2013 - %3, December

Short Takes: "The New Black"

| Tue Mar. 18, 2014 3:11 PM EDT

The New Black

PROMISED LAND FILM

The black voters who turned out for Barack Obama in November 2008 also have been blamed for nudging California's gay-marriage ban—since nullified by the Supreme Court—to victory. To explore changing black perspectives on gay rights, director Yoruba Richen follows Maryland's 2012 same-sex marriage referendum, introducing us to people like 24-year-old activist Karess Taylor-Hughes and Pastor Derek McCoy, president of the Maryland Family Alliance—thought leaders on opposite sides of the issue. Backed by an outstanding gospel soundtrack, The New Black is a story of passion, conviction, and the evolution of long-held attitudes. It's likely to move you, whatever your belief.

This review originally appeared in our January/February issue of Mother Jones.

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Quick Reads: "The Bosnia List" by Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro

| Tue Mar. 18, 2014 3:11 PM EDT

The Bosnia List

By Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro

PENGUIN BOOKS

An estimated 100,000 people died during the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, but few Americans grasp the insanity of the conflict. Kenan Trebincevic, a Bosnian Muslim, was 11 when the fighting broke out. He describes how lifelong friends turned on his family, how his brother and father were thrown into detainment camps, and how they eventually fled under nightmarish conditions. He also takes us on a trip home to complete his titular to-do list as he confronts the betrayers and attempts to make sense of the nonsensical.

This review originally appeared in our January/February 2014 issue of Mother Jones.

Fast Tracks: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings' "Retreat"

| Tue Jan. 14, 2014 3:04 PM EST

TRACK 1

"Retreat!"

From Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' Give the People What They Want

DAPTONE

Liner notes: Departing from her usual hard-hitting R&B, Jones (whom we interviewed a few years back) tackles a suave uptown groove reminiscent of slicker Motown greats like the Marvelettes and Supremes.

Behind the music: Originally slated for summer 2013, Give the People What They Want was delayed while Jones underwent successful surgery for cancer.

Check it out if you like: Deep-soul survivors Bettye LaVette and Charles Bradley.

This review originally appeared in our January/February issue of Mother Jones.

 

Ani DiFranco Wanted to Party at a Slave Plantation. Guess What Happened?

| Mon Dec. 30, 2013 1:41 PM EST
Ani DiFranco promotional pic

In a banner year for non-apology apologies, singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco non-apologized this weekend for renting out an old Louisiana slave plantation to host a songwriting workshop. The event, now canceled, was billed as a "Righteous Retreat" and charged attendees $1,000 to sleep in a tent for four nights and learn about "developing one’s singular creativity" while DiFranco and her friends led jam sessions. The "captivating setting" was to be Nottoway Plantation and Resort in White Castle, Louisiana, a 64-room, 53,000-square-foot antebellum mansion and sugar plantation whose website has this to say about the plantation master:

"Considering his slaves to be valuable tools in the operation of his business, John Randolph provided the necessary care to keep them in good health. He understood the importance of hygiene in controlling the spread of illnesses and disease, so he provided a bathhouse where slaves could bathe daily if they wished...Ever the astute businessman, Randolph knew that in order to maintain a willing workforce, it was necessary to provide not only for his slaves' basic needs for housing, food and medicine, but to also offer additional compensation and rewards when their work was especially productive... It is difficult to accurately assess the treatment of Randolph’s slaves; however, various records indicate that they were probably well treated for the time."

The website also notes that Randolph's "willing workforce" was comprised of 155 slaves quartered in 42 slave houses in 1860, making Nottoway "one of the largest plantations in the South, at a time when most owners possessed fewer than 20 slaves."

On Saturday, a group of black feminists on Twitter took notice, and the hashtag #AniDiFrancoRetreatIdeas was born:

 

The event's Facebook page filled up with outraged comments, some noting that the building's current owner is a right-wing Australian billionaire who gave hundreds of thousands to help elect a prime minister who considers abortion "the easy way out," homelessness a choice, and doesn't want his daughters vaccinated against cervical cancer.

Yesterday, DiFranco posted an announcement to her label's blog canceling the event, and apologizing largely by way of excusing herself from blame, chiding those who'd gotten upset, and lamenting lost opportunities for "healing the wounds of history:"

"when i agreed to do a retreat...i did not know the exact location it was to be held. when i found out it was to be held at a resort on a former plantation, I thought to myself, “whoa”, but i did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness...i know that pain is stored in places where great social ills have occurred. i believe that people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness. i believe that compassionate energy is transformative and necessary for healing the wounds of history...if nottoway is simply not an acceptable place for me to go and try to do my work in the eyes of many, then let me just concede before more divisive words are spilled."

I spent many a dorm room night with Ani on full blast on the stereo (at Bryn Mawr, the DiFranco discography was practically a major) and she's nowhere near the likes of Richard Cohen and Paula Deen when it comes to obliviousness over history's injustices. But is it really such a huge step from "whoa" to "no" when a brochure for  Nottoway Plantation and Resort lands on your desk?

13 Badass Women of 2013

| Mon Dec. 30, 2013 7:00 AM EST
Who run the world? Girls.

From staging filibusters and hunger strikes, to protesting drones and driving bans, women have been up to some pretty incredible things this year. This unranked list is by no means exhaustive, and behind every one of these women there are many other women and men, unsung warriors, heroes and feminists who deserve our recognition.

Here they are, in no particular order, some of the women who rocked it in 2013.
 

1. The women in this satirical video on the rationale of victim-blaming

 

Sexual assault often spurs a series of misguided responses blaming the victim. This video is a response by comedy collective All India Backchod to the misguided rationale, using humor and sarcasm to put forward the message—lets face it ladies, it's not a man's fault, you have a vagina. It's time we stop blaming the real victims here. 

2. Actress Evan Rachel Wood for taking on the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) when her oral sex scene was cut

 

s_bukley/Shutterstock

After producers cut a scene where Wood receives oral sex, she pointed out the double standards female sexuality faces in a series of Tweets:

After seeing the new cut of #Charlie Countryman, I would like to share my disappointment with the MPAA, who thought it was necessary to censor a woman's sexuality once again. The scene where the two main characters make "love" was altered because someone felt that seeing a man give a woman oral sex made people "uncomfortable," but the scenes in which people are murdered by having their heads blown off remained intact and unaltered.

This is a symptom of a society that wants to shame women and put them down for enjoying sex, especially when (gasp) the man isn't getting off as well! It's hard for me to believe that had the roles been reversed it still would have been cut or had the female character been raped it would have been cut. It's time for people to GROW UP. Accept that women are sexual beings...

 

3. Sen. Wendy Davis, who filibustered an anti-abortion bill in Texas

 

One of this year's most gripping political moments unfolded on the Texas Senate floor when Davis, who recently announced she'll be running for Texas governor in 2014, stood for 11 hours to speak against a bill that would have closed all but five abortion clinics in the state. A few weeks later, despite the filibuster and the opposition it stirred, the bill passed in a special session. 

In non-breaking news, male politicians continued to make legislating women's bodies a priority in 2013.
 

4. Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova who went on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions.

Denis Bochkarev/ Wikimedia

Tolokonnikova and fellow Pussy Riot band members Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years in prison for a 40-second performance calling on the Virgin Mary to "kick Putin out" in a Moscow church in 2012.  Samutsevich was released with a suspended sentence after an appeal, while Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were sent to penal colonies in October. In an open letter, Tolokonnikova described the slavery-like prison conditions, and declared her decision to go on a hunger strike. After 10 days, she was transferred to a prison hospital where she ended the strike, only to be returned to the penal colony, where she re-started her strike and was soon transferred to a remote Siberian penal colony as punishment.

Last Monday, Russian president Vladimir Putin freed Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina under a new amnesty bill, in a move many consider part of his administration's efforts to improve Russia's image before the winter Olympics in Sochi.
 

5. 9-year-old drone strike survivor Nabila ur-Rehman who testified in Congress

Last October, Nabila saw her grandma blown to pieces by a drone strike in the northwest of Pakistan. In October of this year she, along with her father and brother, testified in a congressional briefing on US drone policy. By showing bravery beyond her years, and putting a human face on the civilian cost of drones, Nabila helped shape the discourse around US drone policy.

 

6. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who delivered this amazing Ted talk

In her talk "We should all be feminists", Adichie talks about growing up in the misogynistic culture of Nigeria.

The whole thing is amazing, but this bit in particular is worth pointing out: 

...(he) looked at me and said, "You know you're a feminist" 

It was not a compliment. I could tell from his tone. The same tone you would use to say something like "you're a supporter of terrorism."

I did not know exactly what this word "feminist" meant...and the first thing I planned to do when I got home was to look up the word feminist in the dictionary. Now fast forward to some years later. I wrote a novel...while I was promoting my novel, a journalist, a nice, well meaning man ...told me that people were saying my novel was feminist, and his advice to me, and he was shaking his head sadly as he spoke, was that I should never call myself a feminist because "feminists are women who are unhappy because they can not find husbands."

So I decided to call myself a "happy feminist."

Then an academic, a Nigerian woman told me feminism was not our culture. Feminism wasn't African and that I was calling myself a feminist because I had been corrupted by Western books...I decided I would now call myself a "happy African feminist." At some point, I was a "happy African feminist who does not hate men and who likes lip gloss and who wears high heels for herself but not for men."

 

7. Women at Auckland University who did a parody of the song "Blurred Lines"

With rapey-sexist lyrics like "Just let me liberate you" and "Tried to domesticate you," Robin Thicke's song Blurred Lines launched a series of critiques, parodies, and memes; like this hilarious video by the not-so-good ladies at Auckland University, who are all about them defined lines.

 

8. These driven Saudi women who refuse to put the brakes on the protest against the driving ban

Zurijeta/Shutterstock

Amidst its roster of sexist laws, Saudi Arabia has a complete ban on women driving. In a powerful display of civil disobedience on October 26, more than 60 women got behind the steering wheel. Some were fined or arrested. Now, Saudi women are driving weekly to defy the ban and posting their interactions with law enforcement officials on social media platforms.
 

9. Mikki Kendall for starting the Twitter hashtag #Solidarityisforwhitewomen

Kendall started the hashtag to highlight the exclusion that many women of color feel in feminist discourses. Feminism is meant to be inclusive. Since many women don't fit into the mainstream white feminist narrative, voices like Kendall are especially important.

10. Egyptian protesters who despite increased risks of sexual assault, beatings, and arrest continue to peacefully protest

Atomazul/Shutterstock

Three notable pro-democracy activists: Rasha Azab, Mona Seif, and Nazly Hussein were beaten and dragged off during a Cairo protest in November of this year and abandoned on a remote highway. In worse cases, many female protestors have been sexually assaulted. Despite these risks, women continue to work towards a more democratic Egypt.

 

11. Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban

junaidrao/flickr

From the age of 11, Malala urged families in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley to resist the Taliban's ban on girls in classrooms. Last year, when she was 15, Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban while on her way back from school.

Malala's journey has taken her from the Northwest of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York, and the White House in DC. In her fight for girl's education, she has become an international symbol of defiance against oppression by the Taliban, and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel peace prize.
 

12. Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox, who broke the trans glass ceiling

Lev Radin/Shutterstock

2013 has been quite the year for Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset on the the hit Netflix prison drama Orange Is the New Black.

The first transgender woman of color in a lead role in a mainstream scripted TV show, Cox is a sought-after speaker on transgender rights. In an industry where transgender actors are type-cast into a limited number of roles (mostly related to prostitution), Cox's character on the show and her activism have helped humanize the transgender population.
 

13. Edith Windsor whose case led to the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

Edith Windsor and her spouse, Thea Spyer, shared a life as a couple in New York for 44 years. After Thea's death, the IRS denied Windsor use of a spousal state tax exception because, under DOMA, the federal government did not recognize their marriage. Edith challenged the constitutionality of DOMA. In a landmark June decision, the US Supreme Court struck down the law.

Edith's entire interview above with Ariel Levy of The New Yorker is beautiful, but this particular bit is stunning:

A member of the audience asked Windsor, "How do you keep love alive after death?"  After a few moments of silence, Windsor said, "Sometimes I wish I knew how to make it stop."

So there you have it: Some of 2013's badass women to cap off your year with a little inspiration. Who run the world? Girls!

The Top 10 MoJo Longreads of 2013

Mon Dec. 30, 2013 7:00 AM EST

Conventional wisdom says that people won't read lengthy magazine stories online, but MoJo readers regularly prove otherwise. Many of our top traffic-generating stories have been deeply researched investigations and reported narratives—and we find that plenty of readers stick with them to the bitter end. Our readers also comment, Tweet, Facebook, and Tumble enthusiastically, citing details found deep within these stories. So here, for your New Year's pleasure, is a selection of 10 of our best-loved longreads from 2013. (Click here for last year's list and here for our 2011 list, or, for something totally different, check out our hate-reads list for the stories that made us pull out our hair in 2013.)

Merchants of Meth: How Big Pharma Keeps the Cooks in Business
With big profits on the line, the drug industry is pulling out campaign-style dirty tricks to keep selling the meds that cooks turn into crank.
By Jonah Engle
 

America's Real Criminal Element: Lead
New research finds Pb is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing.
By Kevin Drum
 

Gagged by Big Ag
Horrific abuse. Rampant contamination. And the crime is…exposing it?
By Ted Genoways
 

Schizophrenic. Killer. My Cousin.
It's insanity to kill your father with a kitchen knife. It's also insanity to close hospitals, fire therapists, and leave families to face mental illness on their own.
By Mac McClelland
 

Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us?
Smart machines probably won't kill us all—but they'll definitely take our jobs, and sooner than you think.
By Kevin Drum
 

My Heart-Stopping Ride Aboard the Navy's Great Green Fleet
With Washington frozen solid on climate, the Navy is breaking the ice.
By Julia Whitty
 

Is PTSD Contagious?
It's rampant among returning vets—and now their spouses and kids are starting to show the same symptoms.
By Mac McClelland
 

Why Your Supermarket Sells Only 5 Kinds of Apples
And one man's quest to bring hundreds more back.
By Rowan Jacobsen
 

Are Happy Gut Bacteria Key to Weight Loss?
Imbalances in the microbial community in your intestines may lead to metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes. What does science say about how to reset our bodies?
By Moises Velasquez-Manoff
 

What's It Like to Wake Up From a Tea Party Binge? Just Ask Florida!
Kids locked up in nursing homes. Leaky sewers. Mosquitoes unleashed. The Sunshine State has buyer's remorse.
By Stephanie Mencimer
 

Click here to browse more great longreads from Mother Jones.

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The 39 Worst Words, Phrases, and Parts of Speech of 2013

| Fri Dec. 27, 2013 7:00 AM EST

Many words were spoken in 2013. Not all of them were created equal. Here is a brief, but by no means complete, guide to the words and phrases (and symbols, and parts of speech) we'd like to retire in 2014.

Please print this out and post it to your refrigerator or cubicle wall for convenient access.

  • "#." R.I.P., early Twitter feature. We'll bury you next to your friend, the FourSquare check-in.
  • adverbs. Ban all adverbs. They're mostly just gulp words, really.
  • "all the things."
  • "because [noun]": (e.g. "because science.")
  • "brogurt." No.
  • "classy."
  • "controversial tweet." There's just no way to make this sound dignified, and besides, it leads to think pieces.
  • "cronut."
  • "crowdsourced."
  • "derp." It's been an emotional ride, but it's time to send this one off on the ice floe.
  • "disrupt." Luxury car apps aren't disruptive.
  • "Donald Trump is considering a run for…" No, he's not. He just isn't. And if you'd like to get him unearned publicity, you should at least get some stock options out of it.
  • "doubled down." Unless the candidate did it while biting into a delicious sandwich, let's just say the candidate "reaffirmed his/her position" on transportation funding or burrito drones or whatever we'll be discussing in 2014.
  • "...favorited a tweet you were mentioned in." No one has ever wanted to know this.
  • "gaffe." It's going to be a long-enough election year as it is.
  • "game-changer." What you're describing probably won't change the game. But if it does, would you want to spoil the moment with a cliche?
  • "Guy Fieri." What if we all decided to just never mention him again? Would he disappear?
  • "hashtag." This refers to the spoken utterance of the word "hashtag," often accompanied by air-quotes. People can see you doing this.
  • "hipster." Wearing glasses is not something people do because they're hipsters; it's something people do because they're nearsighted. People don't drink hot chocolate because it's a hipster thing to do; they drink hot chocolate because it's literally liquid chocolate. Yes, I wrote "literally." That's what happens when you use a word so casually and carelessly in think pieces as to render it meaningless.
  • "I can't even." You can. Dig deep. Find your Kentucky.
  • "impact." (When used as a verb.)
  • "…in .gifs."
  • "...in one chart." We're aiming high in 2014. Two chart minimum!
  • "listicle." This is the last one.
  • "literally the worst." Actually, while we're at it, let's ban "literally." Literally is the "not the Onion" of fake things.
  • "millennial." Young people are living with their parents because their parents' generation destroyed the global economy. Next.
  • "nondescript office park." As opposed to the Frank Gehry ones.
  • "not the Onion."
  • "Rethuglicans, Repugs," "Republikkkans," "Demoncrats," "Dumbocrats," and every other variation thereof. Please just use the normal proper nouns; you can add whatever modifier you like before or after.
  • "selfie." But what do they tell us about our society, in the digital now? Let's ask James Franco.
  • "Snowfall." (In the future, a high-cost digital production that doesn't live up to the hype shall be known as a "Skyfall.")
  • "the Internets." This was a George W. Bush joke or something, right? You can still use the Internet—just drop the "s."
  • "This Town."
  • "thought leader." Mostly beaten out of existence, but don't think we didn't notice that Paul Allen interview, Wired. You're on notice.
  • #YOLO. Seriously.

I am guilty of most of these sins. Let us never speak of this again.

WATCH: On the Day After Christmas, a Visit From Saint Ayn Rand [Fiore Cartoon]

| Thu Dec. 26, 2013 4:43 PM EST

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

Martin Scorsese Asked This Band If He Could Use Their Song When Leonardo DiCaprio Has Sex on Money

| Tue Dec. 24, 2013 4:37 PM EST

Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is the year's best film—a towering achievement in humor and sprawling excess. The movie hits theaters on Christmas Day, and dramatizes the testosterone-soaked saga of Jordan Belfort, co-founder and chairman of Long Island brokerage house Stratton Oakmont, who went down for securities fraud and money laundering in the 1990s. The script—overflowing with orgies, Quaaludes, and scandal—is by Terence Winter (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire), and the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah HillMatthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie, and Cristin Milioti.

The Wolf of Wall Street soundtrack is heavy on blues music, and includes some familiar names such as Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, and Bo Diddley. (Critics frequently note the quality of Scorsese's soundtracks, from Mean Streets to The Departed, which often lean heavily on classic rock.) But one of the songs prominently featured in a couple of scenes in The Wolf of Wall Street is by a blues-rock duo you probably haven't heard of: The band is the Los Angeles-based 7Horse, with Phil Leavitt on drums and lead vocals, and Joie Calio on guitar. (The two previously played together in the alt-rock group Dada, and have been playing together for two decades.)

The song is "Meth Lab Zoso Sticker":

"Meth Lab Zoso Sticker" is also the first song heard in the film's second trailer. It's a catchy and exciting blues number. But how did Scorsese hear it?

Meet Pentatonix's "Little Drummer Boy"

| Mon Dec. 23, 2013 7:00 AM EST

In college, when I played violin in the Yale Symphony Orchestra, our principal cellist was a guy named Kevin Olusola, a goofy, Chinese-studying, bear-hugging premed. Nowadays, Kevin (a.k.a "KO") is known among YouTube fans as the beatboxer for Pentatonix (PTX), the a cappella group whose version of "Little Drummer Boy" is hovering at the very top of Billboard's Holiday chart. In 2011, a Texas vocal trio came across a video clip of his "celloboxing"—beatboxing and playing the cello at the same time. They tracked him down and asked him to join them for NBC's "The Sing-Off."

Two years later, he's helped the group rack up more than 230 million YouTube views, score gigs on Conan and The Today Show, and release three albums. Kevin's look has evolved since college—less backpack, more swagger—but he's just as enthusiastic in a leather jacket, laying down the beat for an Imagine Dragons song, as he once was in a tux performing Beethoven symphonies. I caught up with Kevin to talk about how he got started, the trickiest sounds to make, and Pentatonix's runaway success. But first, the celloboxing video:

MJ: Let's start with the basics. How did you get into beatboxing?

KO: There was a song by Musiq Soul Child called "Just Friends." It starts off with a melody line where he's beatboxing also. When I heard that, I got hooked. I kept doing it and doing it.

MJ: Did you drive your parents and teachers crazy?

"This is a time in music where we think that people are looking for a more raw, organic sound."

KO: Oh my goodness, I can't even begin to tell you. My dad and my mom! Especially my dad. I would do it all the time in the car, and he just always thought it was annoying. He was like, "Stop making that noise!" My junior year of high school, I joined the a capella group at Andover and we produced a CD, and I showed it to him and he got it then. When I started pairing cello and beatboxing and he saw that video, he was like, "I can't believe this is possible!" Now, with Pentatonix, he's heard our record and he's our biggest fan. I'm so thankful that he gave me a chance to pursue this, because for Nigerian parents I think it's very difficult to let their child do something artistic. That's not necessarily a stable path to making money or having success.

MJ: Is there any overlap in the skills it takes to be a good cellist and the skills it takes to be a good beatboxer?