Junkyard Planet

Junkyard Planet

By Adam Minter


In this satisfying investigation-cum-travelogue, journalist Adam Minter treks around the globe to discover what actually happens to our garbage. From the posh Los Angeles offices of a trash czar who made his fortune selling American scraps overseas to a Chinese village whose sole industry is extracting wire from Christmas lights, Minter, raised amid his own family's junkyard business, reveals a $500 billion economy built on wringing every last cent—or yuan—from the rich world's refuse. It's a story you don't see in the grim e-waste stats. "If—like me—you have a television that you'd like to see recycled in the most environmentally sound manner possible, with the most material harvested from its guts," he writes, "Hunan Province might very well be the place for it to go."

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


"At Night in Dreams"

From White Denim's Corsicana Lemonade


Liner notes: Indie-rock fizz meets blues-rock swagger on the trio's fifth studio outing, an exhilarating wave of noise evoking T. Rex's glam epics.

Behind the music: Singer James Petralli is the son of former pro baseball player Geno Petralli. Wilco's Jeff Tweedy mixed the entire album and produced two tracks.

Check it out if you like: Spirited eclectics like the White Stripes, Foxygen, and Kurt Vile.

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


"Christmas at the Airport"

From Nick Lowe's Quality Street


Liner notes: The pub-rock vet portrays a stranded traveler on this wry toe-tapper from possibly the least festive Christmas album ever.

Behind the music: In the '70s, Lowe produced upstart artists like Elvis Costello and the Damned. His own music has evolved from snarky pop to a heartfelt rootsy style, reflecting the influence of former father-in-law Johnny Cash, who recorded Lowe's "The Beast in Me."

Check it out if you like: Thoughtful vets like Robyn Hitchcock and Rodney Crowell.

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


Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town

By Mirta Ojito


In November 2008, seven Long Island teenagers "hunting for beaners" set upon two Ecuadorean immigrants in the quiet village of Patchogue. When Marcelo Lucero fought back, he was fatally stabbed. Former New York Times reporter Mirta Ojito reconstructs the night in painstaking detail, illuminating the anti-Latino sentiment that bubbled up as new-immigrant lifestyles clashed with suburban mores. Though she sometimes gets mired in the minutiae, she aptly captures a town's struggle to reconcile its lily-white past with its increasingly diverse present. Of Lucero, Ojito writes: "Only in death were they forced to see him."

SEAL Team 666
St. Martin's Press

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is attached to star in the MGM film project SEAL Team 666, based on the novel of the same name, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The Rock is also set to executive-produce the film, which is about Navy SEALs who vanquish demons and other world-ending supernatural forces. Anyone who knows anything about The Rock will not be surprised to learn he's attached to star in this. And SEAL Team 666 author Weston Ochse—a fantasy-action writer who is also an intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency—is pleased with the casting decision.

"The Rock is a great, great actor to portray the lead," Ochse tells Mother Jones. "I've probably seen every movie he's ever made. I saw Pain & Gain a couple weeks ago...He was the best actor in the movie, I thought."

Ochse has been a staff officer for the DIA for nearly a decade, and recently returned from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan, where he taught military intelligence techniques at International Security Assistance Force headquarters. He says his friends at the DIA support his literary moonlighting. "My writing, this isn't War and Peace," he says. "It's escapist fiction."

Prior to his time at the agency, Ochse spent 20 years in the US Army, and was involved in special operations. "It really got me into a lot of countries," he says. "I've been in more than 50 countries. I've been able to see different people, breathe foreign air...[My time in special ops] really fulfilled me as a person."

Nowadays, Ochse, who lives in Sierra Vista, Arizona, is devoting his spare time to penning more novels, including a third entry in the SEAL Team 666 series. (His top writing influences are P. F. Kluge, Richard Adams, Richard Ford, Ernest Hemingway, and Quentin Tarantino.) The upcoming film (which does not have a director at this time) was written by Evan Spiliotopoulos; Ochse has yet to be creatively involved with the production. "If they want me to help, I'd love to," he says.

Yes, Thor: The Dark World—a new film about a Norse-myth-inspired superhero traveling through space and fighting elves with a hammer—had scientific consultants working on it. One of them was Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology.

"Marvel is very, very interested, with every movie they make, in trying to meet with scientists," Carroll says. "With real-world sciences and the comic-book universe, they just try to make it all hang together."

Carroll is a 47-year-old cosmologist who researches in the fields of particle physics and general relativity, and wrote a book on cosmology and time called From Eternity to Here. He was an informal consultant on both Thor: The Dark World and Thor, its 2011 predecessor. He met with the writers, directors, and production staff to help massage the scientific details.

After years of vilifying him as a flamboyantly gay, liberal propagandist, conservatives are now claiming SpongeBob SquarePants as their hardworking, anti-food-stamp hero.

On Monday, November 11—almost two weeks after the nation's food stamps program was slashed by $5 billion—Nickelodeon is set to air "SpongeBob, You're Fired!" in the United States. (The episode aired in Greece in July.) After the beloved sea sponge loses his job at the Krusty Krab in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob slips into a slovenly depression. His friend Patrick, a starfish, tries to teach him the benefits of "glorious unemployment"—as in free time and free food. "Unemployment may be fun for you, but I need to get a job," the determined and eager SpongeBob tells Patrick.

And with this, conservatives found themselves a new star. "'SpongeBob' Critiques Welfare State, Embraces Self-Sufficiency," the Breitbart headline reads. "Lest he sit around idly, mooching off the social services of Bikini Bottom, a depressed SpongeBob sets out to return to gainful employment wherever he can find it," Andrea Morabito wrote at the New York Post last week. "No spoilers—but it's safe to say that our hero doesn't end up on food stamps, as his patty-making skills turn out to be in high demand." Fox News personality Heather Nauert had a similar take about SpongeBob not "mooching off social services":

Contempt for "moochers" (recall Mitt Romney's 47 percent comments) on food stamps is a popular conservative meme. But life for the unemployed or welfare recipients on the brink of poverty is far from "glorious." The sponge-related coverage from Fox prompted MSNBC's Al Sharpton to stick up for poor Americans. "The right-wingers found a new hero in its war against the poor," Sharpton declared. "SpongeBob SquarePants. That's right. SpongeBob SquarePants…So a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea doesn't need government help. That means no one does?"

Nickelodeon declined to comment on the political firestorm caused by SpongeBob's aggressively anti-funemployment message. But Russell Hicks, Nickelodeon's president of content, development, and production, did say in a statement that, "part of SpongeBob's long-running success has been its ability to tap into the zeitgeist while still being really funny for our audience."

But conservatives' newfound love for the food-stamp-refusing SpongeBob conveniently glosses over the his green, liberal, and notoriously gay past. Fox News has previously attacked SpongeBob for brainwashing children on the issue of global warming. Christian-right groups have targeted the giddy sponge over his alleged gay proselytizing. Ukraine's National Expert Commission for the Protection of Public Morals announced a special session in 2012 to review a report by a right-wing religious organization that refers to the cartoon's "promotion of homosexuality." Furthermore, the series has enthusiastically supported workers' rights, has been harshly critical of corporate takeover, and is generally pro-environment.

But SpongeBob likes to work! Which is exclusively a conservative value in the eyes of some.

Here is a clip from "SpongeBob, You're Fired!" via the Hollywood Reporter:

North Korea has its own version of the iPad—it's called the Samjiyon. Internet access is tightly controlled by the human-rights-allergic regime, so the device is merely another conduit for state propaganda. It comes pre-loaded with games, a multi-language dictionary, and an interesting collection of eBooks in the "foreign literature" section. University of Vienna professor Rüdiger Frank gave the world an inside look at this selection of foreign books in a recent review of the Samjiyon for 38 North:

North Korea foreign books tablet
Via 38north.org

"For most of these works, it seems easy or at least possible to understand why they have been included here," Frank writes. "They depict either the miserable life under feudalism and capitalism (Balzac, Dickens, and Hugo), the patriotic fight to repel foreign invaders (Ivanhoe) or the revolutionary struggle against reactionary forces."

As the Washington Post's Andrea Peterson pointed out on Monday, Gone with the Wind—Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer-winning 1936 novel that was adapted into the beloved film—is one of the most popular foreign titles in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Also, the film, which was a favorite of late dictator Kim Jong Il, is sometimes used in English-language training programs for top North Korean officials. Here's an excerpt from Associated Press correspondent Tim Sullivan's 2012 report on reading Gone with the Wind in Pyongyang:

In Gone With the Wind, North Koreans found echoes of their own history and insights into the United States: bloody civil wars fought nearly a century apart; two cities—Atlanta and Pyongyang—reduced to rubble after attacks by U.S. forces; two cultures that still celebrate the way they stood up to the Yankees...Perhaps more than anything, though, North Koreans found what readers everywhere ask of a good novel: an escape and a comfort. And in a country with little in the way of entertainment, a police state that keeps the entire population relentlessly on edge, Mitchell's well-told (if relentlessly soapy) tale of lost love, mansion life, war and honor became an important refuge.

Various Artists
I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America, 1950-1990
Light in the Attic
New Age music is often associated with spacy sounds and pseudo-mystical hokum, but the intriguing I Am the Center offers a more nuanced perspective. While this two-disc, 20-track set doesn't entirely escape the slack blandness of New Age clichés, there's startling diversity to be found in the self-released efforts of these intrepid souls, most of them dating from the '70s and '80s. Employing everything from synthesizer and harp, to violin and electric piano, to autoharp and (of course) flute, the oozing songs range in length from two to 13 minutes and may well induce a state of altered consciousness in receptive listeners. Among the highlights: Thomas de Hartmann's spooky piano sonata "The Struggle of the Magician Part Three," written by the guru Gurdjieff; the unearthly tones of what might be guitar on Wilburn Burchette's "Witch's Will"; and the mind-melting analog synths of Don Slepian's "Awakening." Even the lesser entries on I Am the Center testify to the admirably enterprising spirit of idiosyncratic artists who value self-expression above commercial potential. Now where did I leave my mantra?

Ender's Game has a lot going for it. It's a special-effects-pumped thrill ride based on a beloved 1985 science fiction novel. It's well-cast and well-acted. It's a crowd pleaser that pays just enough lip service to philosophical questions on desensitization and the morality of war. And the critical reception has been pretty good.

Studio executives must be thrilled about all of this, especially since Ender's Game demands a sequel, if the $110-million film makes enough dough to warrant it. But there's something that Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate, and the filmmakers involved definitely are not thrilled about, and that's the politics of Orson Scott Card, the source material's author. For one thing, the 62-year-old American author hates gay people. Like a lot. We could spend all day going over the various ways in which Card hates gay people, gay sex, gay nuptials, gay everything. But the only thing you need to know about his views on the LGBT community is that he has openly supported the overthrow of the US government if it legalized same-sex marriage. Card's general political paranoia is also something to behold: Obama is a totalitarian despot who, in his bid for lifelong rule, could soon recruit mobs of unemployed urban youths to serve as his leftist "brown shirts."

So, yeah, Card is an absolute, mean-spirited nut. He certainly isn't the first celebrity to be one, and he isn't even the only controversial name that's attached to a movie that's in theaters today. Card wasn't creatively involved in the film adaptation, beyond having a one-line, voice-only cameo as a pilot.