Mixed Media

Robot-Building 6-Year-Old Girls Talking Tech With Obama Is the Best Thing You'll See All Week

| Tue Mar. 24, 2015 7:56 PM EDT

On Monday, President Obama made his annual rounds at the White House Science Fair. The event is a breeding ground for adorable interactions with kid-nerds (See 2012's marshmallow-shooting air cannon), but his chat yesterday with five cape-wearing Girl Scouts from Oklahoma was especially magical.

The 6-year-olds from Tulsa's Girl Scout Troup 411 were the youngest inventors selected to present at this year's fair. Inspired by conversations with a librarian and one of the girls' grandmas, they built a mechanical Lego contraption that can turn pages, to help patients with mobility issues read books.

The group of first graders and kindergartners explain to Obama that the device is a "prototype" that they came up with in a "brainstorming session." One of the girls asks Obama if he's ever had his own brainstorming session.

"I have had a couple brainstorming sessions," replies an amused Obama. "But I didn't come up with anything this good!"

Another girls asks what he came up with:

"I mean, I came up with things like, you know, health care. It turned out ok, but it started off with some prototypes," the president says.

And then they all go in for a group hug. GOLD.

Suzanne Dodson, the coach of the Lego team and the mom of one of the scouts, told Tulsa World that she's glad the girls are getting such positive attention for their project: "It really is a problem with girls, when they get to middle school, they lose confidence in their own ability to succeed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)" she said. "Having this experience at young age really gives them a confidence boost."

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Let John Oliver Explain How Petty Municipal Fines Destroy the Lives of Our Most Vulnerable

| Mon Mar. 23, 2015 9:39 AM EDT

As demonstrated by the Justice Department's damning investigation into the Ferguson Police Department, police officials often rely on slapping hefty municipal fines to fund government. Such practices are rampant in towns across the country.

On the latest Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took on the issue with an in-depth report explaining how a petty traffic violation—a ticket some people can simply shrug off as a nuisance—can actually wreck the lives of society's most vulnerable citizens, and sometimes even land people in jail.

"Most Americans drive to work," he explained. "If you can't do that, you've got a problem. In New Jersey, a survey of low-income drivers who had their license suspended found that 64 percent had lost their jobs as a result, which doesn't help anyone. You need them to pay their fine but you're taking away their means of paying it. That's the most self-defeating idea since gay conversion camp!"

While Oliver says he's not advocating for minor offenses to go without punishment, people should have the "right to fuck up once in a while without completely destroying our lives."

Watch below:

 

Courtney Barnett's Debut LP Captures the Absorbing Minutiae of Everyday Life

| Mon Mar. 23, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Mom + Pop

Although this beguiling opus is being billed as Australian Courtney Barnett's debut LP, she previously produced an album's worth of material in the form of two EPs, a highlight being "Avant Gardener," her engagingly offhand account of an asthma attack. She follows that tune's deceptively ingenious template on Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, which blends agreeably slackerish vocals, ramshackle yet catchy guitar pop, and understated songs devoted to capturing the absorbing minutiae of everyday life.

From "Elevator Operator" to "Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go to the Party" to "An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in NY)," Barnett's characters turn the act of "just idling insignificantly" into a search for deeper meaning, often seesawing between self-loathing and self-respect. And while epiphanies prove elusive, her good-hearted, empathic portraits are unfailingly memorable.

Today's Epic Solar Eclipse Captured In Beautiful Photos

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 2:04 PM EDT

This morning, Europe and parts of Africa and Asia experienced a rare solar eclipse. The last time such an event of this significance took place was back in 1999. That this eclipse also happened to fall on the spring equinox was an even more of a unique phenomenon that last occurred in 1662. Despite early reports predicting that heavy clouds would block a proper glimpse, eager residents, tourists, and astronomers gathered across the continent to witness the eclipse. Here are some of the images that were captured:

Sarajevo, Bosnia Amel Emric/AP
 
Svalbard, Norway Haakon Mosvold Larsen/AP
Greenwich Observatory, London Rex Features/AP
Skopje, Macedonia Boris Grdanoski/AP

Those in the higher Arctic regions were lucky enough to experience a total solar eclipse. But residents in the Faroe Islands—previously touted as one of the more impressive locations to view the event—were reportedly disappointed by the thick clouds, according to the Guardian. Berlin, on the other hand, boasted clear skies.

And to complete the occasion, here's British Member of the European Parliament Roger Helmer, who used the event to drop in some apparent climate denial. (Helmer has previously asserted that "the relationship between global temperature and atmospheric Co2 levels is hugely open to question.")

 

This Adorable Video of a Baby Frog Squeaking Is the Best Thing You'll See Today

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 3:54 PM EDT

The following is a delightful clip of a baby frog screaming, apparently discovered by BBC in the desert. It's the kind of high-pitched yelling normally expected from a dog's chew toy, not a frog. It's adorable and should be watched on repeat below:

(h/t Gabrielle Canon)

Starbucks Wants to Talk Race With Its Customers. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

| Wed Mar. 18, 2015 1:06 PM EDT
Chris Hayes sits down with CBS's Nancy Giles and DJ Jay Smooth.

Judging from its reception on social media yesterday, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's just-announced kumbaya pipe dream is destined for eternal ridicule. The company hopes to address racism by slapping the words "Race Together" on coffee cups and forcing its baristas to coax customers into unsolicited discussions about race relations.

To get a preview of what's coming, check out this conversation between CBS's Nancy Giles and DJ Jay Smooth during an appearance on last night's All In with Chris Hayes.

Giles: "I can't not tease Jay about the kinda, like, brotha way he was trying to talk. Like, 'Hey,' with the rap music in the background, and like down with the people."

Smooth: "I'm a rap guy!"

Giles: "Yeah, I know, but it's another interesting funny thing about race. There would be some people that would feel that you co-opted something like that, and other people might feel like, 'That's his background, and that's really cool too.'…These are conversations, you know, 'Yo, like ya know, yeah, if somebody takes my wallet,' I mean, it's really interesting."

Smooth: "It's also interesting, because I'm actually black, but you assumed otherwise. And this is the sort of awkwardness we can look forward to at Starbucks across America."

Giles notes early on that the campaign's purpose seems noble and that conversations about race should be encouraged. But as the conversation reveals, Starbucks' bold venture into race relations reeks of clumsy naiveté. Let's save our baristas the trouble.


(h/t Salon)

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This Correction Is The Best Thing to Come Out of Robert Durst's Arrest

| Wed Mar. 18, 2015 8:36 AM EDT

While reporting on the arrest of Robert Durst, the subject of HBO's documentary "The Jinx," the Associated Press committed a wonderful error by confusing the creepy real-estate millionaire for the frontman of Limp Bizkit, Fred Durst.

 

 

The correction marks what we can safely predict will be the most relevant Limp Bizkit will be ever again.

(h/t Romenesko)

Trolls Attacked Ashley Judd for Tweeting About Sports. Now She's Fighting Back.

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 3:18 PM EDT

Actress Ashley Judd, a well known University of Kentucky basketball fan and alumnus of the Division 1 school, is striking back at Twitter users who launched a tirade of sexually violent tweets aimed at her while she attended a Wildcats game over the weekend.

The explicit messages, which include being called a cunt and suggestions that she "suck a dick," were prompted by her Tweet saying the opposing team was "playing dirty." Now Judd indicates that she hopes to pursue charges against her trolls.

"The amount of gender violence that I experience is absolutely extraordinary," Judd said on the Today show Tuesday. "And a significant part of my day today will be spent filing police reports at home about gender violence that's directed at me in social media."

Judd's harassment comes at a time when more women are speaking out against online abuse, whether via cyber-stalking and threats or movements such as #Gamergate. However, prosecuting such threats has proved notoriously difficult. Some members of Congress are asking the federal government to beef up enforcement of laws that already prohibit such threats of violence. From 2010-2013, federal prosecutors only investigated 10 cyber-stalking reports, despite 2.5 million cases of women being harassed online.

Former Major League pitcher Curt Schilling recently used an alternative strategy to punish the men who trolled his daughter on Twitter: He tracked down their identities and outed them. At least one man lost his job as a result; others were suspended from their college sports teams.

As for the uncomfortable kiss from ESPN's Dick Vitale photographed during the same Wildcats game, Judd says they are friends, and that she's "adored him" for 10 years.

5 Must-See True-Crime Documentaries to Catch After "The Jinx"

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 10:56 PM EDT

Sunday's finale of the HBO documentary series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst ended with the eccentric protagonist muttering a seeming confession to three murders over the last 30 years.

"What the hell did I do?" Durst said. "Killed them all, of course."

The revelation culminated an eight-year investigation into the life and trials of Durst, the estranged son of a New York real estate dynasty. He has maintained his innocence in the 1982 disappearance of his first wife and was acquitted in the 2001 slaying of Morris Black in Galveston, Texas. But Durst was arrested on Saturday, a day before the finale aired, in a New Orleans hotel after new evidence emerged that law enforcement officials allege linked him to the 2000 murder of confidante Susan Berman. On Monday, Los Angeles prosecutors charged Durst with first-degree murder in California, in addition to weapons charges in Louisiana. 

All eyes will surely stay glued to Durst's case as it unfolds, but The Jinx, a well-paced journalistic masterpiece, is over. The inevitable question for today's budding Sherlock Holmes becomes: What to watch next?

Since True Detective reportedly won't return until this summer, and the second season of Serial isn't out yet, here are a few true-crime documentaries to check out now:

Central Park Five

The 2012 Ken Burns documentary looks into the 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park. The film, which is on Netflix, takes a look at the case and its aftermath from the perspectives of the accused, whose convictions were later tossed out after a convicted rapist confessed to the crime.

 

Into The Abyss

Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog dives into the aftermath of a triple homicide in the small city of Conroe, Texas as part of a larger examination into capital punishment in the United States. This 2011 doc is still on Netflix.

 

The Imposter

A 13-year-old boy in Texas disappears in 1994, then reportedly resurfaces three years later in Spain. But that's not the whole story. A French con artist tells all in this gripping 2012 documentary, which can be seen on Netflix.

 

The Paradise Lost trilogy

In this three-part series, renowned filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky focus on the infamous case of the "West Memphis Three," a trio of teenagers who were convicted of the brutal triple homicide in 1993 of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The three men were later freed after 18 years in prison. You can find this one on Amazon Prime.

 

The Thin Blue Line

A throwback from 1988, Errol Morris investigates the questionable conviction of Randall Dale Adams, who was wrongly sentenced to life in prison for killing a Dallas police officer in 1976. The film, which is on Netflix, played a role in exonerating Adams a year later.

Watch John Oliver Explain Why the NCAA Should Stop Exploiting Student Athletes and Pay Up

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 9:15 AM EDT

The National Collegiate Athletic Association reaps in nearly $1 billion a year in revenue, thanks to an annual onslaught of glitzy advertising campaigns and television deals. Coaches and top executives are paid in the millions, but student athletes return to their dorm rooms with nothing but an education for compensation, "the only currency more difficult to spent than Bitcoin," John Oliver noted last night.

With the start of March Madness on Tuesday, "Last Week Tonight" takes on this very issue, slamming the "illegal sweatshop" nature of the NCAA's non-pay scale. "There is nothing inherently wrong with a sporting tournament making huge amounts of money," Oliver said. "But there is something slightly troubling about a billion-dollar sports enterprise where the athletes are not paid a penny, because they aren't."