Mixed Media

The Coach of the US Soccer Team Wrote You a Note To Get Out of Work

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 11:05 AM EDT

This should come in handy today.

Jürgen Klinsmann, the US men's national soccer team coach, signed the following tongue-in-cheek letter excusing American employees from work on Thursday. The US is playing Germany in a highly anticipated World Cup match.

Here's the get-out-of-work letter, via the US Soccer Twitter feed:

US Soccer excuse note world cup
@ussoccer/Twitter

If you tried to use this on your boss, please do tell us how it went in the comments below. Go USA!

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Arab Spring-Inspired Show "Tyrant" Had Plenty of Muslim, Arab Input

| Tue Jun. 24, 2014 5:42 PM EDT

Tyrant—a bloody, tense family drama that just so happens to be set in an Arab dictatorship—is a TV show that feels destined for controversy. And that's familiar territory for  showrunner Howard Gordon, best known for his work on the hyper-controversial, torture-heavy 24.

The new series, created by Gideon Raff, tells the story of Bassam "Barry" Al-Fayeed (played by Adam Rayner), the son of a brutal dictator of a fictional Middle Eastern country, as he reluctantly returns to the family business from a happy life in the United States after two decade living in self-exile. (Think The Godfather meets the Assads.) Tyrant premieres Tuesday night on FX—and Gordon has been gearing up for any potential backlash it might bring his way:

"Bring it on!" Gordon told reporters in January.

"Come on, Roger [Ailes]!" he joked. "I've been called an Islamophobe and a torture monger, so what else can they call me?"

I've only seen the first episode (which is visually gorgeous and rather compelling), so I have no idea why the series might possibly piss off the Fox News president or his platoon of commentators. However, it certainly isn't hard to imagine that a TV show focused on trigger-happy, iron-fisted Arab Muslims might irk certain groups and people concerned about negative stereotypes and hackneyed cultural depictions in American entertainment. But Gordon has taken steps to assure potential viewers that he was more than aware of such concerns, and acted accordingly. More on that from the Daily Beast, which interviewed him: 

Howard Gordon has done something different with Tyrant: He has included Arab-Americans and Muslims in the creative process. As Gordon explained to [the Daily Beast], his motivation in doing this arose from being "concerned that there might be potential sensitivities that I may not be aware of."

Gordon did a few things to include Arabs and Muslim voices in Tyrant…For one, he hired an Arab-American for the writing staff. Plus he reached out to a well-known Muslim-American group, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), over a year ago for their input on early drafts of the pilot script.

As Gordon explained: "MPAC has had a significant impact on the development of this project from its inception." Gordon added: "I tried to address their concerns regarding cultural inaccuracies and potentially incendiary characterizations. I may not always have been entirely successful, but the dialogue has always been open and fluid."

Suhad Obeidi, the head of the Hollywood bureau of MPAC, spoke positively about the experience of working with Gordon. Obeidi explained that Gordon truly did revise the script in many—not all—places flagged by MPAC.

It wouldn't be the first time that Gordon consulted a Muslim-American group regarding controversial content. When the Washington, DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reached out to Fox and 24's producers to express concerns over the fourth season of 24 (which features a Muslim-American Los Angeles family that leads an Islamist sleeper cell), they responded by inviting CAIR representatives out for a meeting in LA to share their thoughts and criticism. In the months and years that followed, CAIR and the 24 crew maintained an open dialogue.

"They were very, very receptive," Rabiah Ahmed, a former CAIR employee who attended the meeting, told me. "Howard Gordon was such a gentleman. He pulled me aside after the meeting and said their intentions were never to harm the community, and that they are very sensitive about how we feel, and how their work impacts the larger society…I was very touched by his sincerity."

Still, Gordon's latest offering has attracted some harsh words from a familiar organization: "[CAIR has] asked reviewers to address stereotyping of Arab and Muslim culture inherent in the new FX Networks series Tyrant," the group wrote in a press release last week.

Now, here's an FX "first look" at Tyrant:

Neo-Nazi Banners, Blackface, and Homophobic Chants: World Cup Fans Behaving Badly

| Tue Jun. 24, 2014 3:45 PM EDT
German fans in blackface

Hooligan culture has long brought out the ugliest elements of soccer fan bases. But recently the consensus is that hate speech—and even violence—have gotten worse in soccer stadiums around the world, from Europe to South America.

That's why FIFA, international soccer's governing body, has gone on the offensive during this year's World Cup, slapping "Say No to Racism" patches on players' jerseys and on signs around the pitch during matches. FIFA also has a number of tools in its arsenal to punish offending parties, from banning individual fans and fining countries to even deducting teams' points or suspending them altogether.

Despite these efforts, racism and homophobia have emerged in the stands and on the field at this year's World Cup in Brazil. Here's the worst of the worst so far, and how they stack up to past misbehavior:

1. Neo-Nazis on the loose. During Saturday's match between Germany and Ghana, a shirtless man ran on the field during the 53rd minute. On his body he'd written the symbol of the Nazi SS, as well as the letters "HH"—short for "Heil Hitler." Shockingly, he paraded around midfield for a few moments—with no security personnel in sight—until a Ghanaian player took it upon himself to escort him away.

guy on field
A man with Nazi-associated markings runs on the field. Marcus Brandt/DPA

It was hardly the first time neo-Nazis have used the World Cup as a platform for their views. Last week, for example, Russian and Croatian fans were spotted in the stands with banners with anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi symbols. One Croatian player, Joe Simunic, was banned from this year's Cup after shouting slogans from Nazi-era Croatia following his side's qualifying victory. And in 2006, English fans were arrested in Germany for displaying Nazi symbols on their bodies.

Despite FIFA's promise to punish hate speech—and even deduct teams' points for offenses—there's reason to believe this isn't the last incident of this kind. Anti-Semitism and racism are on the rise in many parts of Europe and in its soccer stadiums; in particular, the 2018 World Cup host, Russia, has a disturbing trend of violent neo-Nazism and racism (and, as Mother Jones has reported, homophobia). Some players have already called for a boycott.

2. Blackface and yelling "monkey." Also at Saturday's Germany-Ghana match, German fans were seen wearing blackface and Afro wigs, happily taking pictures with other fans. While it's unclear how many there were, an Instagram user posted a picture of two and said he'd counted eight Germans in blackface at the stadium.

FIFA is currently investigating, and despite its tough talk on racism, it's unclear how the issue will be handled. Like the United States, Germany has a history of whites putting on black makeup—particularly in theater—and some Germans still consider the practice acceptable.

At the 2012 Euro Cup, Dutch players were harassed by fans and Italian player Mario Balotelli was verbally abused; at the 2006 World Cup, Spanish fans allegedly taunted black French players during an elimination match.

Even the World Cup's tremendously diverse host country has been waging a high-profile battle with its own racial tensions, which sometimes manifest themselves at soccer games. Arouca, a former Brazilian national player, was taunted several months ago in Rio de Janeiro by fans repeatedly chanting "monkey" at him, along with other nasty slurs. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff tweeted her disapproval after the incident, writing, "It is unacceptable that Brazil, the country with the largest black population after Nigeria, has racism issues."

Rousseff also pledged a "World Cup without racism," which would certainly be an accomplishment for an international soccer competition. At the 2012 Euro Cup, Dutch players were harassed by fans and Italian player Mario Balotelli was verbally abused; at the 2006 World Cup, Spanish fans allegedly taunted French players during an elimination match; and in the 1970s and 1980s, racist taunting was so common in soccer stadiums in Europe that it was hardly newsworthy at all.

3. Mexico's popular homophobic chant. Mexican fans have brought the infamous "¡EHHH…PUTO!" chant, reliably shouted during goal and corner kicks, to the World Cup. "Puto" is historically an offensive slur for gay men, and when Mexican fans shouted it during their side's match against Cameroon, FIFA promised an investigation, which could've resulted in a fine for the Mexican soccer federation.

On Monday, FIFA concluded that the chant "is not considered insulting in this specific context" and refrained from issuing any kind of punishment. Anti-racism activist group Football Against Racism in Europe condemned FIFA's lack of action, stating, "If the decision is that the use of the word 'puto' is not homophobic then this [is] disappointing and contradicts the expert advice of the Mexican government's own anti-discrimination body, CONAPRED, and numerous other experts." (Last week, CONAPRED denounced the chant, saying that it "reflects the homophobia, machismo, and misogyny that still exists in our culture.") Mexican soccer officials have been mostly silent, but coach Miguel Herrera defended the chant's use, calling it "not that bad."

Worse still, when Mexico took on Brazil last week, Brazilian fans adopted the chant—not exactly the kind of cross-cultural sharing FIFA hopes for during soccer's biggest event.

Black Bananas' Latest Will Upset the Geezers

| Mon Jun. 23, 2014 6:00 AM EDT


Black Bananas
Electric Brick Wall
Drag City

Jennifer Herrema, a graduate of the renegade art-noise band Royal Trux, seems to be getting younger as time goes by. Echoing Sky Ferreira's 2013 album Night Time, My Time, Herrema's latest outing as leader of Black Bananas unleashes an invigorating wave of damaged synth pop, swathed in distortion and smothered by electro-fuzz, suggesting a ramshackle punk band trying to provoke an uproar with new toys. Electric Brick Wall draws heavily on glam-rock and '70s funk, transcending any pretentious conceptual undertones through sheer anarchic vigor. It's noisy fun with more than enough chaos to upset your old-fogey friends.

HBO's "The Case Against 8": An Intimate Look at One of Gay Marriage's Greatest Victories

| Fri Jun. 20, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

On June 29, 2013, I attended Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier's wedding at San Francisco's City Hall and filmed the video above.

It was an especially jubilant occasion that marked the end of a long legal battle. Earlier that week, they won their Supreme Court case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, on a 5-4 decision. The ruling officially overturned Proposition 8—an earlier ballot initiative that nullified a 2008 ruling from California's highest court legalizing gay marriage—effectively making gay marriage legal again in the state. Perry and Stier wasted no time, and became the first same sex couple married under California's new legal regime.

All of us in attendance that day, from media, to family, to other spouses-in-waiting, were aware of the historical significance of Perry and Stier's nuptials. But we hadn't witnessed the behind-the-scenes story that led to their marriage. Now with HBO's new documentary The Case Against 8, which premieres Monday night, we get an exclusive look at the emotion and effort that took their case all the way the Supreme Court.

The Case Against 8's story begins with election night in 2008. While much of the country was celebrating Barack Obama's victory, gay marriage supporters were shocked and saddened by the election results coming out of California, where voters had approved Prop 8. As Ben Cotner, a co-director of the documentary, told Mother Jones, "none of us thought it would pass." He describes that night as "a wake up call to gay people that we weren't doing enough."

Soon after the ballot initiative passed, Cotner and co-director Ryan White got in touch with the two marquee attorneys who would lead the legal challenge to invalidate Prop 8—the very-odd-couple of Ted Olson and David Boies. In 2000, Olson and Boies squared off against each other at the Supreme Court as lawyers representing George W. Bush and Al Gore, respectively, in the presidential election-defining Bush v. Gore case. In The Case Against 8, we see them united once again, but now as allies for a progressive cause.

From the beginning of the film, we're reminded how surprising it was for Olson to emerge as a full throated supporter of gay marriage. After securing the White House for George Bush, Olson served as the socially conservative administration's Solicitor General. For decades, spanning from his time as an assistant attorney general under Reagan to his 2009 oral arguments on behalf of Citizen's United in the Supreme Court case that lifted key limits on corporate campaign spending, Olson had amassed a resume that made him one of the Right's leading legal lights. Kristina Schake, an official at the non-profit that spearheaded the challenge to Prop. 8, puts it simply, describing Olson as "the most prominent conservative lawyer in America."

image: case against 8
Hollingsworth v. Perry plaintiffs Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami, and Jeff Zarrillo in "The Case Against 8" Courtesy of AFER/Diana Walker/HBO

"People were worried he was a mole or would sabotage the movement," co-director Ryan White told Mother Jones. But throughout The Case Against 8, Olson is seen tirelessly fighting, both in private and in the courtroom, for gay couples' right to marry, calling marriage itself a "conservative value." White says Olson deserves a lot of credit, noting that "even our own President [Obama] wasn't in favor of gay marriage when our filming began."

Olson and Boies were amenable to letting cameras observe their work, but the decision to allow filming in private meetings ultimately fell to their clients: Kristin Perry, Sandra Stier, Paul Katami, and Jeffrey Zarrillo—the gay couples who were the battle's public faces. Opening their private lives to the documentarians for what would surely become a stressful, emotional, and vulnerable period was no easy decision. But the couples decided to allow access because they believed in transparency and the educational value of the case.

Early in The Case Against 8, there's a scene showing a grueling prep session between Perry, Stier, and their lawyers. Attorney Sarah Piepmeier is playing the role of an opposing lawyer, preparing Stier for her first appearance on the stand. Piepmeier asks a series of questions and presents research intended to discredit Perry and make her intentions for the case appear entirely selfish. Following an uncomfortable few minutes, Piepmeier hands Stier a printout of her Facebook page, and says, "Your description for yourself was: 'Middle-aged mom with delusions of grandeur.'" Stier replies sheepishly, "Yes," to which Piepmeier says, "Ok, I have no further questions." Stier explodes with embarrassment and laughter and Perry adds, "That is so mean! What the hell?!" It's clear that when the real trial begins, these moments of levity and safety will vanish.

Kristin Perry has four sons who are featured throughout the film as important sources of inspiration for the couple. "You don't always take the time to listen to your moms," said co-director White, "but to hear them talk about it on the stand...they were in tears."

To win, the plaintiffs had to expose, explain, and describe their feelings for one another and for their families, which is not always easy to do in private, much less before a court and all the world. These scenes make The Case Against 8 not only an intimate look at the legal groundwork that led to Hollingsworth v. Perry, but also an honest, riveting account of love—and a recognition of how far this fight has come.

The Case Against 8 premieres Monday June 23 on HBO. Watch the trailer:

Watch: How to Take Over the Middle East in a Few Easy Steps [Fiore Cartoon]

| Thu Jun. 19, 2014 5:14 PM 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.

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WATCH: The US Just Scored the Fifth-Fastest Goal in World Cup History

| Mon Jun. 16, 2014 6:35 PM EDT

Update: FIFA officially says the goal was scored at 34 seconds, according to the Washington Post.

The US is playing Ghana today in the World Cup. Forward Clint Dempsey scored a goal just 30 seconds into the match. That makes it the fifth-fastest World Cup goal ever

Here's a Vine:

USA! USA!

(h/t NJ.com)

Film Review: "Documented"

| Mon Jun. 16, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Documented

CNN FILMS

In this film, Filipino immigrant and former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas does what he does best: tell a story—in this case, his own, with an eye toward humanizing the debate over America's 12 million undocumented immigrants. Since revealing his undocumented status in a 2011 New York Times Magazine article, Vargas has traveled the nation pushing reform and sparking difficult conversations with lawmakers and voters. But one place he hasn't been able to go is the Philippines. Documented, which shuttles between Vargas' New York City flat and his mother's home in Manila—with a stop at a Mitt Romney town hall meeting along the way—is sprinkled with heartbreaking scenes of their complex relationship, strained by 20 years of separation. Keep a box of tissues handy.

What Does North Korea Have to Say About Seth Rogen and James Franco Trying To Kill Kim Jong Un in "The Interview"?

| Fri Jun. 13, 2014 5:00 PM EDT

UPDATE, June 22, 2014, 12:07 p.m. ET: A North Korean official has weighed in. "However, Kim Myong-chol, who is often described as an 'unofficial' spokesperson for the communist nation's 'supreme leader,' said the dictator would probably watch the movie anyway," the Guardian reports. (And here's Seth Rogen responding to that.)

"I am incredibly proud and a little bit frightened to present the first teaser for our next movie, [The Interview]," actor/director Seth Rogen tweeted on Wednesday. The reason he might have been a bit frightened was because of the film's plot. Here's the official synopsis of the movie, which is set for theatrical release on October 10:

In the action-comedy The Interview, Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) run the popular celebrity tabloid TV show "Skylark Tonight." When they discover that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is a fan of the show, they land an interview with him in an attempt to legitimize themselves as journalists. As Dave and Aaron prepare to travel to Pyongyang, their plans change when the CIA recruits them, perhaps the two least-qualified men imaginable, to assassinate Kim Jong Un.

In The Interview, the binge-drinking, Kobe Bryant-loving, human-rights-allergic ruler is played by Korean-American comedian Randall Park. Here's the trailer:

"We read as much as we could that was available on the subject," Rogen told Yahoo Movies. "We talked to the guys from Vice who actually went to North Korea and met Kim Jong Un. We talked to people in the government whose job it is to associate with North Korea, or be experts on it." Rogen also said that he and co-director Evan Goldberg asked North Korea experts to check the script for authenticity, because Rogen thought the truth about the dictatorship is "so crazy you don't need to make anything up." There is a joke in the trailer about how the regime once claimed that Kim Jong Un doesn't urinate or defecate; this is based on actual propaganda about his father Kim Jong Il.

North Korean officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the upcoming Rogen-Franco comedy that involves the pair trying to kill their leader. (It's really hard to get in touch with them.)

But as the film's release approaches, don't be too surprised if someone issues an angry statement. In 2005, shortly after the release of Team America: World Police, North Korea's embassy in Prague demanded that movie be banned in the Czech Republic, insisting that it harmed their country's reputation. Team America was made by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and uses a cast of puppets to satirize the war on terror, as well as liberal Hollywood. A Kim Jong Il puppet is the main villain.

Now, here is the new poster for The Interview:

The Interview film
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

UPDATE 2, July 11, 2014, 4:29 p.m. ET: The North Korean government filed a complaint with the United Nations over The Interview. Read the letter, which labels the film as an act of war by the Obama administration, below. The State Department did not respond to my request for comment regarding North Korea's view that the upcoming Seth Rogen / James Franco comedy is an American act of war.