Mixed Media

Ditka 237, da Russian Bear 3: Ambassador Iron Mike

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 1:30 PM EDT
In honor of St. Patrick's Day President Obama announced Dan Rooney, the Irish-American owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, as ambassador to Ireland. The merger of professional football and politics is a promising one, and Obama should look closer to home when naming his official envoy to Ukraine. Being from Chicago, Obama knows that if anyone should be our man in Kiev, it's Iron Mike Ditka.

Ditka, who is of Ukrainian descent, ushered in the gilded age of the Chicago Bears. He's one of two people to win Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach, and head coach. He runs a chain of self-named restaurants, dabbles in California wines, launched resorts in Florida, and works as a sports commentator. If anyone could tackle the challenges of running an embassy, it's Ditka. As SNL's Superfans remind us, who wins in a fight, Ditka versus god? Trick question—Ditka is god. 

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SXSW Dispatch: Garbage Dreams

| Mon Mar. 16, 2009 4:35 PM EDT

Sheerly Avni is a film and culture writer guest-blogging for Mother Jones from Austin's South by Southwest FestivalRead her first dispatch here.

Part Two: One Man's Garbage Is Another Man's Prayer

The best way to introduce the documentary Garbage Dreams is to introduce one of its three protagonists, a young Egyptian named Adham, who addressed an adoring crowd last night during the film's post-premiere Q&A.

"I had to quit working when I was eight," he said through a translator. "I had to drop out of school at age 8 to help my family. I was ashamed of my job as a zaballeen. But after I attended The Recycling School, I also learned computers, health, and hygiene, I became very proud of my profession, and I realized that my job is as important as a job or doctor: If the zaballeen do not collect the garbage every day...cities will stink."

Adham is one of Cairo's 60,000 zaballeen,  garbage collectors who eke out a living gathering, sorting, and recycling 80 percent of the cities' waste. Until recently, their profession afforded them a modicum of economic security, if no real chance at social mobility, but as the city has turned to subcontracting out collections to foreign companies, the entire community has suffered. Director Mai Iskander spent several years following the struggles of three remarkably charismatic boys—now young men—fighting to protect their trade, all under the careful guardianship of a teacher at The Recycling School, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the young zaballeen, academically as well as professionally.

With no preaching, no lazy text placards, and a deep faith in the boys' ability to tell their own compelling story without comment, Iksander offers up a gripping account of what it means to fight for the right to work with honor, as well as introducing you to three young men you'll not soon forget. The future of their profession may be in danger—as well as their vision of all garbage as, in their own words, "a gift from God"—but this movie could help save it. 

Look out for a particularly striking sequence set on a visit to a Wales recycling factory—with Ahmad serving as both enthusiastic tourist ("Cars here stop to let you cross the street!") and skeptical pro ("No precision," he sniffs, watching shards of broken glass make their way down a conveyer belt to a landfill).

See indieWIRE for an interview with the filmmaker. 

In my next dispatch: cultural shifts in the workplace, take 42. "I guess you'll find me when you want to get wasted."—parting words of Cinematical's managing editor Scott Weinbergto two of his bloggers.

SXSW Dispatch: Email Is for Old People

| Mon Mar. 16, 2009 2:16 AM EDT

Sheerly Avni is a film and culture writer guest-blogging for Mother Jones from Austin's South by Southwest Festival.

Part One: Email Is for Old People

In a fit of pathological optimism, I opted to register for both the Interactive and Film portions of SXSW. This is like deciding to "do" both Italy and France on a five-day trip to Europe: Vertigo-inducing and ill-advised, though possible if you forgo sleep. Forgoing sleep in Austin has been easy; my hotel walls, more than three blocks away from the musical epicenter, were booming in time to the bass beat until well past 2 a.m.

And now I also have insomnia. Because not until I started passing out my spiffy new business cards in the SXSW pressroom did I discover that, despite living in San Francisco, having an iPhone, knowing some html, and maintaining a regular Facebook account, what a pathetically ass-backwards, last century, late-adopting, buzzword-clueless Internet rube I really am.

And, dear reader, or rather, user, or rather content-abuser, I hope you're a rube too.

SXSW is all about the search for the new. New music, new filmmakers, and in tech, that new "killer app," which will change everyone's lives forever. The killer app of two years ago at SXSW was Twitter. The killer app of last year was also.... Twitter. And this year at SXSW, as I discovered while trading business cards with tech bloggers and entrepeneurs too polite to point it out (thanks, Grant!), not having a Twitter account printed on my card places me firmly on the dusty, musty side of ever-narrowing bandwidth between tomorrow and yesterday.

Email addresses are obsolete; give your Twitter handle instead? It took me a while to wrap my mind around the concept—long enough that by the time I'd built my new account, I'd found out that guess what, Twitter's out now, too.

Like I said, vertigo.

In my next dispatch: Two films which premiered this weekend about what happens when it's not your email address but your livelihood that's become obsolete.

Professor Buffy, Ph.D: Vampire-Slaying in the Real World

| Sun Mar. 15, 2009 5:39 PM EDT

Journalism is weird.

Check out this HuffPo article about medieval folks' belief in vampires:

An archaeological dig near Venice has unearthed the 16th-century remains of a woman with a brick stuck between her jaws— evidence, experts say, that she was believed to be a vampire. The unusual burial is thought to be the result of an ancient vampire-slaying ritual. It suggests the legend of the mythical bloodsucking creatures was tied to medieval ignorance of how diseases spread and what happens to bodies after death, experts said...The well-preserved skeleton was found in 2006 on the Lazzaretto Nuovo island, north of the lagoon city, amid other corpses buried in a mass grave during an epidemic of plague that hit Venice in 1576."

How weird that the desecrated skeleton blamed for the worst of society's ills was female. Not. But I digress.

Wouldn't you know that Friday, as I luxuriated in the New Yorker I innocently came upon this: "In The Blood: Why Do Vampires Still Thrill?"

Ok. I smell a conspiracy, which is about as unusual as me smelling coffee or my stupid cat's litter box. Or, like, oxygen.

I'm a humorless feminist and all, but given the planet's fascination with vampires, why are the victims female while the cultural vampire sex symbols are male?

People, if we're gonna do the time, can't we at least do the crime?

Not Even Will Ferrell Can Make 90 Minutes of George W. Bush Tolerable

| Sun Mar. 15, 2009 4:34 PM EDT
Usually, I'm fine with the idea of nonsense for the sake of nonsense. From Monty Python to Aqua Teen Hunger Force, the random and ridiculous can often reach ecstatic comedic heights. On the other hand, sometimes comedy can be the best weapon against hypocrisy and villainy, as Jon Stewart's hilarious and vital takedown of CNBC made clear this week. So it should be the perfect formula: the usually-hilarious Will Ferrell brings his smirking imitation of the just-barely-former president to Broadway in "You're Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush," the final show of which was broadcast by HBO last night. Unfortunately, Ferrell's 90 minutes of Bushy bumbling missed the mark, both as silliness and as satire. Tellingly, the first big (or, well, average-sized) story to emerge from Ferrell's Broadway run was pure shock value: the Times reported last month that audience members had "stormed out" after seeing a photo of a penis projected on a screen. While the Times' breathless reporting on this issue was actually pretty funny in and of itself, the moment turns out to be oddly symbolic of the entire show's caterwauling randomness, a "just because I can" stunt with an easy "stimulus package" joke. This "ultimate" exposure could be an attempt to get at something central and pathetic about W., but it just feels kind of empty.

Think You're a Liberal? Take This Test and Just Try to Outscore Me

| Fri Mar. 13, 2009 9:21 PM EDT

As if I hadn't already outed myself as the pinkiest of pinko fag commies, I stumbled upon this gem at Slate's XX blog. It's an interactive quiz from the Center for American Progress to gauge just how liberal or conservative you are. Here's how the Slate-ettes scored:

"Twelve of us took the quiz, and on a scale of 0 to 400 (0 is the least progressive; 400 is the most progressive), we came out with an average score of 245. To put that in context, the mean score for liberal Democrats is 247 and 160.6 for conservative Republicans. Our median is somewhere in the mid-290s; our high is 313, and our low is 112.

Fascist heifers! I scored 332. Boo yah!

The average American drags their Neanderthal asses in at only 209.5.

So, if you outscore me, let's put on our hemp shoes and our tie-dyed bandannas, strap our home-birthed babies on our backs, and go hug some whales.

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Video: The YouTube Supergroup

| Fri Mar. 13, 2009 4:15 PM EDT

Demonstrating once again the power of mashuppery to make not-so-good things into tolerable things, or even terrible things into great things, an Israeli musician calling himself Kutiman has created a... um... I'm not sure what to call it. Remix/medley/edit/completely new song? Whatever it is, Kutiman has named it "The Mother of All Funk Chords," and it's made entirely out of YouTube clips of individual musicians practicing, showing off, or giving lessons. Most of these clips are of the cringe-inducing, lonely-guy-in-his-ugly-living-room variety, but the final product is jaw-dropping and inspiring. It's almost as if Kutiman has created an imaginary virtual world where all these lonely, unknown dudes have found each other, a single chord that unites them. Watch the video above or go to his home page, thru-you.com, for more stuff in Kutiman's continuing YouTube remix project.

Michael Jackson Sells 750,000 Tickets In Hours

| Fri Mar. 13, 2009 3:22 PM EDT
Singer Michael Jackson has sold out all 750,000 tickets to his run of 50 shows at London's O2 Arena in just hours today, reports Billboard, at an average rate of about 11 per second. Ticketmaster UK called it the "busiest demand for tickets" they have ever experienced. The 50 shows will supposedly take place in July, August, and September of this year, as well as January and February of 2010. The publicity has pushed sales of Jackson's albums up as well, with sales of Thriller up 80% at stores in the UK and Ireland. The lesson I take from this is that if I act all crazy and allegedly abusive and transparently arrogant and dishonest and mess up my face a whole bunch, I could sell more tickets to my DJ gigs. Although, come to think of it, maybe having something as stupendous as "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" on the resume might help, as well. Video for that after the jump.

Rachel Maddow Attacked By Fart-Obsessed Interviewer

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 3:45 PM EDT
Salon called it "the weirdest Rachel Maddow interview ever," and while we at Mother Jones can neither confirm nor deny that statement, it's sure a hell of a lot weirder than our own Clara Jeffery's recent conversation with the breakout cable news star. Plus, Clara actually talked less than the person she was interviewing, something Vanity Fair's George Wayne couldn't manage in his bonkers Q&A. The piece just made the rounds of the Mother Jones e-mail circle, and here's a sampling of comments:

Jen Phillips: Our interview is so much better, even if it doesn't mention eproctophilia.

Mike Mechanic: Foul.

Me: Is this guy from 1923?

Dave Gilson: Has anyone ever really uttered the phrase, "listen to this saucy pedant"?

Nicole McClelland: I cannot believe VF printed two of this asinine interviewer’s words to Maddow’s every one. How is it possible they let him go on about eating ass for not one, but two complete sentences?

As you can see, this interview raises more questions than it answers. Here's another one: Does saying "darling" a lot make up for using the term "dyke-stache"? Twice? If only there was an upcoming opportunity to ask Ms. Maddow how she felt about all this, at an event benefitting a non-profit magazine, for which there was an exclusive reception that still has some tickets available.

The Palin Family Regrets to Inform You…

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 2:43 PM EDT
The Governor of Alaska and Mr. Todd Mitchell Palin announce that the engagement of their daughter, Miss Bristol Palin, to Mr. Levi Johnston, has been ended by mutual consent.

In a shocking development, the torrid betrothal of 19-year-old apprentice electrician Levi Johnston and the daughter of the governor of Alaska—a year-long relationship that created two-month-old Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston and helped bolster the pro-life and working-class credentials of Sen. John McCain—has ended.

The liaison stood little chance of success, especially after the Republican Party transformed the two high-school dropouts into symbols of social conservatism. With that pressure, it's no wonder the teens couldn't withstand the normal trials of dating, never mind the stress of playing it out before the entire country. And so, having performed his role with considerable aplomb, Johnston may now retreat to obscurity, free to snowboard, ride dirt bikes, go camping, film reality TV shows, and hang out with the boys to his heart's content.

As for his son, Tripp Johnston, there's no reason to worry. Many people conceived by unmarried couples have gone on to achieve illustrious feats in their own rights.