2014 - %3, May

Meet the Bearded Drag Queen Who's Taking Europe by Storm

| Fri May 9, 2014 9:26 AM EDT

UPDATE, Saturday, May 10,2014, 6:40pm ET: Conchita won!

A bearded drag queen with a taste for sequins is among the favorites to win this year's Eurovision Song Contest, the annual music extravaganza that catapulted ABBA and Celine Dion to fame.

With her doe eyes and glittery floor-length gowns, Conchita Wurst (real name Thomas Neuwirth) stole the limelight in the run up to the event, and her performance has beguiled the judges, who selected her to compete in the finals in Copenhagen on Saturday. But Wurst's unabashed gender bending has also raised some ire. Citizens in Russia and Belarus petitioned their national broadcasters to block her performance. And St. Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov—who was instrumental in passing Russia's infamous "gay propaganda" ban—called on Russia's Eurovision selection committee not to send Russian singers to the event, which attracts roughly 170 million TV viewers. "Even just broadcasting the competition in Russia could insult millions of Russians," Milonov wrote in the letter, according to the Guardian. "The participation of the obvious transvestite and hermaphrodite Conchita Wurst on the same stage as Russian singers on live television is blatant propaganda of homosexuality and spiritual decay."

Wurst, who is representing Austria in the competition, wasn't fazed by these barbs. "I can only say 'Thank you for your attention!'' she told the Associated Press. Wurst added, "Hey, I'm just a singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair and a beard."

You can see Wurst in all her bearded glory above.

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"The Simpsons" Producer Responds To Insane Conspiracy Theory That His Show Helped Start the Arab Spring

| Thu May 8, 2014 3:19 PM EDT

There is a new theory that an episode of The Simpsons (one that aired on February 25, 2001) predicted the Syrian uprising and civil war, and also that the episode is proof of a massive international conspiracy that laid the groundwork for the Arab Spring.

You read that right.

The conspiracy theory was recently proposed by anchor Rania Badawy on the Egyptian TV channel Al Tahrir. Badawy insists that the Simpsons episode "New Kids on the Blecch"—in which Bart, Nelson, Ralph, and Milhouse are recruited into a boy band called the Party Posse—contains clues that suggest "what is happening in Syria today was premeditated."

Here's the segment, which was flagged by the Middle East Media Research Institute:

In the episode, the boys star in a music video for "Drop Da Bomb," a pop song that seems to encourage heroic bombing of hostile Arab countries. ("Your love's more deadly than Saddam / That's why I gotta drop da bomb!") The chorus of the tune is "Yvan eht Nioj," which is "Join the Navy" backwards; the Party Posse turns out to be a secret project by the US Navy to boost recruitment numbers through subliminal messages.

Badawy, the astute television anchor, noticed that the soldiers bombed in the music video (posted below) have a car emblazoned with a version of the Syrian flag that looks an awful lot like the ones Syrian rebels and protesters waved in 2011. "How it reached this animated video nobody knows, and this has aroused a debate on the social networks," she says. "This raises many question marks about what happened in the Arab Spring revolutions and about when this global conspiracy began."

Not that you need it at this point, but the New York Times has a thorough rundown of why—when you factor in "crucial aspects of both Syrian history and details of the Simpsons episode"—this is all so silly.

Still, I thought I'd ask Al Jean, a longtime Simpsons executive producer, what he thought about this interesting theory. Jean sent along the following brief statement:

Yes, we had the amazing foresight to predict conflict in the Middle East.

Somehow, I doubt the heavy sarcasm in Jean's admission will register with certain conspiracy theorists. There are also wacky theories out there that The Simpsons predicted the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Also, there's a fun post on the 11 times The Simpsons "predicted" the future of technology.

Now here's the "Drop Da Bomb" music video that is complicit in the bloodshed in Syria, I guess:

CNN to America: Where Do You Think the Plane Is?

| Wed May 7, 2014 4:30 PM EDT

According to a new CNN poll, 9 percent of Americans believe "space aliens, time travelers, or beings from another dimension" are responsible for the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370.

According to a 2012 National Geographic survey, 36 percent of Americans believe that aliens have already visited Earth.

If you are one of the 27 percent of Americans who believe that aliens have visited Earth but aren't responsible for the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370, please let me know. I'd love to pick your brain.

Bonus: The new CNN poll asks respondents where they think the plane is. Fifty-one percent of Americans believe the plane is in the Indian Ocean around where the search teams are looking, but 46 percent of Americans think it's "somewhere else." None of the people polled could possibly have any idea where the plane is. The question is itself ridiculous, but maybe more ridiculous is the idea that almost half of America thinks the experts are wrong. "The search teams say it's in that one bit of the Indian Ocean, but I think it's in Canada. Or Hawaii. Or Scotland. Or the moon. Or Benghazi. Why? I've just got a feeling."

Forty-six percent of Americans are living in a world of pure imagination.

"Spring Breakers" Sequel Will Include Drunk Teens Fighting Christian Militants

| Wed May 7, 2014 11:19 AM EDT

Spring Breakers, a 2013 film directed by Harmony Korine and starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, and Vanessa Hudgens, is a boobs-and-blood-and-blow-filled Spring Break movie that has been described as "Scarface meets Britney Spears."

Well, it's getting a sequel, with Jonas Åkerlund (Spun) set to direct, and novelist Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) writing. Here's a description of the plot, via TheWrap:

The sequel will follow a group of Spring Breakers who do battle with an extreme militant Christian sect that attempts to convert them.

I can't imagine how the Christian right is going to react to this...

Here's a trailer for the original:

Wye Oak Is Back, and They're Not Playing it Safe

| Mon May 5, 2014 5:00 AM EDT

Wye Oak
Shriek
Merge

When a bandleader's side project starts to influence her primary job, that sometimes means the original group has run out of steam and is headed for mothballs. Happily, that isn't the case with the Baltimore folk-pop duo Wye Oak. Singer Jenn Wasner has returned from her detour in the groove-oriented Dungeonesse with renewed energy, rejoining Andy Stack to create Wye Oak 2.0, which replaces guitars with synths. The result is a deceptively subtle—and pleasing—blend of old and new. You can dance to the songs on Shriek, sometimes, but a look beneath the shiny surface reveals the same inventive melodies and thoughtful lyrics that made Wye Oak so rewarding in the first place. While purists might object, Wasner and Stack have done the band and its listeners a service by refusing to play it safe.

Survival Knife's "Loose Power" Is Tense, Fresh, and Anything But Predicatable

| Mon May 5, 2014 5:00 AM EDT

Survival Knife
Loose Power
Glacial Pace

Folks who have belatedly discovered the great '90s northwest band Unwound via its current reissue series will want to know about Survival Knife. Reuniting Unwound alumni Justin Trosper and Brandt Sandeno, this high-powered quartet updates their tense, knotty music without a hint of tedious nostalgia. Ranging from social commentary to confessional angst, the taut songs on Loose Power offer a surprisingly fresh hybrid of punk, metal and even progressive rock, incorporating influences from Metallica to Chuck Berry into their flexible sound. In the starring role, Trosper remains a compelling frontman, whose stoic vocals and twisty guitar riffs never settle into a predictable groove, revealing new facets with each hearing.

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Watch Barack Obama & Joel McHale Make Jokes at the 2014 White House Correspondents' Dinner

| Sat May 3, 2014 11:33 PM EDT

The White House Correspondents' Dinner was tonight. President Obama told some jokes. Joel McHale told some jokes. None of these jokes were terribly funny, I thought. They weren't awful, but they weren't great. McHale sort of "went after" the Beltway types in the room (a la Colbert), which was neat, but I don't think the jokes themselves were very funny. But who knows, really. Maybe they were? I don't know. Maybe I'm just not in the right mood.

Here are the videos. Decide for yourself.

Obama:

McHale:

I'm genuinely curious what other people thought. Yay/Nay? Let me know in the comments.

Also, if Obama and McHale didn't do it for you, here's the funniest standup ever, Eddie Izzard's Dress to Kill:

 

WATCH: The NRA Recently Held Its Annual Meeting, And It Was Just as You'd Expect [Fiore Cartoon]

| Fri May 2, 2014 11:45 AM EDT

 

 

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.

Quick Reads: "The Noble Hustle" by Colson Whitehead

| Fri May 2, 2014 5:00 AM EDT
The Noble Hustle

The Noble Hustle

By Colson Whitehead

DOUBLEDAY

Like rednecks at a demolition derby, novelists keep showing up at the World Series of Poker. To be sure, other writers (notably James McManus) have won far more prize money playing high-stakes hold 'em, but none can match the self-deprecating charm of Colson Whitehead, a recently divorced New Yorker who figures that being "half dead inside" gives him the perfect poker face. With just six weeks to train, he juggles bus trips to Atlantic City with picking up his daughter from school. He finds something oddly reassuring about sharing tables with a hoodied "Robotron" and a grizzled "Methy Mike." The Noble Hustle, part love letter, part dark confessional, captures perfectly the mix of neurosis and narrative that makes gambling so appealing.

This review originally appeared in our May/June 2014 issue of Mother Jones.

Pink Floyd Members Urge the Rolling Stones Not To Perform in Israel

| Thu May 1, 2014 3:43 PM EDT
The Rolling Stones, live in Shanghai.

On Thursday, Pink Floyd founding members Roger Waters and Nick Mason issued a statement criticizing The Rolling Stones' decision to play a concert in Israel. The Rolling Stones are set to perform at Ramat Gan Stadium on June 10. The founders of prog-rock band Pink Floyd are supporters of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a global, pro-Palestinian campaign that aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel.

Here's an excerpt from the statement, published at Salon:

With the recent news that The Rolling Stones will be playing their first-ever concert in Israel, and at what is a critical time in the global struggle for Palestinian freedom and equal rights, we, the two surviving founders of Pink Floyd, have united in support of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a growing, nonviolent global human rights movement initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 to end Israel’s occupation, racial discrimination and denial of basic Palestinian rights.

[...]

So, to the bands that intend to play Israel in 2014, we urge you to reconsider. Playing Israel now is the moral equivalent of playing Sun City at the height of South African apartheid; regardless of your intentions, crossing the picket line provides propaganda that the Israeli government will use in its attempts to whitewash the policies of its unjust and racist regime...If you wouldn't play Sun City, back in the day, as you, the Rolling Stones did not, then don't play Tel Aviv until such time as freedom reigns for all and equal rights is the law of the land. 

Waters calling for artists to boycott Israel is nothing new. Last December, he compared Israel's policy towards Palestinians to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

A spokeswoman for the Rolling Stones did not immediately respond to a request for comment.