The Riff - July 2009

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An Alternative History of the US Role in Afghanistan

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 5:00 PM PDT

The United States' involvement in Afghanistan is growing deeper and more costly--30 US soldiers have died there since the start of July, making it the deadliest month since the US invasion in 2001. Vice President Joe Biden was probably right when he said in a radio interview on Thursday that the war is "worth the effort." Still, now is a good time to better understand exactly why it has been so hard to turn Afghanistan into a more peaceful place. A new book by two US journalists explores some less well-known historical explanations.

In 1981, Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald were the first US journalists to enter Afghanistan after the Western press corps had been expelled from the country a month after the 1979 Soviet invasion.  The footage that they shot for CBS News painted a far different picture of the occupation than had been portrayed in the US media. Yet they say that the story that Dan Rather aired that spring buried the most important revelations--a problem that they've seen with US media coverage of Afghanistan ever since. In January 2009, they published "Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story," a book that Selig Harrison, the Washington Post's former South Asia bureau chief, calls "a much needed corrective to five decades of biased journalistic and academic writing about Afghanistan that has covered up the destructive and self-defeating US role there." Mother Jones spoke with Gould and Fitzgerald last month.

Mother Jones: In your view, what do most people not understand about the US government's early involvement in Afghanistan?

Paul Fitzgerald: In the major media, you get the story about a Soviet invasion. What you don't get are all the politics and motivations that were behind that.

Elizabeth Gould: When the Soviets crossed the Afghan border, President Carter exclaimed that this was the greatest threat to peace since the Second World War. The claim was that the Soviets were running out of oil and this was their first step to the Persian Gulf to get our oil. So that became the mantra.

MJ: So when did a different explanation catch on?

Amy Poehler, We Love You Too

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 11:12 AM PDT

The Hollywood Reporter recently gathered Emmy Award nominees Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Christina Applegate, Jane Krakowski, Mary-Louise Parker, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to discuss the entertainment business. Surprisingly, the conversation turned to Mother Jones:

For the record, Mother Jones doesn't have an age limit for our cover girls.

On the other hand, we do have strict accuracy requirements, and it's a pretty sure bet that our team of fact checkers would catch a discrepancy like casting Amy Poehler to play Rachel McAdams' mom (she's only 8 years older) or Sarah Silverman to parent Jonah Hill (a 13 year difference). Then again, this is the same Hollywood that thought we'd buy Winona Ryder as Zachary Quinto's Star Trek mom—she would have been a mother at the age of six.

The Onion Sells Itself to China, and a New Comedic Genre Is Born

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 10:26 AM PDT

As you may have heard, The Onion has been sold to the Chinese. Not really, of course, but you could be fooled by their site this week. It's a much-needed comedic shot in the arm after the recent sad news that their California print editions are shutting down.

The funniest bit isn't actually any of the China-related content on the Onion homepage, but the website they set up for their fake Chinese parent company, Yuwanmei Amalgamated Salvage Fisheries and Polymer Injection Corp. From the "Company History":

Founded in 1998 without incident or legal complication, what is now a glorious 300,000-square-foot processing center began as a humble 230,000-square-foot warehouse.

Clicking through the Yuwanmei website I can't help but think that we're witnessing the birth of a new—and potentially game-changing—comedic genre: the fake website. While fraud and deception are nothing new to the internet, and fake websites have been sometimes innovative promotional tools for movies and TV, the culture is still barely scratching the surface. Besides the Chinese Onion, the best example I've come across is an extensive spoof website featuring the comedian Charlie Murphy as Leroy Smith, the man who motivated Michael Jordan. Nike is apparently behind this project, which explains the bells and whistles, like the Leroy Smith video game. The ease with which this stuff can go viral (Leroy's website comes fully equipped with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and iPhone apps) has to have entertainment execs salivating.

Look for Hollywood to follow the lead of the website for the new Apatow flick, "Funny People", which features long fake trailers for the fake movies its protagonists star in.

Have a favorite fake website? Leave your links in the comments. But first, watch a video of Charlie Murphy (yes, Eddie's brother) as Leroy Smith, the man who motivated Michael Jordan, after the break.

Update: The Onion has taken it even farther than I had realized. Check out the Yu Wan-Mei Corp. Twitter feed (h/t to commenter Yu Wan Mei).

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How to Confront Rape Jokes

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 12:17 PM PDT

A co-worker's tweet this morning drew my attention to a blog post on how to respond to rape jokes. The author of the blog post lays out 5 possible responses when someone jokes that a woman wanted it, or was so unattractive she should be glad to get raped:

1. Keep quiet and feel uncomfortable.

2. Try to top the joke with a more offensive one.

3. Initiate a Very Serious Conversation in which you state rape is never funny.

4. Initiate a Very Serious Conversation II in which you disclose your own rape, and mention that you were definitely NOT laughing during it.

5. Talk outside the box. As in, "I knew this guy in college, and he totally got raped during rush and had to go to the doctor! He's in therapy now! It was hilarious!"

 

High School Feminist Bloggers are Smart (and Punny)

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 11:38 AM PDT

When I was a junior in high school, I was pretty sure the only other feminist in my small town was my AAUW card-carrying mother. I also thought that a dial up modem was the height of technology.

Since then, technology has made it possible for teenaged feminists to do much more to connect with each other and the world.

Miranda, a soon-to-be high school senior, is the brains behind Women's Glib, a feminist community blog made up of self-proclaimed "nerdy foul-mouthed youth." Since starting the blog this winter, she has already been featured as a guest blogger on long-running blog Feministe.

The fantasticly titled FBomb was started by 16-year-old founder Julie Zeilinger and has been highlighted by Feministing and other feminist blogs, and caught like wildfire after being highlighted on Jezebel.

Both blogs are at once accessible and enlightening, wittily covering everything from the gendered implications of high school popularity and dating to Sonia Sotomayor's nomination. But not all attention has been positive. A week after the online media blitz, F-Bomb founder Zeilinger Tweeted:

"older feminist readers I'm a teen its for teens can't be perfect don't have a degree. get some perspective plz & stop writing mean comments!"

Miranda ended her Feministe guest blogging stint with remorse for a post that asked for the community's advice on being a womanist ally.

Here at Mother Jones, we've had our own share of contentious conversation on generational feminism. But these young women also point out other rifts contemporary feminism is working to untangle.

Not only are these young women actively working to expand their political viewpoint—and the tools they need to work within their communities—they are negotiating their personal and online identities in real time for the world to see. As both of the blogs note, simply claiming the title "feminist" is a powerful act, for both teenagers and adults (there is a reason Julie Z. called her blog The FBomb), and these bloggers are actively working to ensure more people claim it, grapple with its meaning, and work towards achieving its goals.

As Julie Z's twitter bio screams: "badass teenage feminists who give a shit unite!"

Is Hollywood Finally Going Galt?

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 10:25 AM PDT

In a world...of disappointing literary movie adaptations, one film must make it to the screen with its nuance, political integrity, and 50-page monologues intact: Atlas Shrugged. At least that's the hope of Ayn Rand fans in Hollywood, who have long sought to bring the Objectivist tome to the silver screen, without much luck. Angelina Jolie was recently rumored to be interested in starring in the tale of top-down class warfare, but the latest reports from Tinseltown say that Charlize Theron is eyeing the project—on the condition that it be made into a cable TV miniseries so its subtleties aren't diluted. Assuming this gets off the ground in the next three years, this could be exciting news for the Go Galt crowd, the folks who, as Amy Benfer writes in our current issue, are creatively reading (or skimming, or just Wikipedia-ing) Atlas Shrugged for clues on how to rebel against the United States' recent transformation into a collectivist totalitarian gulag, i.e., the election of Barack Obama. So far, the Galt movement—named after Atlas' protagonist, capitalist übermensch John Galt—hasn't done much more than inspire lots of online fist shaking. But with Theron playing kinky railroad magnate Dagny Taggart, things could really pick up for it. Now who to play her lover and the namesake of the current recessionist movement? For some reason, I really like the sound of the line (use your best movie trailer voice here): "Nicholas Cage IS John Galt." And this one, too: "This summer, America is going, going...Galt!"