Mixed Media

The Civil Rights Act Was Signed Into Law 50 Years Ago Today

| Wed Jul. 2, 2014 7:04 PM EDT

Here is President Obama's statement on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:


In 1964, President Johnson put pen to paper and signed the Civil Rights Act into law.  Fifty years later, few pieces of legislation have defined our national identity as distinctly, or as powerfully.  By outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the Civil Rights Act effectively ended segregation in schools, workplaces, and public facilities.  It opened the door for the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act.  And it transformed the concepts of justice, equality, and democracy for generations to come.
 
The Civil Rights Act brought us closer to making real the declaration at the heart of our founding – that we are all created equal.  But that journey continues.  A half a century later, we’re still working to tear down barriers and put opportunity within reach for every American, no matter who they are, what they look like, or where they come from.  So as we celebrate this anniversary and the undeniable progress we’ve made over the past 50 years, we also remember those who have fought tirelessly to perfect our union, and recommit ourselves to making America more just, more equal and more free.

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"Snowpiercer": The Best Post-Apocalyptic Film About Class Warfare You'll See All Summer

| Wed Jul. 2, 2014 12:29 PM EDT

Snowpiercer, directed by Bong Joon-ho and starring Chris Evans, is an ambitious, critically acclaimed new thriller. "While Transformers mucks up cineplexes with its ugly bombast, here, as an alternative, is something truly special, a unique and bracing science-fiction film that stirs both heart and mind," raves Vanity Fair.

Like so many action films that came before it (both the smart and the monumentally silly), Snowpiercer has political relevance pumping through its veins. In the future, a corporate attempt to reverse the devastating effects of global warming goes horrifically wrong: The experiment ends up murdering most of the planet. Survivors live aboard the Snowpiercer, a train—equipped with a perpetual-motion engine—where the rich and pampered live at the front and the poor and unwashed at the rear. Bloody class warfare ensues.

You get the message.

Here's Bong discussing the corporate critique and climate-change angle of his film, in an interview with CraveOnline:

In Snowpiercer, it's more about how big business tries to both use and control nature. And how it backfires on them. Nature takes its revenge and sends them back to the ice age. This is an aspect that is different from the graphic novel [source material] (by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette). I wanted to make a story change because I felt that climate change is more current of an issue and will continue to be, because it's not in the interest of big business to change, but to control.

Basically, it's an action movie in which corporate power takes extreme measures to attack the climate, instead of overhauling the way they do business for the sake of the world. They screw over human civilization, and the rest of the film goes the class-division route. "The poor are in the back and the rich are in the front," Bong told CraveOnline. "So this created an opportunity to talk about the political ideas involved and really examine human nature and why those systems exist. What would we actually discover if they were taken on? We don't know because it's so large and affects billions of people. Having a few survivors is a sci-fi element [that] makes it easier to explore these ideas."

On that note, here's a trailer for Snowpiercer:

7 Things We Hate About Belgium

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 4:19 PM EDT

Our glorious fighting boys of the US men's soccer team are playing Belgium today in their first elimination match of the World Cup.

We want the US team to win. You should too!

Here are some of the things we hate most about Belgium.

1. King Leopold II
This guy! He oversaw one of the cruelest regimes in history in the Congo. His regime was responsible for 10 million Congolese deaths. If there is a hell, King Leopold is burning in it.

2. Tintin
Sure he's cute and so is the dog. But he's a terrible reporter and also Herge was a real racist.

A frame from Tintin's first adventure, "Tintin in the Congo" Wikimedia Commons

3. The Smurfs
Did you know that possibly the most annoying cartoon franchise in the history of animation was set in a Belgian socialist village? No amount of French fries will make up for that crime against humanity.

4. Dr. Evil
Not only is he evil, and Belgian, but he was a seminal character in one of the most grossly overrated, discussed, and imitated films of the 1990s.

5. Jean-Claude Van Damme
He's quite good at kicking, but Street Fighter was awful. Also, 1999's Universal Soldier: The Return, in which "the Muscles from Brussels" has to off a rampaging fight computer-led robot army. Critics were not impressed. As the New York Post put it, Van Damme's accent "makes Stallone sound like a master of elocution".

6. Belgian waffles aren't even a thing in Belgium
"What is known in North America as the 'Belgian waffle' does not exist in Belgium," sayeth Wikipedia.

7. They are somehow even worse than us on gender equality.
For all the flack the United States gets over gender equality, the US actually beats Belgium handsomely on a few important counts. In 2011, the last year that data is available, 90.1 percent of US women got at least a secondary education. In Belgium, only 72 percent did. In the US, the boards of publicly traded companies are 12 percent women. In Belgium? 10.8 percent. In the US, 57 percent of women were at work in 2012— way above the OECD average of 54 percent, and way, way above Belgium's rate of 47 percent.

No surprise that a country with fewer women in the workplace also has fewer women overseeing things. In 2008, the last year for which data is available, 13.9 percent of US working women held down some managerial responsibilities—more than double the OECD average that year. In Belgium, only 8 percent of working women were managing anything. Worse yet, that figure has fallen to 4.7 percent as of 2011.

On the other hand Audrey Hepburn is from there and she was the best. Still, all in all, USA > Belgium.

Via ohmyglobyougays.tumblr.com/
 

Man Tapped to Draw the New Wonder Woman Doesn't Want Her to Be Feminist

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 2:45 PM EDT
Lynda Carter is not amused.

David Finch, the artist who's taking over DC Comics' Wonder Woman, says he wants the feminist icon to be "strong"—but not "feminist."

In an interview with Comic Book Resources News, David and his wife, newly appointed Wonder Woman writer Meredith Finch, talked about their plans to reimagine the character. But David missed a step when he was asked about what he’s excited to touch on in Wonder Woman's character with the new book:

I think she's a beautiful, strong character. Really, from where I come from, and we've talked about this a lot, we want to make sure it's a book that treats her as a human being first and foremost, but is also respectful of the fact that she represents something more. We want her to be a strong—I don't want to say feminist, but a strong character. Beautiful, but strong.

[…]

I'm pretty visual and I'm really interested in that. She's got a great costume and she's got a lot of history—I'm really very visually attracted to "Wonder Woman." She just looks great on the page.

"That's pretty funny," Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, who created the film Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, said when I told her about Finch's comments. "She's an obvious feminist role model for many people for many reasons…It's like getting rid of her kryptonite to say that about her."

Feminist comics fans shouldn't panic quite yet, though. As Wonder Woman's writer, Meredith Finch is likely to have more control over the plot of the series, and she demonstrated a deeper grasp of the character's history than her husband:

She’s really a female icon from way back in the '70s when females were stepping up and taking such powerful roles. Being able to take on that quintessential female superhero who represents so much for myself and for millions of people out there—especially at a time where comics are coming more into the mainstream—I feel like it's really special, and that's really where I'm coming from when I'm writing this. I want to always keep who she is and what I believe her core is central to what I'm doing.

Meredith Finch isn't the first woman to write Wonder Woman. In 2007, Gail Simone became Wonder Woman's first female "ongoing writer,"  stepping into a role previously only occupied by male writers and designers.

Update: On Monday evening, David Finch responded via Twitter to criticism he received for his comment after Mother Jones highlighted it.

Finch's apology seems sincere, and he seems to understand that feminism is about equality. But his words suggest that being "human" and "real" means you can't be a feminist. Wonder Woman would probably disagree.

Belgium Might Not Be a Country by the Next World Cup

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 2:42 PM EDT
The Belgian team before its match against South Korea

When the Belgian soccer team takes the field today against the United States, it could be for the last time—and not just for this World Cup. By the time the next Cup kicks off in 2018, Belgium may not exist at all.

Belgium was an invention of the 19th century: culturally and linguistically, it's divided cleanly between the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south. Brussels, the capital of both Belgium and the European Union, is right in the middle. Recently, politicians in Flanders—which became wealthier than industrial, coal-mining Wallonia in postwar Europe—have pushed for independence, leading to serious strife between the country's two largest political parties.

Those parties, the Dutch-speaking New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) and the French-speaking Christian Democrats, failed to form a government last week when Flemish leaders walked away from coalition talks. The last time Belgium couldn't form a government was in 2010; it took the parties 18 months to finally do it. The N-VA is a separatist party whose support has skyrocketed in Flanders; in Wallonia, right-wing politicians are asserting ties to France, and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen—who has compared Muslim immigration to Nazi occupation—said her country would welcome the Walloons "with pleasure."

The crisis happens to fall during one of the Belgian soccer team's best World Cup showings. The Red Devils won all of their group stage games and are favored to knock out the United States for a spot in the quarterfinals. The team's success is providing a rallying point for the country, if only for a short time. The team is made up of players from both Flanders and Wallonia; as a Belgian journalist told Yahoo, "When the national team plays everyone gets behind them, everyone supports them…No one is thinking about politics when the team is playing. Everyone is together and united."

Right now, there's no scheduled vote on separation in Belgium—like the one happening in Scotland later this year—but the situation could escalate. So while Belgian fans will cheer on their Red Devils in Dutch and French today, when it's time to fly home, those cheers just might turn into arguments.

Justice Ginsburg's Epic Hobby Lobby Dissent Was Just Turned Into the Best Song You'll Hear All Day

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 11:19 AM EDT

Jonathan Mann writes a song every day. Yesterday, he turned Justice Ginsburg's epic, blistering Hobby Lobby dissent into a pretty good one!

Why can't he be on the Supreme Court?

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Mastodon's "Once More ‘Round the Sun" is as Exciting as Hard Rock Gets

| Mon Jun. 30, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Mastodon
Once More ‘Round the Sun
Reprise

Mastodon Once More 'Rounds the SunHeavy metal is so prone to self-parody and general silliness that it's shocking to remember how powerful the music can be when done correctly. Current Exhibit A: the Atlanta quartet Mastodon, whose ear-shredding Once More ‘Round the Sun is as exciting as hard rock gets. Of course, they've never been a stereotypical knuckle-dragging crew, with earlier credits including a concept album inspired by Moby Dick (Leviathan) and a split seven-inch collaboration with folk-pop siren Feist, on which both parties covered one of the other’s tunes. Here, songs like "The Motherload" and "Aunt Lisa" are taut, soaring epics marked by piercing guitars, clattering drums and heroic vocals. There's plenty of spots on the album where Mastodon could be mistaken for a punk band, so don’t be afraid to shed those preconceptions and dive in for a righteously noisy experience.

Facebook Just Admitted It Tinkered With People's News Feeds to Manipulate Their Emotions

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 6:43 PM EDT

Emotional contagion is when people subconsciously take on the emotions of those around them. It's when happy people are around sad people and then feel rather down themselves. Or when sad people are in happy crowds and suddenly just want to dance.  Like so many things in real life, this happens on the internet as well. Your emotional state converges with the general feeling of your Twitter feed or your Facebook friends. This is how humans work, it's how we're wired, and it's nothing to lose sleep over.

What may in fact be worth losing sleep over is that Facebook just admitted to intentionally manipulating people's emotions by selectively choosing which type of their friends' posts—positive or negative—appeared in their News Feed.

Take it away, Next Web:

The company has revealed in a research paper that it carried out a week-long experiment that affected nearly 700,000 users to test the effects of transferring emotion online.

The News Feeds belonging to 689,003 users of the English language version were altered to see “whether exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviors,” Facebook says. There was one track for those receiving more positive posts, and another for those who were exposed to more emotionally negative content from their friends. Posts themselves were not affected and could still be viewed from friends’ profiles, the trial instead edited what the guinea pig users saw in their News Feed, which itself is governed by a selective algorithm, as brands frustrated by the system can attest to.

Facebook found that the emotion in posts is contagious. Those who saw positive content were, on average, more positive and less negative with their Facebook activity in the days that followed. The reverse was true for those who were tested with more negative postings in their News Feed.

Ok, let's break some stuff down:

Can they do this?

Yes. You agree to let the company use its information about you for "data analysis, testing, research and service improvement" when you agree to without reading the terms of service. It's the "research" bit that's relevant.

Should they?

I don't know! There are clearly some ethical questions about it. A lot of people are pretty outraged. Even the editor of the study thought it was a bit creepy.

Should I quit Facebook?

You're not going to quit Facebook.

No, really. I might.

You're not going to quit Facebook.

You don't even know me. I really might quit. No joke. I have my finger on the button. I saw an ad for a little house out in the country. No internet. No cell service. I could sell everything and go there and live a quite, deliberate life by a pond. I could be happy there in that stillness.

Cool, so, I personally am not going to quit Facebook. That seems to me to be an overreaction. But I do not presume to know you well enough to advise you on this matter.

(You're not going to quit Facebook.)

Anything else?

Yes, actually!

Earlier this year there was a minor brouhaha over the news that USAID had introduced a fake Twitter into Cuba in an attempt to foment democracy. It didn't work and they pulled the plug. Let's dress up and play the game pretend: If Facebook has the power to make people arbitrarily happy or sad, it could be quite the force politically in countries where it has a high penetration rate. (Cuba isn't actually one of those countries. According to Freedom House, only 5% of the population has access to the World Wide Web.)

Economic confidence is one of the biggest factors people consider when going to vote. What if for the week before the election your News Feed became filled with posts from your unemployed friends looking for work? Not that Mark Zuckerburg and co. would ever do that, but they could!

Have fun, conspiracy theorists!

Travels Through India's Sexual Revolution

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 6:01 AM EDT
Anti-molestation street art by Yelahanka Action Heroes

In late 2012, Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student, boarded a bus in Delhi headed towards home. She never made it to her destination. While on the bus, she was gang-raped by six men who left her with fatal injuries. 

But unlike in the past, when Singh's story might have remained hushed, tens of thousands of men and women poured into the streets to protest the rape. This public pressure led to the passage of a bill that criminalized stalking, voyeurism, and sexual harassment (though it falls short of criminalizing marital rape). The January 2013 anti-rape uprisings are part of a socio-sexual revolution unfolding in India, argues journalist Sally Howard in her book The Kama Sutra Diaries: Intimate Journeys Through Modern India, which hit American shelves in May. 

Anti-rape protests in India Courtesy Sally Howard
 

Originally from the UK, Howard has been traveling to India for the past 15 years, writing for Indian and British publications like the Telegraph, the

Guardian, and the Sunday Times. India is a land steeped in contradiction, observes Howard; a place which gave the world the revolutionary Kama Sutra, but remains hooked on the idea of arranged marriages; "where families bow down to a graphic depiction of a conjoined phallus and vagina, the Shivaling, but where couples are routinely attacked by the police for the indiscretion of holding hands in public," she writes in The Kama Sutra Diaries.

But over the last decade, Howard argues that a sexual revolution has begun in India, one with very different characteristics than the West's transformation during the 1960s. "While the Western sexual revolution was propelled by contraception and feminism," she tells me, "India's revolution has more to do with a young generation rediscovering sex, and pushing up against parental expectations." Today, more than half of India's population is under the age of 25, with 65 percent of the population under 35. "And these young are saying we've had enough, we want to have sex. They're telling their parents 'I don't want the life you have ascribed to me,'" says Howard. 

Kama Sutra temples in Madhya Pradesh Kirat Sodhi
 

Howard's travel partner Dimple, a 32-year-old Delhiite who left a loveless arranged marriage, exemplifies this social shift. "I was married at 21 by arrangement to a man I didn't know," Dimple told Howard. "The consummation of my marriage was like being hit with a cricket bat. Now I'm 32 and I'm a divorcée. My mother, who was herself very unhappy, and my grandmother, couldn't think of getting divorced. So this is a big change for my generation."

Over the course of two years, Howard and Dimple journey to the Kama Sutra temples of Madhya Pradesh, the hillside station at Shimla where Indians had a history of sexual escapades with the colonial British, and to Delhi, rocked by the recent rape uprisings. In Gujarat, Howard interviews a gay prince who is setting up a retirement home for gay and hijra (third gender) Indians, many of whom don't have families to rely on for support as they age.

Manvendra Singh Gohil, a gay prince who established a retirement home for eunuchs Hemant Bhavsar
 

Howard's journey voyage helps her uncover some shifts in sexual attitudes across the country. "Middle class Indians are getting more flexibility in choosing their own mate, and finding the space to be together and experimenting," she tells me. And aided by new digital tools, Indians seem more piqued by sex. Over the past decade, Google searches for the word "porn" in India have increased fivefold. In 2012, people in New Delhi searched for the word "porn" at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world. A survey by India Today showed that 35 percent of Indian women consume porn as opposed to 13 percent a decade ago. Fifty percent of women disapprove of pre-marital sex, as opposed to 64 percent in 2003.  But remnants of a misogynist past still linger. The same India Today survey revealed that 36 percent of men blamed women's revealing clothes for India's rape crisis.

Not surprisingly, Howard notes, the shift in thinking about sex is happening mostly with younger generations. But that doesn't mean the past is trivial. In fact, India's ancient texts may better inform contemporary lust than America's Puritanical roots. "I hope that the new sexual story the land of the Kama Sutra tells itself will feature some of the depths of romantic feeling of the old courtly poets—that it might rediscover the deep sentiments that gave the world its finest physical embodiment of romantic love: the Taj Mahal."

The Kama Sutra Diaries is equal parts travelogue and cultural analysis, blending vivid characters with upbeat prose and humor. With this entertaining read, Howard pushes past taboo to give us a more exposed India.

What Does "Transformers" Say About America's Failure to Combat Climate Change?

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 3:46 PM EDT

Nothing. It says nothing. It's a stupid movie about trucks fighting each other and stupid humans running around doing meaningless bullshit. As far as movies about trucks from space fighting each other go, it's fine, I guess. The trucks fight quite well and the humans run around doing meaningless bullshit impressively. The humans are all very attractive, too, which is nice. None of it makes any sense, of course. The movie is awful. This is an objective truth. You're probably going to see it eventually because that's the way life works, but make no mistake, it's deeply stupid.

This is the fourth film about robot trucks from space fighting each other and maybe the thrill has just died a bit? I think for the fifth one they should switch it up and have the robot trucks from space kiss each other while the humans run around doing meaningless bullshit. The humans and their meaningless bullshit are a key factor to the success of this franchise. They shouldn't abandon that. But I personally would like to see something new. Something fresh. The trucks in the sweet embrace of love. Kissing, holding, touching, rubbing.

Anyway, have a great weekend.