It is amazing we would encourage our children during family hour to do such a terrible thing. Imagine if bart was kicking the girl's groin! I implore you to protect our young kids from such psychological damage that may very wile lead to physical damage and seriously punish the guilty please.

On Monday, Mother Jones asked Al Jean, a longtime Simpsons executive producer, what he thought about this archive of complaints against his show. Jean sent along the following statement:

Well, at least they weren't complaining about us being on too long.

(This is a common criticism of the long-running series, which entered its 25th season last month.)

You can read the trove of FCC complaints here:

 

The So So Glos Leave Their DIY Nest to Battle Apathy, Smartphones, and Bedbugs

| Mon Oct. 21, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

As they hit the road in support of their almost-criminally catchy new record, Blowout, Brooklyn punks The So So Glos found out there's a price for success. That price? A broken air conditioner, $500 worth of new tires, and a pair of bedbug outbreaks.

"In the past we would just stay in people's houses," drummer Zach Staggers says. "Now we have money and we stay in hotels, and we get bitten by bedbugs."

Not that they're complaining. With Blowout earning praise from the likes of Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, the band's been claiming more and more converts to its shoutalong live shows and underdog ethos. (Those Mets caps aren't just for show.) "When we made the record, we were trying to commit to tape something that could translate live," guitarist Matt Elkin says. "It has to capture the same live essence."

Cass McCombs' Endlessly Intriguing "Big Wheel and Others"

| Mon Oct. 21, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Cass McCombs
Big Wheel and Others
Domino

Showing little interest in image-building, Cass McCombs has quietly compiled an impressive body of work over the last decade that affirms the viability of the old-fashioned American singer-songwriter. With Big Wheel and Others, however, he may grab the spotlight in spite of himself.

Running nearly 90 minutes, this sprawling two-disc set brims with striking songs—some of them memorable vignettes of troubled souls, some of them cryptic pronouncements—ranging from delicate and dreamy ("Angel Blood") to ominous and brooding ("Joe Murder") to swaggering and determined (“Honesty Is No Excuse”), all of it tied together by diffident vocals that are more tantalizing than revealing.

Highlights include a tender, toe-tapping duet with the recently deceased actress Karen Black ("Brighter!") and "Everything Has to Be Just So," a hallucinatory nine-minute head trip. Like M. Ward, only quieter, Cass McCombs is an endlessly intriguing troubadour.

Why Stallone and Schwarzenegger's New Action Flick Might Be the Most Left-Wing Film in Theaters

| Fri Oct. 18, 2013 11:31 AM EDT

Escape Plan
Summit Entertainment
116 minutes

This post contains some spoilers... but it's the new Ahnold and Stallone movie, so I'm guessing that plot detail isn't your primary concern.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and hardcore gun-control advocate Sylvester Stallone have teamed up once again, this time for Mikael Håfström's jailbreak movie Escape Plan. The film is a vehicle for two legendary action stars to relive their days of vanquishing foes and dropping hot one-liners. "You hit like a vegetarian!" Schwarzenegger spits at Stallone as their characters tussle. But this action flick (written by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller) is also severely critical of military contractors, indefinite detention, solitary confinement, and private prison companies. In fact, the real villain of the movie is the for-profit prison industry. On top of this, Escape Plan presents a vigorous rejection of post-9/11, anti-Muslim fear-mongering. Call it shoot-'em-up liberal escapism, if you will.

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a prosecutor-turned-security-expert who is paid by the government to test the security of maximum-security prisons—by posing as a prisoner and breaking out of them, of course. His team features 50 Cent as a bespectacled computer nerd, and the Oscar-nominated Amy Ryan as Breslin's street-smart colleague-with-benefits. Their sweet, lucrative gig is ruined when Breslin is kidnapped and taken to a CIA-backed, privately-run black site that's like Gitmo on steroids, where the guards torture with impunity (a hose shoved down a prisoner's throat is a stand-in for waterboarding). The detention facility is described as "completely illegal" by one character. To break out of the prison, codenamed "The Tomb," Breslin teams up with fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (played by the Republican Governator), a man locked up for working with "Mannheim," an international criminal who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. The Tomb's corrupt warden Willard Hobbs (anti-stem-cell-research personality Jim Caviezel) and his staff of "Blackwater rejects" wage war on Breslin and Rottmayer. And so the fun begins.

The movie is essentially Erik Prince and Corrections Corporation of America vs. a radical-left detainee and Sylvester Stallone.

A Map of the World According to US Media and Politicians

| Mon Oct. 14, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Columbus gets a lot of flak for mistaking the Americas for India, but c'mon, the guy couldn't exactly consult GPS and Google. US politicians and other modern-day notables can't claim the same. Here are some recent geographical mistakes by public figures. A list with more details and examples follows the map.

Mobile users: check out our map on your desktop; the list has all the same info.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

A map of the world according to US public figures (scroll over the blue parts to see some world-class goofs).

 

 

The Dunce: MSNBC's Touré
The Mistake: The location of Kenya.
What Happened: In the wake of the Westgate Mall shooting in Nairobi, Kenya, MSNBC’s Touré claimed that “Kenya is located on the northern coast of Africa." Kenya is actually in East Africa. Whoops.

The Dunce: CNN
The Mistake: The location of Tripoli
What Happened: Shortly after Libyan rebels took the capital of Tripoli in August 2011, CNN began offering breaking news updates. One catch: they mistakenly showed a map of Tripoli, Lebanon instead.

The Dunce: CNN
The Mistake: A picture of the Egyptian flag
What Happened: They may have similar colors, but in a segment on the military coup in Egypt, CNN flashed onscreen the Syrian flag, not the Egyptian one.

The Dunce: Fox News
The Mistake: Misplacing Egypt
What Happened: In a now infamous geo-goof from 2009, Fox News broadcast an image labeling Iraq as Egypt. This was in 2009, when American military forces were still in the country.

The Dunce: Mich. Representative Kerry Bentivolio
The Mistake:"The chair recognizes the gentleman from American Somalia..."
What Happened: Okay, okay. This was just a mispronunciation of American Samoa during an introduction for general speeches. These things happen. Maybe Representative Bentivolio just needed to take a sip of water from fellow Republican legislator Marco Rubio.

The Dunce: Former President Gerald Ford
The Mistake: "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration."
What Happened: Following World War II, the Soviets had control of the Eastern Bloc for several decades. Ford's famous gaffe is widely thought to have cost him the 1976 election against Jimmy Carter. 

The Dunce: Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin
The Mistake: "You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska."
What Happened: To be fair, Palin never said "I can see Alaska from my house," though it's been endlessly quoted that way. That line was actually Tina Fey's, from an SNL sketch. Technically, Palin was right: you can see Russia from Little Diomede, Alaska (as hilariously explored in this CNN video). However, Palin's never been to Little Diomede.

The Dunce: Senator John McCain
The Mistake: "We have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid that it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border."
What Happened: Leading up to the 2008 election, Senator John McCain went on Good Morning America to criticize President Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East. Contrary to his remarks, Iraq and Pakistan don't share a border.

The Dunce: Mitt Romney
The Mistake: "Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab World. It's their route to sea."
What Happened: After a conversation about a theoretical Iranian invasion of Israel, Mitt Romney's erroneous comment was famously refuted by several analysts, as well as every map of the region.

The Dunce: Former Vice President Dick Cheney
The Mistake: "We have refrained from making public pronouncements about Mr. Chavez...The people of Peru, I think, deserve better."
What Happened: At a foreign policy speech in Texas, Cheney began opining on the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. However, when attempting to show solidarity with the Venezuelan people, he called them Peruvian.

The Dunce: George Bush
The Mistake: "Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease."
What Happened: From a news conference during an international trip in 2001. Seven years later, Sarah Palin would be accused of exactly the same mistake by Fox News' Carl Cameron: "She didn't understand...that Africa was a continent and not a country, and actually asked them...if South Africa wasn't just part of the country as opposed to a country in the continent."

The Dunce: President Barack Obama
The Mistake: "If we don't deepen our ports all along the Gulf—places like Charleston, South Carolina, Savannah, Georgia, or Jacksonville, Florida, those ships will go someplace else."
What Happened: On The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in August, Obama, while speaking about fixing the nation's infrastructure, compared the state of U.S. ports to the Panama Canal Expansion project. Unfortunately for Obama, all of these coastal cities are along the Atlantic Ocean, not the Gulf of Mexico.

The Dunce: Thomas Friedman
The Mistake: The World is Flat
What Happened: The central thesis of  Friedman's 2005 opus is that technology has allowed everyone to compete on economically equal footing across the globe. However, this has been refuted by several critics for as extreme over-generalization. Not only are there economic mountains, but austerity is forcing many nations into craters.

The Dunce: U.S. bloggers and Twitter users
The Mistake: Chechyna vs. the Czech Republic
What Happened: Following the announcement that the Boston Bombing suspects were from Chechnya, bloggers and tweeters in the U.S. began spouting vitriol about the Czech Republic. Petr Gandalovič, the Czech Ambassador to the United States, had to issue a statement publicly clarifying the difference between the two locations for our electronic friends.

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Charlie Sheen in "Machete Kills" vs. Martin Sheen in "The West Wing": Who's The Better American President?

| Fri Oct. 11, 2013 9:25 PM EDT

"Motherfucker, I'm not asking! I'm the president of the fucking United States, man."

So says President Rathcock (solidly played by Charlie Sheen) to Machete (Danny Trejo) during their first encounter in Machete Kills. Rathcock orders the ex-federale to assassinate a psychotic Mexican revolutionary named Mendez (Demián Bichir), who has a missile pointed at Washington, DC. In exchange, the president gives Machete full and immediate citizenship. "I just stamp this bad motherfucker," Rathcock says, as he marks Machete's papers.

Machete Kills, directed and co-written by Robert Rodriguez, is the sequel to 2010's Machete. While it is only marginally political—immigration, the drug war, the military-industrial complex—the first film is one long love letter to liberal immigration politics. (For the record, Rodriguez donated quite a lot of money to Democrats and Obama's reelection effort). In 2010, some noisy conservatives accused Rodriguez of creating an incitement to race war; and after Arizona's SB 1070 became law, Rodriguez and Trejo cut a trailer in which Machete delivers a "special Cinco de Mayo message—to Arizona":

Machete Kills marks the introduction into the franchise of several new characters, such as Luther Voz (a billionaire villain modeled in part after Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, and played by Mel Gibson) and Rathcock. Here's footage of Sheen talking about what he would do if he were President of the United States in real life; his agenda would include banning Twitter and establishing "nude Tuesdays":

As you may recall, Sheen's dad, Martin, is famous for playing another fictional American president: Jed Bartlet, on Aaron Sorkin's NBC drama The West Wing. "I am the more interesting president, yeah," Charlie told the US edition of Metro. "I will have your vote after [you see] the movie...In one day in the Oval Office, I slept with three women, pulled out a machine gun, drank, smoked and swore. In seven [seasons], dad didn't do any of that, you know?"

It is true that Rathcock is much more of an assault-rifle-wielding, playboy hedonist than Bartlet ever was. But which one is the superior American president? Here's a cheat sheet on their politics and personalities for you to decide which you'd rather vote for:

President Bartlet

  • Democrat (according to Martin Sheen, the character is largely modeled after Bill Clinton, although Bartlet is way more liberal than Clinton)
  • Loyal family man
  • Gun control advocate
  • Pro-immigration reform
  • Breaks all kinds of international law by ordering a team of Navy SEALs to assassinate a Middle Eastern government official who moonlights as a terrorist ringleader.
  • For gay rights, against religious fundamentalism:

President Rathcock

  • Republican
  • Enjoys orgies
  • Gun lover (who campaigned on protecting gun rights "with a vengeance")
  • Presides over an immigration policy that includes maintaining a gigantic wall between the US and Mexico
  • Executes a foreign policy of ruthless Machete
  • Legalized pot

So, which one of them has your vote?

How Director Jim Mickle Made The Best Horror Movie Scene of The Year

| Fri Oct. 11, 2013 10:59 AM EDT

We Are What We Are
Entertainment One
105 minutes

Warning: This post contains spoilers.

It's one of the best scenes in any movie released this year. We Are What We Are, a new horror film directed by Jim Mickle (Mulberry Street, Stake Land) and written by Nick Damici and Mickle, is a family drama heavily influenced by David Lynch and hardcore J-Horror. It's a remake of the 2010 Mexican feature of the same name, but it stands on its own in style, substance, and shock value.

Both versions tell a story of a family of cannibals; the American incarnation gives us a glimpse into the life of the Parkers, a strictly traditional and twisted clan. Frank (played by Bill Sage), the hyper-religious patriarch, and his teenage daughters Rose and Iris (the hugely talented Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers, respectively) live in a quiet town in upstate New York, where they have long kidnapped, killed, and devoured in the name of god. Things get more insane when a local physician named Doc Barrow (the legendary Michael Parks, an actor who Mickle describes as very much "like your crazy old uncle...[who] says offensive shit all the time, to, like, a room full of strangers") gets wise to their gruesome tradition.

"I want you to step back and say, 'Holy shit, I didn't know I had that in me!' Until that happens, we won't be happy."

The film's climax is among the most jaw-dropping and compelling this year has had to offer. In a (somehow) gorgeously executed sequence, Rose and Iris take their teeth to the living flesh of an unsuspecting person, fiercely chomping at his skin, arteries, and bone. It's a moment unique to the American remake—and a scene for which Mickle needed his leading ladies to give it nothing short of their all. "I told them I want you to shock yourself, see how far you can go," the director tells Mother Jones. "I want you to step back and say, 'Holy shit, I didn't know I had that in me!' Until that happens, we won't be happy...And they really brought it."

Real-Life Captain Phillips: The Pirates "Did Not Let Me Urinate"

| Thu Oct. 10, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass, tells the true story of Richard Phillips (played by a New England-accented Tom Hanks), a merchant mariner taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009. After being held for five days aboard a lifeboat, Phillips was rescued when Navy Seal snipers took out three of his Somali captors. "I share the country's admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew," President Obama said in a statement on April 12, 2009. "His courage is a model for all Americans."

Last week, Phillips attended a special screening of Captain Phillips at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Hanks was there, taking selfies with sailors. Barkhad Abdi (who plays the pirate Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse) was in attendance, as were Navy Commander Frank Castellano (one of the men who saved Phillips) and Greengrass. The 58-year-old English director is a former journalist who directed two other acclaimed docudramas: Bloody Sunday and United 93. "Films aren't journalism," Greengrass emphasized while introducing his film, though he argued that dramatizations are capable of conveying certain "truths."

"South Park" Takes On George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin and "World War Z" Mash-Up

| Tue Oct. 8, 2013 1:57 PM EDT

On the next episode of South Park, Eric Cartman becomes a fourth-grade fusion of Brad Pitt and George Zimmerman. Just two weeks ago, the Comedy Central series ran an episode addressing the controversy surrounding the NSA's domestic spying program; the show's creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and the rest of the writing crew) have a well-established track record of mining recent major news stories for their satirical jabs.

According to a press release, "the world faces death, destruction, chaos and Eric Cartman" in an episode titled, "World War Zimmerman." Cartman, the series' iconic and fascist child-madman, is "deeply disturbed by a single person who he sees as a threat to all humanity. He races around the country to put an end to Patient Zero, the ticking time bomb that is Token." (Token Black is the richest kid in South Park and also the Colorado mountain town's only black kid.)

In this 11-second preview clip, Cartman frantically waves a handgun in public while bystanders are trying to enjoy their sunny day. "Everyone clear the streets! We gotta get the fuck outta here!" Cartman says.

The episode takes its cues from the summer's zombie-takeover movie World War Z (in which Brad Pitt also searches for a "Patient Zero"), as well as George Zimmerman and the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. South Park has pulled off these mash-ups of pop-culture and big news before; for instance, their 2008 presidential election episode turns into a parody of Ocean's Eleven (another film starring Pitt). As for taking on racially charged issues in America, South Park aired the 2007 episode "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson," a comic exploration of the use and effect of the word "nigger." Beyond that, the show has weighed in on Occupy Wall Street, conservative anti-immigration hardliners, Al Gore, Glenn Beck, media coverage of Terri Schiavo, caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad, and a whole host of hot-button issues and personalities. Nowadays, South Park is arguably more famous for its irreverent social and political commentary than for the scatological and envelope-pushing crude humor that first made the show a hit.